Seeing is Subjective

What do we see when we look out upon a scene we are about to draw? This has often been a question on my mind during workshops that I have taught. I suspect that when two of us stand side-by-side and gaze outward in the same direction, we might not see the same things. And even it we did, we might not be seeing those things in the same way.

This is not an argument for getting everyone to see the same things in the same way, and therefore, producing identical drawings of a scene. Seeing is subjective, influenced by our individual interests, experiences, and what each of us expect or believe to be “out there.” And in some sense, what you actually see is always going to seem to be unknowable to me, except through your drawings.

Good Bones

I am reposting something from six years ago: To begin a drawing done on location, we must first select an advantageous viewpoint that conveys a sense of place and frame the composition to fit on the page. Then, a crucial step is establishing the “bones” of the drawing—its basic structure—with the first lines we draw. For some views only a few lines may be necessary while for others, more might be required. 

It is essential to understand that once this structure is established, changes can still be made to calibrate scale, improve proportional relationships, and adjust the positioning of elements. Drawing these first few lines is simply a way to block out the essential relationships on a page quickly, before expending too much time on a drawing only to find out that a portion might be misplaced or is out of proportion to the rest of the composition.

Here is an example—a very quick outline of a view of the Campo in Siena. With more time and better weather, I might have finished it but I think it is possible to see and visualize the space even in this incomplete state.


Here are several examples of animals, either stuffed or sculpted, that have snuck into my drawings of spatial environments but cropped to focus on the animal forms themselves. What I try to do with animal forms is infuse the imagery with a three-dimensional feel, remembering that almost everything we draw are three-dimensional in nature.

An Appeal

I accidentally deleted an email sent to me, I believe, from Augsburg. The sender was inquiring about a spherical perspective similar to the one shown above that I drew of Athens, Ohio, in 1976. The daughter, an art student, might be following this blog, and if so, I hope she will ask the sender to resend the email l so that I can respond properly. Thank you!

A Home-Bound Sketch: Part II

Continuing the series of drawings that shows the development of my sketch of a Nikon FE2 manual SLR. In the view above, the nobs and dials atop the camera body have been extended vertically from their positions in the previous sketch, and the neckstrap has been added.

The 55mm f2.8 micro-Nikkor lens is projected outward from the camera body, using the previously drawn central axis as a guide for the circular forms.

Finally, shading is added to indicate the dark mottled surfaces of the camera body as well as the curved forms of the knobs, dials, and lens barrel. The final touches included adding the Nikon logos on the prism housing and lens cap, and the etched FE2 on the camera body itself.

Note: This drawing was done using the Procreate app on an iPad with the Apple pencil stylus. This enabled me to capture stages of the drawing as jpeg images.

A Home-Bound Sketch

Looking for something to draw during the current stay-at-home situation, an old manual SLR caught my eye. Here is a sequence of views showing the process by which I captured the Nikon FE2, a beautifully crafted machine. First, as shown above, I blocked out the main body of the camera. I placed the body to the right to allow for the later inclusion of the neckstrap.

Next, I developed the angled, faceted corners and the off-center position of the viewfinder and lens housing.

I then blocked out the viewfinder prism and lens housing along with a very important line, perpendicular to the body, that indicates the central axis of the lens. This would help guide the later development of the cylindrical forms of the lens.

The next step was to indicate the circular positions and sizes of the shutter speed dial, shutter release button, film winder, film rewind dial, and the eyelets for the neckstrap.

Next week, I will show the final stages of development.

Thought, Inspiration, and Mastery

Above each of the three entrance portals to Suzzallo Library on the Universiity of Washington campus (see sketch below) are three cast stone figures representing Thought, Inspiration, and Mastery. Above is a composite view of these three figures. Here is another, more careful attempt of Thought.

The proportions of the human figure is sometimes so difficult to get right, even when they are frozen in stone or marble. At the same time, I believe it is so important, as is the capturing of the “gesture.”

Drawing on Location Sharpens Visual Acuity

Visiting Swansons Nursery’s annual Reindeer Festival last week, I drew a few vignettes of the featured stars, Dasher and Blitzen. These incomplete views had to be done quickly because of the reindeers’ constant moving about. This exercise reminded me of how drawing from observation sharpens our visual acuity and helps us notice often subtle traits or characteristics. For example, I had always assumed that deer antlers grew symmetrically, but these reindeer had antlers that were not symmetrical at all. In doing some research, I came upon what biologists call fluctuating asymmetry in deer antlers, which can be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental stresses. In addition, these reindeer had a multipronged tine extending over their foreheads on one antler but not the other. This extra blade was supposedly used as a snowscraper!


There are many ways to begin a drawing on location. For architectural subject matter, I typically search for a vertical plane that is both prominent and whose proportions are discernible to the eye. Placing this plane, correctly sized and in the proper location, will ensure that the entire intended scene will fit the page.

Anther place to begin is with an important vertical edge, which becomes in effect a measuring stick for the entire scene.

We can also begin with a vertical spatial plane, which is appropriate when drawing views of streets, alleyways, and the interiors of church naves and halls.

Or when there is no discernible geometry that can guide us, then we have to resort to capturing an unusual shape or opening.

DeConstructing the Viaduct: Part II

It was somewhat difficult to capture these giant machines as they were moving and munching away at the elevated concrete structure. What I should have been more careful of was establishing the position of the machines’ armatures in such a way that it was clear what was machine and what was concrete structure. The way the forms overlap in the above view makes this distinction a little too ambiguous.