The 5 Elements of Good Drawing

Fundamentals continued…

pages 11-13

There is a great deal of fabulous information in the text of Andrew Loomis’ books, and those who jump straight to his wonderful drawings without taking the time to read his words miss a lot.

Following the general talk about what makes artwork appealing, including his theory of intelligent perception, Andrew Loomis begins to talk in earnest about the actual elements of good drawing, though he is still maintaining a philosophic position at this point; the actual technical instruction, and ‘how-to’ section of the book is yet to come.

Here, Loomis introduces the reader to the key elements which are necessary to create a convincing piece of representational art.  He boils the elements down to 5, and emphasizes that they are the essential frameworks for the conception of a drawing.  What he means by conception is none other than the successful expression of an artist’s sense of life.

He creates an elegant method of recalling the 5 elements, in that he establishes 5 terms which all begin with the letter ‘P’.  The terms become known as the Five P’s.

Here they are:

  1. When one considers the drawing of any subject, it must be noted that all objects are dimensional; that they have height, breadth and thickness.  Furthermore, there is a ratio between these dimensions, and when those ratios add up in a drawing we have a convincing representation.  A drawing cannot be good when the ratios are not proportional, so the first element is PROPORTION.
  2. Every drawing is a puzzle, and choosing where to place subjects within the boundaries of the paper’s edge constitutes the consideration of  the second element which is PLACEMENT.  
  3. All drawing needs to be related to an horizon.  When an artist does this correctly, he is engaging in the technique of drawing called PERSPECTIVE.
  4. Everything we can perceive with our sense of sight is made possible by the degree of light which falls on it.  Where there is light, there is shadow, and in order to understand how to render light, the artist can break an object into PLANES.
  5. The placement of an object constitutes only half of the visual puzzle, the other half is related to the lights and darks and the textures .  When an artist considers the working out of these factors, he is considering PATTERN.  Pattern is to tonal areas as placement is to line work.



Following his outlining of the Five P’s, Loomis advocates for the drawing of thumbnails, where the elements which he has given us are to be worked out over the course of multiple sketches.

He is also quick to state that these Five Elements are not the only elements needed for good drawing.  How does one learn these additional elements of good drawing?

Do not worry dear reader, Andrew Loomis brings them into our aquaintence in the following section.


4 thoughts on “The 5 Elements of Good Drawing

  1. These, if not completely synonymous to, are correlary to the idea of five fundamentals of design: line, shape, tone, form, and colour.

    However, the five Ps are grouped in order to create realistic and convincing works, while the five previously mentioned elements are grouped for the creation of a designed aesthetic.

    Is there a consideration to which of the five Ps can be dominant to create a guiding focus in work, as in choosing one of the five fundamentals of design to guide a composition? (Understand that this does not then forego the other elements, but rather gives emphasis on one or two to control the overall composition.)

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  2. I tend to think that Loomis’ point is that each are essential, and that if any one of the 5 p’s are in lack, the overall effectiveness of the drawing suffers. This is sort of an inverse way of saying that none of the 5 are in dominance to the others (the reason being that dominance and lack constitute different ways of looking at the same thing)
    I think that he intends these 5 to be in balance. For instance, how does one justify a properly drawn building with perspective which is rendered in light and dark improperly? I think there is no room for lack in these 5 because they are primaries. There is no degree of ‘in perspective’… it is either in perspective or not in perspective. This is why I think that there can be no emphasis on one over another.
    That being said, I think PATTERN is the least objective of these, and could constitute taste (at least I haven’t discovered what Loomis has to say about bad and good forms of pattern… It could come up yet)


    1. True , I agree that there are not levels of acceptable perspective, plane, proportion, as they all need to be executed properly or they are not working.

      However, keeping in the discussion of perspective, you certainly could have an image with a very shallow depth of field that does not emphasize the obvious and noticable linear perspective of architecture or say, the moody sfumato effect of atmospheric perspective that can dominate landscapes.

      In consideration, is this not what PATTERN and PLACEMENT refer to? How the artist arranges elements of the image to create an effective pattern or a pleasing or interesting placement of objects in the picture plane.


      1. That is interesting, and it brings to mind a section of Loomis’ writing from another book. In the following quote, he is directly dealing with the question of photo reference vs actual reference, which I think is pertinent to your idea (at least insofar as the consideration of a shallow depth of field)

        ” …photograph [referenced drawings], because of the exaggerated foreshortening by the lenses, have a wide and dumpy look. Limbs look short and heavy. Hands and feet appear too large. If these distortions are not corrected, your drawing will simply look photographic.”

        Perhaps the idea is that such distortions of perspective that you are talking about are part of the visual language of photography, not of reality. This would then make absolute perspective an element of truth qua human perception, since Loomis is considering a drawing to be a representation of life, not of photography.

        Perhaps we are so inundated with photographic imagery that we have become accustomed to several different paradigms of visual truth. My inclination is to hope that this isn’t so, and that actual, unaltered visual perception is truth and other visual information, such as photographic imagery, are a separate visual language particular to the method of capturing it.

        The phenomenon of atmospheric perspective is different though. I can’t quite wrap my head around this point.

        Very interesting observations.


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