Drawing the ‘Laying Square’

Technical Perspective Continued

Last posting quickly outlined the principles of one point perspective.  The key points included:

  1. Every picture has a horizon
  2. An object’s relationship to the horizon creates the illusion of a perspectival view of the scene to the viewer
  3. The vanishing point is the point where a viewer’s sight is limited to

The previous posting used a simplified fir tree as the subject.  It is true that every picture has a horizon and involves the vanishing point, but it must be mentioned that natural phenomena, such as mountains, rivers, trees and bushes, are all very forgiving regarding perspective.  These forms are organic and do not involve straight lines, and furthermore, viewers will accept a very wide range of sizes and shapes in their representation.  This aspect of the inanimate, natural phenomena makes landscape painting and drawing much easier than works which involve architecture, humans or animals.  Traditionally, landscape painting has been considered the third lowest form of painting on account of the relative simplicity of the pursuit.

This posting will outline the fundamentals which lead to understanding how to draw geometric shapes in perspective.

As mentioned before, the initial step to drawing a geometric shape in perspective is mastering the ability to draw a perfect square, appearing as if it were laying flat on an imaginary surface.  This challenge is essential for revealing how an artist begins to create the illusion of space within a drawing.

Andrew Loomis does not break this task down for us, and many artists will be able to do this, merely with their eyes.  I personally find it very easy to draw a perfect square laying on an illusionary ground on any angle.  This is because I can visualize the correct placement and degree of the angles from the years of experience which I have integrated.

For the sake of the artists who do not find this easy, I have devised a simple method of finding the correct angles needed to draw a laying square from any position of perspective.

The Lesson

  • Draw a horizon, and keep it towards the top third of your paper.  Every drawing has a horizon.  perspective 1.jpg


  • This time, we will use 2 Vanishing Points.  Place them far apart.  Putting the V.P.’s too close together will create distortions in your perfect laying square.  The left hand V.P. will be “a”, the right hand V.P. will be “b”.perspective 2.jpg


  • Now, we draw a line at any angle from V.P. ‘a’, such that it crosses an imagined point between your two V.P.’s.  This line we will call the First Line.

perspective 3.jpg


  • Now we will repeat the previous step, but this time using a different angle of trajectory.  We will call this line, Second Line.perspective 4.jpg


  • Now, for the next step, we measure 3cm from V.P. ‘a’, down the horizon line.  This point we lightly mark for reference.perspective 5.jpg


  • Using the 3cm mark as the starting point, measure the distance to the First Line, in a perpendicular to the horizon.  This will create a right triangle between the horizon, the First Line and the perpendicular measured.  In my drawing, the distance happens to be 2.5 cm.  This is not a set measurement, and it will always be different depending on the angle which the First Line was drawn at.perspective 7.jpg

perspective 8.jpg


  • The next step is to duplicate those points with exact measurements starting with V.P. ‘b’.  This will create an equal, but reversed right triangle with V.P. ‘b’ as the first vertex. perspective 9.jpg


  • From V.P. ‘b’, draw the Third Line, using the newly drawn low vertex point as the angular guide. Draw this Third Line such that it crosses through the First and Second Lines.  The crossing points with the First and Second Lines we will call Crossing ‘x’ and Crossing ‘y’. perspective 10.jpg


  • Measure the distance between Crossing ‘x’ and Crossing ‘y’.  My drawing happens to be 4.6 cm.  This measurement is relative to the angles of the First and Third lines, and is therefore not a constant measurement.perspective 11.jpg


  • Now, we measure that same distance up the First Line, from Crossing ‘y’, towards V.P. ‘a’.  Mark the point.  Again, my measurement of 4.6 cm is particular to my drawing.perspective 12.jpg


  • Draw Fourth Line back from that point to V.P. ‘b’ to complete the perfect laying square.

perspective 13.jpg


A Quick Way

There is a quick way to skip essentially from step 2 to step 8, but it involves having a tool with a set 90 degree to trace from (such as a drafting triangle or a t-square).  I will outline it here for those with such tools.

  •  Draw horizon.  Choose vanishing points

quick 1.jpg

  • Measure length between the two V.P.’s, and half that number.  Measure that distance  over from one of the V.P.’s to find the mid point between them.

quick 2.jpg

  • Drop a 90 degree line down from the centre point, perpendicular to the horizon. Call this point the Centre Vertexquick 3.jpg
  • Draw First and Third Lines from that point to either V.P.’s.quick 4.jpg


Drawing the Second and Fourth lines will work the same way if you choose a point above or below the Centre Vertex to create different angles.


Now with a laying perfect square in perspective, it is a simple thing to draw the perfect cube from the groundwork we have lain.   We will complete this 3 Dimensional cube in the next posting.


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.”



Andrew Loomis preface

The books Andrew Loomis wrote are wonderful summations of his knowledge and his ideas.  They are also the preeminent folios of his beautiful drawings.  To hear my assessment of these collections, one might wonder why there is a need to author a blog entitled “Understanding Loomis”.  Let it be said then, that as an advocate for clear thinking and clear instruction, I believe that despite the quality of his books there still is room to finesse Andrew Loomis’ pedagogical methods.  Perhaps I am more slow-witted than others, but in several cases within the breadth of reading his writing, I was only able to grasp his point by carefully reading the text, drawing the exercise/example, then reading his text again.  The point being that reading his words and observing the pictures only constituted a very cursory understanding of his theory for me; I needed to break it down further to integrate the truth he is expressing.  To explain the theory and technique in written form for a third party helps clarify Loomis’ thoughts even more in my mind.  This then is the continued reason behind the project and my desire for fully “Understanding Loomis”.  In addition, I hope to illuminate my readers to the beauty of his reasoning mind, and the technical solutions he has outlined to achieve Successful Drawing.

Theory of Perspective, pages 20-29

(notes were originally taken by myself on Jan 7th, 2016)

The first major idea that Andrew Loomis covers is the common idea that everything we see and seek to draw can be broken down into geometric shapes; the block, the cone, the pyramid, the cylinder, the sphere and the torus.

(for those unfamiliar with the final shape called the torus, here is an image of one)


He further expands this point by showing how the various and complicated forms  in nature are really only elaborations of the overarching basic shape, the block.  It is important to recognize that Loomis does not call the primary shape the cube -his term ‘block’ constitutes cubes as well as rectangular prisms of all shapes; it is a more basal term.  He adds that a block is to be considered the main shape because even a perfect sphere fits within a cubular block, thus the block form can be used as a shorthand for all the others.  He states: ” The cube or block may be thought of as the box that will fit around anything in the universe.”

This is where Loomis really gets cooking.  Following this point, he goes on to aim at the heart of one of the most trouble-inducing elements of drawing,  figure ground relationship with relative proportion.

Loomis confidently states that the challenge is actually one which is easily met, even though many experienced illustrators and artists fail to achieve it.  Furthermore, when one considers Loomis’ theory of “Intelligent Perception”, the fact that everyman can plainly see an error in figure/ground relationship, a need to sort this problem out shows as a paramount concern.

Following this he indicates that using the geometric shape as a starting point is more than a method of establishing form, it is also an essential way to comprehend how light and shadow effects form. Using geometric shapes establishes an understandable mass to the subject in our mind, so we are commonly able to visualize the back and the sides of the subject which are hidden from view.

The way which light falls on the geometric shapes is predictable and simple to memorize.  There is a Truth in the correct modelling of light and shadow on a shape which ‘Intelligent Perception’ knows.  The modelling reenforces the form, as each are interchangeable partners; form and modelling, modelling and form.

On the other hand, the absence of correct modelling (and therefore the absence of correct form) presents a problem so profound that no amount of technical panache or random hatching and texturing can correct it.  In this Loomis is in agreement with another favourite illustrator of mine, John Buscema.

I have read somewhere Buscema stating that other comic artists who added unnecessary lines and creases on a face were in fact attempting to make up for an incorrect placement of the features, a basic mistake which they couldn’t recognize.  In your own personal study of art, and especially drawing, I encourage you to look out for this.  When your ‘Intelligent Perception’ alarm is going off, take a quick look to see if the drawing is overly cluttered with detail.  An ‘open’ drawing has nothing to hide behind, and when the artist simply places the features correctly, the viewer will be satisfied.






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.