Complex forms in light

Complex forms in light

This next section of Understanding Loomis will begin to address the essential question of how an artist can create realistic shadows when a subject matter is not a regular geometric shape, for instance such as in the case of a woman’s face.

Loomis begins his answer to this important question with a short word regarding theory.  He starts with the observation that laypeople cannot tell the difference between talent and knowledge.  He means that when most folks perceive a person of skill executing his craft – be it drawing or drywall- the product may seem like the result of an immaterial gift, rather than the exercising of an integrated, practiced knowledge base.  This is a mainstay of fine-art, where the ‘myth of talent’ seeks to delineate a line between craft and art.  The position being held by the talent advocates states that artists are geniuses, and their work is akin to revelation.  These elect few ‘geniuses’  are not craftsmen, but vehicles of expression who’s concepts (opinions and ideas) are purportedly the seat of their greatness.  Loomis being an illustrator reveals this as a myth with the straight-forward observation that talent really is a mis-appellation applied to what really is a practiced craft.  This confusion and elevation of the discipline into the realms of fine-art is done by those who lack knowledge of the pursuit, onto those who have knowledge of that pursuit; that is the ability to draw and paint.

Loomis defends the position that drawing and painting well, is a matter of understanding the terms of how such a skill is done and that there are specific areas of technical knowledge needed in order to manifest the illusion of reality on a 2-d surface.

Now he goes into the nuts-and-bolts of shadows and complex forms.  Loomis begins this section by indicating that when a drawing or painting is being done, and a smooth tone is chosen to be interrupted by the artist, there are only two ways an observer can interpret that change in tone.

  • That the change in tone represents a change in the character of the surface which is trying to be represented (say for instance, a few small rocks on a wide stretch of beach)


  • That the change in tone is a smudge on the surface of the art, and not part of the image which is trying to be represented.

The interpretation of a dark tone as being a change in surface character within the picture, vs it being some sort of surface smudge is exclusively within the domain of the placement of that mark.  A properly placed, grey mid-tone mark, will read as perfect sfumato of light on a woman’s cheek, where a misplacement of that same mark by a matter of degrees will make it now appear as a dirty spot; a mistake where your hand disturbed the charcoal.

This is a very useful distinction to keep in one’s mind when making a picture, in that many artists are compelled to ‘fill-in’ areas with various marks and tones.  The naive illustrator overly relies on hatching and details because he does not know where the exact place surface changes should naturally occur given the object and the light he is attempting to draw.

Unfortunately, many naive approaches in art can be interpreted as elements of style, and therefore also intentional on the part of the artist.  This conclusion is generally false, and such art is really most often the product of the artist trying to ‘fill in’ the work.  People usually have a good enough eye to see that something is wrong in a picture (see earlier posts on intelligent observation), but they lack the knowledge of why.  When this happens to an artist regarding his own work, the common natural response is to fuss over the area, adding random marks and tones in order to address the error in intelligent observation the artist is experiencing.  For instance, Loomis indicates elsewhere that the appearance of a receded or distended jawline in a portrait, which causes the artist to keep refining the contour of the face, is most often nothing wrong with the jaw, but actually the effect of the artist having misplaced his subject’s features, such as a too-low mouth, or too-wide eyes.

Naive art is often given a pass, and even loved by consumers and the audience in some cases.  Whether intense, ‘stylized’, ultra-detailed and highly-rendered art is your cup-of-tea or not does not change the fact that there is a particular place where surface character changes in regard to light, and knowing those particulars is better than not knowing.

Drawing is only difficult to those who don’t know what information to hold onto when representing a subject.  The placement of contours and changes in the nature of surface character are measurements and nothing else.  When one knows how to measure these properly, the matter of placing them is made simple.

Knowledge over talent.  Know how to do it, don’t try to guess because you can’t.

Moving on, Andrew Loomis declares that to find the planes of an object is to watch the angle of the surface as it changes, then record the tone or value caused by the angle.  I think this is most easy to understand when put in the context of drawing a face.  Loomis wants us to recognize that areas of light on form, always fall into a shape.  So do the dark tones and the half tones.  To be able to represent a face in light is to know these shapes, and place them together properly.

Consider this drawing I have done, presented below:

woman contour face loomis

A face is drawn as any other surface by following the angles of the surface and with each change of plane, noting the change of value.  Highlights are found on the highest parts of the form, and nearest point of the surface to the light.  As you can see in the image above, there is no need for complicated and intense detail.  The value of the shadow tones are limited to only 2 in my picture; full black for shadow, medium grey for half tones.  The brightest parts of the face are represented by no pencil work- it is the paper colour.  Squint your eyes at my drawing and you will see a generalization of the values, and recognize that the mid-tone is basically uniform.  With the magic of photoshop, I reduced my image to only 2 tones and the white ground.  You can still read this as an attractive woman’s face.  This is because the placement of the shadow tones is correct .  We read this as a face, and even an attractive face because the marks are in the correct areas.  If they were moved about, the image would become less attractive.

small contour

Here I have taken the shapes of value, and moved them around a bit, then added a red filter to indicate the distortion.  This example shows how the positioning of the value-tones is the essential variable which artists need to get correct.  The actual ‘prettiness’ of the particular eye or nose drawn is not what makes a woman’s face look attractive.  It is the knowledge of how form creates shadow, and the proper measurement of where the artist chooses to place those values.  

distortedsmall contour

You can see in the red version, the masses of tone when slightly moved, also move in our interpretation of them from descriptions of value to random marks.  The tones appear like surface blemishes.  Look for instance in the halftone mark which describes the edge of the woman’s cheek where it meets the muzzle of the face. The correctly placed one looks just like a shadow, the incorrect one is an unreadable mark -a smudge.

adistortedsmall contour

The obvious next question is how does one learn these various shapes, which represent light on form in regards to the multiplicity of facial angle and quality of light?  The answer will be outlined in the next posting, which will go into the principle that light on form is related to the basic, and memorizable way that light falls on the sphere and the cylinder.

We will discuss this next monday.  I hope you join me.


Cast Shadows: Behind and Before

Cast Shadows: Behind and Before

When you are drawing shadows, there are a couple of rules which need to be remembered in order to create a natural looking illusion of light. Fortunately, Andrew Loomis helps us negotiate these points in his book Successful Drawing.

The first rule he indicates is an observation regarding the two location choices of light source when representing cast shadows; that is, a behind light source or a before light source. Behind and before are designations of where the light source is in relation to the viewer of the picture, not the subject.  Examine these samples I’ve drawn for you below.

In the picture of the Ogre below, the primary cast shadow on the ground plane shows us that the light source is behind you– the viewer of this picture.  The ogre’s actual body is interrupting the direction the light is falling, and hence, it casts a shadow behind.  Notice that cast shadows which are even somewhat to the side of the subject are still considered the result of a behind light source.

If the light source is behind, the shadow will fall behind.

(NB. In this drawing there happens to be two light sources, as you can see in the secondary small cast shadow under the ogre’s chin, and likewise below his hands.  For this matter, we are regarding only the large cast shadow on the ground.)

Screen Shot 2019-02-06 at 3.24.47 PM



This drawing is considered to be a light source which is before the viewer.  One can tell on account of the fact that the shadow is falling between where we the viewers are, and the subject matter of the lady, as she sits on the plane.  One can imagine the sun above her, in the sky, before where you are standing, looking at this lady.  The sun before you, therefore constitutes a before light source.

If the light source is before, the shadow will fall between.Screen Shot 2019-02-11 at 6.45.42 AM


Now that the terms before and behind have been established, there are several rules about casting shadows from before and behind light.  Here are  Loomis’ rules about drawing cast shadows.

  1. If the light source is behind the viewer, the angle of the light comes from below the horizon.
  2. If the light source is before the viewer, the angle of light comes from above the horizon.
  3. If the light source is before the viewer, put the shadow VP on the horizon nearby, below the light source.
  4. When the light source is before the viewer, the angle of light is the nearest of the 3 cast shadow considerations;
    • position of light source
    • angle of light
    • VP of shadow on the horizon
  5. All shadows radiate from a point on the ground directly below the light source.  This point is the shadow vanishing point (SVP)
  6. All shadows within a drawing recede to the same SVP.
  7. The length of shadow on the ground plane is determined by the angle of light.


That is a lot to digest, so at this point, it may be of use to my readers to think on these concepts for a while, before diving into how one actually draws before and behind light source shadows.  Next week, I will demonstrate that process, as well as how to cast shadows of organic shapes, like those in my samples above.

Thank you very much for your continued interest.

Bye for now.


Establishing a ‘Key Figure’ part III

Fashion Proportions

The previous two postings have been regarding how an illustrator sets up the proportional measurements of the human body by measuring the overall height in heads.  It was shown how using the “naturalistic” proportions of 7.5 heads -while true to life- produced an unappealing, dumpy figure.  The more attractive ‘idealized’ proportions of 8 heads stretched the figure out more, and the look became more attractive.  It was indicated that the ‘idealistic’ proportional measurements of 8 heads is used frequently in illustration.

Though the above statements are all true, domains do exist within the world of illustration where the aforementioned proportions will not suffice.  One such domain is fashion illustration, and another is comic book, or (more broadly considered) fantastic illustration.

The 8 head proportion method is only marginally stretched out from the ‘naturalistic’ proportions -indeed 8 heads tall is intended to appear natural to the viewer.  In fashion illustration or fantastic illustration, the artist is trying to render the human form as being ‘super’ i.e.  akin to superman.

The fantasy character or the fashion model needs to look even more exceptional as a specimen of anatomy than do figures in other general illustrations.  Therefore, the typical proportions used in these disciplines is 8.5 heads tall.

This change brings the halfway point of the figure’s height to be dropped down to the middle of the genitals, whereas in the previous proportion drawings show that same midpoint landing above the genitals.

The width of the ‘fashion’ proportioned figure can be between two & one-half heads, to two & one-third heads wide.

In the illustration below, which I have drawn to the ‘fashion’ standard of proportion, you can immediately see the heightened sense of grandeur in the figure’s physical appearance.  The “stretching-out” of the proportions by only 1/2 of a head has given our figure a much more impressive stature than was seen previously.  8.5 heads

Take the time to look back through the previous 2 posts, and compare the proportions of the figures.  You can easily see that elongating the figure slightly makes it appear more attractive and impressive.  That being said, the ancient Greeks did one better than even the ‘fashion’ proportions of 8.5 heads tall…

In their statuary, one may find figures as tall as 9 heads, which we call  ‘heroic’ proportion.  It is this standard which we will be covered next posting,

See you in seven days.

Establishing a “Key Figure” part 2

The Idealistic Proportion

Last time, we discussed the principle of properly building a figure’s proportions based on naturalistic measurements.  The end result was noted as being fairly dumpy looking, and unimpressive as a figure.

To choose to elevate a subject into a representational form is a kind of expression of one’s values, and thus the choice of ‘naturalism’  is actually related to philosophical matters.

Consider the reasons an artist may choose to represent a figure naturalistically. One reason could be that the artist claims that the subject ‘really looks that way’. To record realism is a task for an historian or an objective reporter, and is better served that way.  Artistic representation must be more than an anecdotal record of history.

Another reason may be that the artist believes his job is to educate his viewers. Education is not the job of art either, as those ends are better served by science or through the consumption of written information.

Some artists believe that naturalistic representation is in service to exposing the misery of mankind, and thus seek to improve the lot of society by representation of natural reality.  This position depends on a value judgement, and thus changes art into a vehicle for transmitting a didactic moral purpose.  This is not the function of art, but of propaganda.

To choose to represent something in artwork is to display one’s values in a purely visual aesthetic manner.  The art represents the maker’s belief systems, and so displays his soul (for lack of a better word).  The choice represents ‘existence plus’, that is, how reality is -plus a bit more.  Perhaps one could say that good art demonstrates how reality could be in it’s most perfect incarnation.

This is the first observation as to why Idealized Proportions of measuring a human figure are used commonly in art.

The Idealistic Figure is 8 heads tall, with the middle point in the overall height falling just above the genitals and below the swell of the great trochanter of the femur bone (that is the the knob-like lateral projection at the proximal end of the femur).  The span of the shoulders from their widest points is 2 and 1/3 heads wide.


The measurement of 8 heads as a proportional size of the human is appropriate for most illustrations which seek to represent realism.  Any image displaying normal day-to-day people going about their business, some book illustrations and most adverts will all show the figure measured as 8 heads tall.

idealistic proportions Most viewers who compare these proportions to the ‘naturalistic’ measurements used in the last posting will easily recognize how much more attractive the Idealistic Proportions appear to the eye.  That being said, this proportional measurement of 8 heads is not the final word on Establishing a Key Figure.  8 heads is only appropriate in some situations when drawing the human figure.

Artists who draw fashion illustrations, comic artists and even the sculptors of the Classical era use -and did use- greater proportional standards.  We will examine these proportions next week.

Thanks for reading, and I would like to wish you happy and accurate drawing.




Establishing a “key figure” Part 1


Today’s posting will combine some conceptual elements which Loomis has outlined in earlier sections of the book, with some rules which are better stated in his companion book “Figure Drawing for all its Worth” (which will be reviewed on this blog in time).  The concept Loomis is outlining is “Establishing a Key Figure”.  It is akin to his rule about setting up the relative heights between human figures standing in perspective.  The added element is exactly how does one properly determine a human figure’s height?

Before too much is stated, I want to  address some generic disputes which arise when discussion of humanity and attractiveness is considered.  In the following discussion, it is  considered that symmetry is more attractive then incongruence, and that upright, slightly elongated figures are more appealing to the eye, than are hunched and squat figures.  This model of beauty is defined by Classical aesthetics, and it has been the standard in the Western World for over 2000 years.  Contrary points of view are a derivative of the very recent movement of Post Modernism, and the full-frontal attack on Western Values.  Andrew Loomis does not consider Post Modern takes which subvert Classical definitions of beauty in favour of alternate positions.

Let us get underway by defining how one sets up the proper proportions of the human figure.

Many books outline the method of ‘measuring in heads’ to find out the attractive proportions with which to render a human figure.  Andrew Loomis uses the same method, but he adds many important considerations which are usually overlooked in other books.

Academic measurement of the human body is 7.5 heads tall.  This measurement is generally accepted as being true to reality, on average.  The particular height of a person is not altered by this measurement proportion method.  For instance, a 6 foot tall person and a 5 foot tall person could both be measured at being 7.5 heads tall, the difference being the head unit size would be larger on the taller person.

Furthermore, the average width of the figure is taken to be 2 heads wide.  This measurement is fully represented at the outer edge of the shoulder, as it turns down into the arm; basically in a line straight across the chest.

Here is a drawing I have done, measured at 7.5 heads tall.

knee7.5 heads tall

The problem with this measurement of the figure is that, despite it being accurate to life, it produces a figure which appears rather stumpy, and unimpressive.  As far as illustration is concerned, the choice to represent an idealized version of humanity is preferable, rather than representing a naturalistic version of humanity.

The measurement of the idealized version of the figure will be explained in the next posting.

See you then.


Technical Perspective

Perspective an artist needs to know

Now begins the more technical aspect of Successful Drawing.  In the following postings, I will still begin with a short written section, but the meat of the post will consist of scanned images of my versions of Loomis’ drawings.  The drawings are direct copies of his works and lessons, and they were done to help me learn.  I encourage you to do the lessons as well, and draw the samples -even if you feel you understand the concept.  There is a truth revealed when you get actually down to drawing the exercises that is greater than an intellectual understanding only.

Loomis begins by encouraging us to be diligent and to practice.  He tells us frankly:

The difficulties of not knowing are always much greater than the effort of learning.

A note about supplies:

Loomis advises us to proceed in the following way:

Mark Making media:  He suggests that you use a pencil, but is quick to add that drawing is drawing in any medium, be it chalk, charcoal, crayons etc.  He says to select the one you like best, but to avoid hard media or inks, as well as to avoid overly dark pencils as they are hard to erase.

Erasers:  the kneaded eraser is best

Paper:  large pads of layout bond paper are mentioned, but he is not specific -it does not matter, as long as the paper is not too thin and transparent.

Loomis adds at this point that in terms of technical use of the pencil to avoid scratchy, small and thin-lined strokes.  He says such marks look amateurish and fussy.

In addition to the above mentioned, there is a need of a fairly large drawing table, a t-square and a right triangle in order to do the perspective exercises.

The Exercises

Since the  3 dimensional block is the primary shape everything fits into, Loomis begins with drawing the square.  Drawing a perfect square is the first step to learning how to draw form in perspective.

Exercise I: the perfect square

  1. A perfect square has each of its sides of equal length. Draw one.  To find the centre of a square or a rectangle, draw lines from opposing corners.  To divide the square into quarters, draw a horizontal and a perpendicular through the centre point which the diagonals have revealed.  From this many things will develop.bisecting squares.jpg
  2. To draw the 3-dimensional square in perspective (the cube) one must start by being able to draw the perfectly proportional square laying flat on an illusory plane created by the artist.  This is easily done, and uses 2 Point Perspective, but there are a few things you need to know before that.

Exercise II: creating the illusion of space

  • Looking at a blank paper is potential for space, but without anything for the viewer to comprehend, no illusion is created.  Furthermore, to attempt to create the illusion of space and to misapply these fundamental laws of perspective will alert a viewer’s Intelligent Perception of falsity.  Here is a blank paper and no illusion of space is apparent.                                                                                                                                                                       nothing.jpg                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  •  The addition of a simple horizon line is the first step to creating the sense of space.  Every drawing has a horizon whether the viewer can see it or not.  The horizon line could also be considered the point where the viewer’s eye level rests.

a horizon.jpg

  • If one adds a simple recognizable object such as a tree, the illusion of space is developed further.  By moving the trees closer to and further away from the horizon, the viewer’s eye level is changed by the artist. Changing the objects’ relation to the horizon gives the viewer the sense of flying above the trees or looking from below the trees.
  •  By making the trees smaller or larger, the artist creates the illusion of being nearer or further away from the subject matter.
  • The final step to creating realistic simple perspective is the addition of a Vanishing Point to the horizon line.  This point establishes where the artist wants the viewer  to be situated outside of the picture.  That is, when a Vanishing Point is properly used, the artist can show the viewer the desired perspective of his image

    The Vanishing Point (V.P.) represents the place where the viewer’s power of sight is limited to.  To understand the term ‘vanishing’, one must consider a scenario where a series of identical trees were lined up next to one another in a perfect row.  The closest tree would appear the biggest, and the furthest tree away would get so small, it would vanish.  The top and bottom lines drawn straight to the V.P. show how much smaller the artist needs to make the duplicate objects.  Without regarding the top and bottom height lines, the artist will fail to create the illusion of depth.  This is called One Point Perspective.

Now you are prepared for Two Point Perspective, which is the key to creating the 3-Dimensional cube, situated in space.

Perspective Continued

Being “Effective”

I just finished an interesting discussion with my brother Eryn.  Our discussions are varied and wide ranging, but a common topic which we return to is the idea of being effective.   Webster’s dictionary offers the following as its primary definition of effective:

producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect effective policy>

Cambridge Dictionary offers this definition:

producing the intended results, or (of a personskilled or able to do something well: an effective policy/strategy

The commonality between the two definitions is the idea of producing something specific well.  What is not included are the terms understood to categorize something as being ‘well done’ as opposed to something which is ‘poorly done’.  Those terms are not stated, but I believe that there are 2 fundamental traits within the concept ‘well done’ which are universal and therefore not subjective.  Here are the fundamental elements which are a part of all things termed as ‘well done’:

  1. The result objectively achieves that which was desired at the endeavour’s inception
  2. The result was achieved exclusively, without any secondary results which counteract  the original endeavour.

For instance, it cannot be said that when a baseball player is trying to hit a baseball, that he has been effective when he instead makes a strike;  he failed to achieve his primary objective of hitting the ball, thus he has not been effective in those terms.  This example covers the first of my two fundamental traits of ‘being effective’.

Secondarily, let us say that there is a trucker who is dispatched out to transport a load of eggs safely from the east coast to the west coast.  He sets out, and from prior experience knows that excessive speed causes bumps and jostling in his trailer.  To counteract this, he drives very slowly.  When he does reach the west coast, he has indeed achieved a safe transportation of the eggs.  Unfortunately, he is a week late, and many of the  eggs have spoiled on account of the time spent in transport.  It cannot be said that the trucker was effective at transporting the eggs because his method introduced two secondary and contrary results to the overall intent of the endeavour; transporting the eggs safely so they could be sold.  The transport of the eggs was not an end it itself as the trucker thought.  Indeed, the transport is a stage in a series of events, all of which need to be achieved.  The fact that the trucker brought the eggs 1 week late cost the merchant money, and the fact that some of the load were rotten makes their safe transport irrelevant.

This second of the two fundamental traits is the one most often evaded by people seeking to achieve an ends of some type.  The evasion occurs on account of their hope for success outweighing their objectivity.  In the end, these people can only save face by compromising the principles regarding any terms which should disqualify their effort as being effective.  As a result they say, ” ah well, it is good enough!”  without considering the long-term results of the equivocation.

Andrew Loomis 

The talk regarding being effective was meant to set out the groundwork for Loomis’ next major idea, which is being effective.

Loomis makes a very strong case for artists to free themselves from the need to use reference.  Although he acknowledges that the use of a model is the best way to achieve a realistic end in drawing, and that photographs are needed to reference particular information, he clearly states that too many artists attempt to work professionally without really knowing how perspective works, or how the human form is put together.  He indicates that the primary subject matter of the illustrator -the human form- is so multifarious and so pliant that to lack specific knowledge of it, forces an illustrator to rely on photo refs and other external sources of information in order to get by.  In addition, he states that to draw anything, one needs to understand the principles of how perspective works.

He accepts that the ends of such efforts may be achieved by compiling reference, but Andrew Loomis is not willing to consider that method to be effective.

Consider this excerpt from Successful Drawing (pg 22-24)

Suppose you were asked to draw a series of columns, spaced 10 feet apart, set on cubes measuring 5 feet each way, with some figures standing at the second and fifth columns, and the bases of eight columns going back in the distance.  This is very simple if you know perspective.  Which would take the most time, to hunt up such a building, take photographs, develop films, make prints, and set the assembly on a projector, or just to sit down and draw it?  Almost daily, lack of knowledge of simple perspective can hack away an artist’s time.  The amount of motion and time which you save by knowing how to solve your problems far exceeds any saving by the projector.  The more you lean on your crutches, the more your strength ebbs, and soon you cannot get along without them.

It should be evident to most people that to know something is better that to not know something, so then is it evident that integrating the principles of perspective is better than trying to guess at them, or to rely on reference.

In order to expand on this, Andrew Loomis indicates a few facts regarding drawing the human form from photos versus knowing how the form is put together, and working from your knowledge base.  He states that photographs do not make good drawings in that they impartially record the subject.  An artist who uses the photo as a reference risks the suspension of artistic judgement in place of the recording of anatomic detail and an obsession over its correct placement.  Loomis encourages us to be more concerned with geometric shapes present in the human form, and the activity of light and shadow rather than on any attempts at recording the tiny muscular bumps and lumps recorded in photographic reference of the human form.

He also cautions against the use of ‘swiping’ magazine models, and integrating them into one’s artwork.  He makes no evaluation of the artistic honesty of such practice, nor does he comment on copyright infringement.  Instead -ever practical- Loomis reminds us that most modern photography is taken under highly unreal conditions, using several light sources.  The visual language of the photo studio he says creates images which ‘…defy every principle of good drawing.  There is no authentic form in them; it has been broken up in meaningless light and shadow; and good drawing is essentially a statement of form.”