Art Themes: Choices in Art Learning and Making

Art Themes: Choices in Art Learning and Making

by Marjorie Cohee Manifold

ISBN: 9780253022929

Publisher Indiana University Press

Published in Arts & Photography/Study & Teaching

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Lessons in Drawing Realistically

Very young children typically are free and open about the process of art making. For these young artists, art making is an act of gestural play, an exploration of media, and an expression of immediate emotions and ideas. There is little concern for or attempt at realism; a child's art making is expressive, idiosyncratic, individually and socially symbolic.

When adolescents or adults return to art making, much of the playfulness has been forgotten. Older would-be artists have been conditioned to experience visually realistic representations as art. Therefore, older students who return to art making after a hiatus of several years may want to learn basic rules of creating realistic art in order to develop or re-awaken confidence in their artistic abilities. The lessons in this section offer choices of subject matter, techniques, and traditional media for realistic drawing. Students are introduced to ways of observing real objects in space and are provided instructions on how to translate what they see into competent visual images or artifacts. Through the stimulation of ideas that spark emotional expression and invite experimentation with traditional approaches, the lessons in this section will encourage students to rediscover art making as a playful adventure.

Lesson 1: Shading Rounded Objects

Have you ever tried to draw a ball, cylinder, or human body? These shapes have surfaces that are concave (curved inward) or convex (curved outward); their surfaces are rounded rather than flat. Light and shadows define the three-dimensional form of rounded objects. When light hits a curved surface two effects result: the part closest to the light source will be very bright, while the part farthest from the light source will be darkened. Unlike a flat-sided object, where shading may change sharply from one angle to another, on a rounded surface the shading seems to change gradually. In this lesson, you will look closely at a group of rounded objects to examine how light falls on these kinds of surfaces. Additionally, you will notice how shadows fall when an object closest to the light overlaps and blocks light from falling on another object. You will describe what you observe by drawing those areas of light and shadow that define a still life.


1. Arrange a group of curved or round objects into a still life composition. Some objects should be placed in front of others to create a visual overlap.

2. Make sure the light illuminating the objects comes from a strong single source, such as a floodlight, flashlight, or reading lamp. Dim all other lighting and pull shades or curtains to block diffused daytime lighting.

3. On a 9" × 12" sheet of white drawing paper, draw the contour shapes of the objects in the grouping you have arranged.

4. Check your drawing for correct proportions of one object to another.

5. In order to show clearly what happens when the rounded objects are lit by a single light source, note the following:

a. Use various soft and hard lead pencils to show gradations of light to dark.

b. The small section of the rounded object that directly faces (and is therefore closer to) the light source will be lighter than the parts of the object that fall away from this point.

c. Very few parts will be completely black (no reflected light) or white (maximum reflected light).

d. Most surfaces will reflect some lesser or greater gradations of shading.

e. Pay attention to shadows under the rounded objects and to places where shadows overlap each other.

6. Draw objects that are close to you in greater detail than those that are farther away.

Materials Needed

white drawing paper, 9" × 12"

drawing pencils with soft and hard leads


assorted found objects with rounded forms


Still Life
Visual Texture


* a drawing of a group of rounded objects with overlaps, lit from a single light source, with gradations of shadows


Study how shadows affect dark- or light-colored objects and reflective or matte surfaces differently. As a lesson extension, try drawing a still life of objects with dark and light or matte and reflective surfaces. After completing the drawing, add touches of color to some of the darkest areas of the drawing with colored pencils or watercolors. Does color alone change your perception of depth and volume? If so, how? What role do light and dark play when combined with color?

Lesson 2: Drawing Elliptical Shapes

Flat circular shapes are common in our environment. We see them in dinner plates, coffee cups, manhole covers, buttons, and hubcaps and wheels of various vehicles. We are so accustomed to what round-shaped objects are that we are often unaware of how they really look when seen from differing positions. Drawing compels us to look carefully at these objects. A circular shape with a flattened top and bottom, such as a plate or bottle cap, only looks perfectly round when the circular side is seen at a right angle to you. If the circular side is tilted, it appears as an ellipse. The greater the tilt away from the viewer, the flatter the ellipse. This lesson is an introduction to drawing elliptical shapes; it should help you draw rounded, circular, or cylindrical objects in visually convincing ways.


1. As practice for your finished drawing, from three different viewpoints sketch the outline of a cylindrical object or an object that is both round and has flattened sides, such as a plate, a wheel, or a fry pan. The task is to draw different ellipses that you see as the objects are tilted away from you. You may have some difficulty drawing evenly shaped ellipses because this takes practice with eye-hand coordination, but the greater difficulty is stopping yourself from thinking of the object as circular in order to observe how it changes from a circle to ellipse as you move the object. Notice that as the object is moved, both the top and bottom of the object simultaneously will appear elliptical.

2. Now for a finished drawing, arrange a group of five to eight food cans, opaque bottles, or cylindrical objects of varied sizes, such as soft drink cans, ceramic vases, or paper cups, into an interesting still life grouping.

a. Some of the cans, vases, or cylindrical objects should partially overlap others.

b. The arrangement should expose the ends of the rounded forms.

c. Do not use transparent glass or plastic objects, as the appearance of an ellipse may be distorted when viewed through transparent objects.

3. Dim overhead lights and pull the blinds or curtains to darken your room as much as possible, then set up a strong light source near the still life.

a. This strong light source should cause parts of the rounded forms to appear shaded.

b. Objects also should cast distinct shadows on the table or surface where they are resting.

4. On heavy white 9" × 12" drawing paper, draw the main contours or outline shapes of the elliptical forms. Use a variety of soft and hard lead pencils to create strong and soft outlines.

5. Add areas of shade. Shading helps you see the cans, vases, or cups as curved rather than flat objects.

a. Draw any shadows that are cast by objects overlapping and/or blocking light from falling directly on parts of other cylindered or rounded forms.

6. When all the shapes have been drawn as accurately as possible and the curved sides have been shaded to show where shadows create a sense of rounded form, look at where shadows fall on the table or surface that the cylindrical objects are resting upon.

a. What shapes do you see in these shadows?

b. How do they help you recognize that the objects drawn are curved forms rather than flat objects?

c. Add these shadows to your drawing.

Materials Needed

white drawing paper, 9" × 12"

drawing pencils with soft and hard leads


assorted found objects with rounded and cylindrically shaped forms (avoid selecting glass or transparent objects)


Found Objects
Still Life


* three preliminary sketches of a round object from three different viewpoints

* a finished still life drawing

* a brief written explanation of how objects with circular or cylinder shapes change appearance as the angle from which they are viewed changes, and how shadows help us see the objects in the drawing as being rounded

Lesson 3: Facial Proportions

From birth, humans are attracted by and attentive to faces. Perhaps it is because faces are so important to recognition that we are both fascinated by and anxious about drawing identifiably accurate faces. There are simple tools of proportion that can be used to help draw faces realistically. In this lesson, you will use a reflection of your own face as a model in learning to draw the proportions of a face.


1. Sit in front of a mirror that is large enough for you to be able to see your whole face and neck. Notice that the shape of the human face, when viewed straight on, is somewhat egg (oval) shaped.

2. Draw an oval shape on a sheet of 9" × 12" white drawing paper. Make the oval large, so that it fills the center of the drawing paper.

3. Now notice that if you were to draw a line vertically down the center of your face, your facial features would appear rather symmetrical; that is, the right and left halves are mirror images of each other. Lightly draw a vertical line down the center of the oval on your paper.

4. Notice that your eyes are located on a horizontal line that is halfway between the top of your head and the bottom of your chin.

a. You may be surprised to see that the components that make up the face (eyes, nose, mouth, chin, ears) are all located in the bottom half of the oval, below this horizontal line.

b. The eyebrows and hairline are the only features above the imaginary halfway line.

5. Place the eyes on the horizontal line. The head is about four eye widths wide, with one eye width between the two eyes and half an eye width from the outside corner of the eye to the side of the head.

6. The tip of the nose is about halfway between the center horizontal line (where the eyes are located) and the bottom of the chin. The width of the bulbous part of the nose depends on the person.

a. The bottom of the nose is often as wide as the inside corners of the eyes. So you can draw two lines down from the inside corners of the eyes, to mark the width of the nose.

7. Draw another line halfway between the tip of nose and bottom of the chin. The mouth is placed just above this line.

a. The corners of a mouth will line up with the center of the eyes.

Materials Needed

white drawing paper, 9" × 12"

drawing pencils with soft and hard leads






* a facial proportion drawing that includes features and details of hair

* a list of books and/or URLs to online tutorials used to assist in completion of this lesson


1. The instructions above give proportions for frontal face drawings. There are also rules of proportion that apply to side views of faces. As a lesson extension, practice drawing the proportions of the head from the side.

2. Manga and comics present popular artistic styles that are often employed by illustrators in drawing human faces and forms. If you are a fan of a particular manga or comic style of drawing, study how the preferred proportions of manga/comic characters differ from realistic human forms.

* Make a chart showing these differences.

* Create a second drawing of your face using the proportions of your favorite manga or comic style.

* Compare it to the original, realistic drawing. How are they similar or different? Which looks most like you? Which was easiest to draw? Why?

Lesson 4: A Mirror-Image Face

Many times artists refer to photographs to help them complete their drawings. Artists also may use parts of real photographs or commercial images in collage creations. This lesson uses a photographic collage to assist in drawing a realistic face. You will attach half of a photographic image of a face to a drawing surface, then you will complete the missing half of the photograph by drawing, thus combining two media in one project.


1. Select a large black and white magazine photograph of the full front view of a person's face and head. The image should be of the full frontal face and may range in size from about 6" × 8" to 8" × 10".

a. If you find a color photograph you would like to use, make a black and white photocopy of it before you begin the project. You may download an image off the internet, if the downloaded image is of sufficiently high quality to allow the accurate reproduction of shading or copying of fine details.

2. Cut the photograph exactly in half vertically (i.e., down an imaginary center line through the nose and between the eyes.) Each half will be approximately the same because faces are almost symmetrical, that is, the same on both sides of the center line.

3. Use rubber cement to attach one half of the photograph in the center of a sheet of white drawing paper. Clean off the excess rubber cement with a rubber cement eraser.

4. Keep the remaining half of the photograph for reference.

5. Use the cemented half of the picture as a guide to help you draw the missing half accurately. The unused half of the photograph can be studied to see how the features, hairstyle, shape of the head, and so on are formed. Draw the missing half of the picture with a soft lead pencil, so you can easily correct or adjust lines and shaded areas of the face.

a. Observe the contour (outline) of the shape of the face as accurately as possible.

b. Refer to Lesson 3 to review facial proportions.

c. Pay attention to light and dark areas. Use shading to make the face look solid.

Materials Needed

white drawing paper, 9" × 12"


rubber cement

rubber cement eraser

a magazine or photocopied frontal face image (approximately 6" × 8" to 8" × 10")

drawing pencils with soft and hard leads





* a brief essay (300–400 words), in which you

define symmetry in reference to facial portraiture

explain why it was easier to draw an image of a face when half of it already was provided as a guide

reflect upon your observations and drawing of a portrait

* a drawn facial portrait created by matching a photographic image, in which you demonstrate the use of accurate proportion, contour, and shading


Rather than drawing to recreate a portrait or magazine image of a face, try using pieces of magazine or newspaper text to correspond to light and dark values of a photograph or drawn facial image. Strips of magazine text or images can be laid and matched on a portrait that has been photocopied to an enlarged 8" × 12" size. As in the original instructions for this assignment, it may be helpful to complete one half of the image at a time, so as to have a reference guide for your work. Tack the strips with a dot of rubber cement or glue from a glue stick. When you are satisfied that the collage image is complete, tack down any lose ends of text with rubber cement and carefully clean excess dried cement from the image.

Lesson 5: An Extended Photograph

In many drawings, paintings, advertisements, and photographs, people are depicted in a specific setting such as a garden, museum, or living room. Without the background setting, it may be difficult to understand a person's actions. Backgrounds and surrounding objects add important information. They help us make sense of an image by placing it in context. What goes on beyond the space of that which is shown in a picture can add meaning or change the meaning of what we think we are seeing. For example, if you see a picture of a person who is dressed in a baseball outfit posed as if to throw a ball against a background of people seated in rows of seats similar to those of a baseball stadium, you might assume that the scene is of a pitcher throwing the ball to a batter during a baseball game. But what if the image were extended to show that the pitcher is throwing a ball at a stack of wooden milk bottles? This would change the meaning of the picture.

Excerpted from "Art Themes: Choices in Art Learning and Making" by Marjorie Cohee Manifold. Copyright © 2013 by Marjorie Cohee Manifold. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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