Lesson 4: Applying Construction to Insects and Arachnids
Where the previous lesson focused primarily on flowing flat shapes as they push through all three dimensions of space, this lesson is going to set its sight on conveying the solidity of constructed forms, and combining them to create complex objects.
We also look at techniques that can be used to imbue insects' legs with solidity without causing them to appear too stiff as can often happen when employing constructional techniques too frivolously.
Insects (and arachnids) are composed of three major components:
This holds true for the majority, though in some cases - like in beetles, spiders, and so on - you'll find that the head and thorax are fused. Despite this, you can still visually separate these elements fairly easily.
The other significant point to note is that insects (and some arachnids) display a shape language focused around the triangle. This can be seen in the general shapes of their heads, the way their legs bend, etc. Triangles naturally tend to be more sinister and unsettling as shapes (while squares are solid and circles are cuddly). That is, however, a conversation for a much later lesson.
Working with solid forms
It's not uncommon to see artists starting with a loose, vague sketch to explore their drawing before committing more firmly to their lines. That is not how we will be approaching things here. That's not to say it's not an entirely valid approach to drawing, just that what we're doing here is specifically an exercise in construction.
As mentioned in previous lessons, construction is accomplished in successive passes, starting dead simple and gradually adding more forms to build up complexity.
At no point are we ever 'sketching'. Instead, every single pass should end with forms that feel solid to you - not like flat shapes pasted on top of one another, or loose collections of strokes on the page. Think about how these forms relate to one another, and add contour lines where you feel these relationships or the illusion of form need to be reinforced.
Try to perceive these solid forms as real, weighty objects in a three dimensional world, and look beyond the fact that you're drawing on a piece of paper. The page is not a flat surface - it is a window into a boundless world.
While Drawabox is not about making "pretty pictures", we know that's what students are hungering for. Feel free to indulge that craving with the following course from our sponsor, New Masters Academy:
Drawing Insects, Tropical Animals, and Color Demonstration with Charles Hu
This lesson from Charles' Dynamic Sketching course explores insects with more of a focus on the creation of vibrant, lively depictions, using looser sketching to lay in beetles, grasshoppers, and mantises, before painting on top with a bold use of gouache. Where Drawabox uses insects as a tool to explore and develop your spatial reasoning skills, Charles' demonstrations dig deep into making beautiful drawings that really stand out.
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Homework and exercises
Before starting the homework, be sure to go through all of the demonstrations included in this lesson. I strongly recommend drawing along with them as well and following them closely when doing so. If you choose to, you can include your attempts at following the demos in your homework, but they should constitute less than half of your insect drawings.
Also, remember that this homework must be drawn from reference. When looking for reference, I recommend that you specifically look for those of a higher resolution. Google's image search tools allows you to limit your search to large images, and I recommend you take advantage of this.
To get you started, here is an album of hundreds of high-res images. There's also this wonderful album by Andreas Kay, a naturalist and photographer who sadly passed away from cancer in 2019. Additionally, this gallery by Alex Wild was suggested by Lars Barnabee.
The homework assignment for this section is as follows:
2 pages of organic forms with contour curves, just like from lesson 2
4 pages of insect/arachnid drawings that are purely constructional with no texture or detail.
6 pages of insect/arachnid drawings that can go into texture and detail if you wish.
All the assigned work for this section should be done in ink, using fineliners/felt tip pens as described here. You may also use a brush pen to fill in dark areas, but not for your linework.
The Science of Deciding What You Should Draw
Right from when students hit the 50% rule early on in Lesson 0, they ask the same question - "What am I supposed to draw?"
It's not magic. We're made to think that when someone just whips off interesting things to draw, that they're gifted in a way that we are not. The problem isn't that we don't have ideas - it's that the ideas we have are so vague, they feel like nothing at all. In this course, we're going to look at how we can explore, pursue, and develop those fuzzy notions into something more concrete.