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.

South Park

This is the intersection of South Cloverdale Street and 14th Avenue South, at the heart of South Park, a working class neighborhood on the western shore of the Duwamish River. Even though South Park is surrounded by an industrial landscape, it has a pleasant small town feel. There is nothing spectacular here and that’s not a bad thing.