On Planar Analysis

People draw for many reasons, to communicate ideas, to brainstorm, design, create characters , express emotions, observe the world, to name a few. In drawing, like in many other artistic disciplines, it is important to build on fundamental concepts and processes in order to give free reign to your creativity. When it comes to the study three-dimensional form through drawing, understanding form is very important. There is a process many artists utilize to break down form called planar analysis.

Planar Analysis is the break down of a complex form into flat planes. It is very helpful when trying to achieve volume in drawings of irregular non-geometric forms. Applying planar analysis goes hand in hand with a structural or constructive approach to drawing and it is beneficial when working from direct observation and when inventing. When drawing from direct observation the artist is responding to the subject observed and re-interpreting the form. When working  from memory or the imagination an understanding of planes can help in the construction of a believable volumetric image.

Above, is a detail image of one of my drawings from the toy series at the planar stage. This post focuses mainly on the drawing process, but I will take this opportunity to write a little bit about how this body of work originated. At the time, as a mother of young children, toys were scattered all over the house and were part of my every day life. As a college art professor, teaching observational drawing inspired me to get back into drawing from life myself, and I found toys to be a great subject due to their interesting forms and the potential for the exploration of metaphor through the still life. For that series, I worked both on toys of organic and geometric form and thoroughly enjoyed the process. This dinosaur is of organic form since it is made to look life like. Below are the steps I took to get to the planar stage of the drawing.

Gesture

First I mapped a light intuitive gesture with vine charcoal which allowed me to see the composition on the page.  Vine charcoal comes off easily so I could make adjustments to the over all design  just a few minutes into the work.

Sighting the gesture

I kept refining the drawing by analyzing proportions, angles and alignment, which are all aspects of sighting and measuring. Some of you may be familiar with the process. As you can see, this next image shows further development. The horizontal and vertical lines surrounding the figure show the study of placement of the different parts to the whole. For example, where does the top of the back line up to the tail? Where does the top of the head line up to the legs? Where does the hind leg on the floor line up to the tail or other leg?. This is typically done after checking key measurements. I also observed the changes in direction of the curves by checking angles.

Analysis of planes

In this stage, you can see the break down of the object into planes. To break down the form into planes, an artist drafts a line at the edge where the surface changes direction showing that there is a turn. It is important to keep in mind that planes are always connected to one another and that perspective has an influence on the shape of the plane. When working with planar analysis, it helps to think as a sculptor and imagine that you are creating a three dimensional model of the subject with paper or cardboard. Ask yourself where you would fold the cardboard to turn the form and that would be where you draw the line that defines the plane change. Going from big to small planes is the most effective. It is important to practice the process over and over to fully understand it.

Value block-in

Planar analysis helps with the development of lights and darks (value) in a drawing. This image shows the initial stages of value development. I was aiming for simple patterns of light and dark shapes (three to four tones). This simplicity reinforces unity in a composition.

Finished piece

In the finished piece, you can see a wider range of lights and darks as well as mark-making that follows the form. In this particular drawing I had a lot of fun developing the surface of the surrounding space and using color emotionally. I found working on the toy series enriching and appreciated the narrative potential in the subjects I was using. It was also good practice to work from toy animals, fun and challenging at the same time. This led me to create a major assignment in which students draw animals from life-like toys for my Drawing II class. Teaching and learning to draw analytically is not necessarily easy. It takes transforming the way you see and understand form which is not always comfortable, but allows for growth.

More examples of planar analysis in drawing

A planar approach is widely used when drawing subjects such as the human form, animals, bones, drapery, fruits, vegetables, shoes and plaster casts are some great subjects to draw from when practicing planar analysis. Below are samples from one of my Life Drawing  class demos showing the progression of the structural study of a skull. The first image shows the intuitive gesture, this takes about one minute. Then comes the analysis of proportions angles and alignment, which can take about 20 minutes and finally the analysis of the planes. I consider each stage a layer in the drawing process.

The study from a life-like toy gator below shows the planar process as well. Many artists and designers construct their drawings this way; animators, concept artists, sculptors, industrial designers, painters  to name a few.  One important artist who relied on planar structure to create compositions was Luca Cambiaso click here to see one of his drawings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection: http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/335650. Alberto Giacometti, one of my personal favorites created some wonderful planar studies as you can see in this group of drawings http://thefuturelab.org/2011/02/01/716/.

Keep in mind that planar analysis is a helpful approach in the study of volume through drawing, but not the only one. Many artists will use cross-contour or chiaroscuro to study the three-dimensional quality of a subject. Personally I am a big fan of constructive drawing and find that it helps me when drawing from observation, photo references and memory. To many this process may seem overly analytical at first but it can give you the freedom to develop your drawings loosely with a lot of expression yet maintaining clarity.  I hope you found this helpful. Come back and visit for future instructional material.

End of the year sketches

I spent the last week of 2014  camping with my husband and kids at Jekyll Island, Ga. The setting was ideal for reflecting on the ending year and setting goals for the new year. Here are a couple of sketchbook drawings from that week. I wish all of you a Happy New Year!

Driftwood sketch

Jekyll

Adriana Burgos, sketchbook drawing, charcoal and sanguine, driftwood

 We are getting ready for our last family vacation of the year, a camping trip to one of my favorite places in Georgia, Jekyll Island. The island has beautiful beaches, marshes, rivers, gorgeous huge oak trees and beautiful driftwood along the water. This is a sketch I did on site at Driftwood Beach a while back. I was drawn to the beautiful shapes created by the branches. I look forward to more sketching this trip!

 

Studies of space and movement from multiple figures

Last week I posted a single quick gestural drawing from the karate journals. This week I am sharing a study of  multiple figures. I have found that the practice of quick gesture studies from life during my kids’ karate classes has given me the opportunity to explore composition and space. With no time to think, just look and record and this allows me to respond to the shapes and rhythms created by a room full of figures. I enjoy enhancing composition with light and dark and creating areas of emphasis by developing some figures more than others.

Docks and Piers

I am so grateful to live near the ocean and coastal rivers. Savannah has beautiful waterways and I often get away with my family in our camper to the beach or by a river.

Here is a selection of sketchbook drawings done from docks or fishing piers over the years. These were all done from direct observation. My favorite thing about drawing from direct observation is that the response to the subject being drawn is more emotional and the feeling of the space makes it into the drawing.

View from the gate

This is the first post under the Sunday sketchbook category. I plan to upload a sketchbook entry every Sunday.

I did this sketch at the Atlanta airport, while waiting to board the plane on a business trip. This was done with ballpoint pen on a travelogue sketchbook.

I had fun observing all the activity that happened while I was drawing and hope to have captured some of that.

Adriana Burgos, sketchbook entry, 2014, ballpoint pen

Adriana Burgos, sketchbook entry, 2014, ballpoint pen

Sketches from nature

I grew up in Costa Rica, a country with great biodiversity. My father was an agronomist and as a child I lived in a research center in a beautiful tropical valley. I spent a lot of time outside  and have always been quite the environmentalist.

It should come as no surprise that as an adult I enjoy camping and love sketching from nature when I have a chance. Drawing from nature on site is a perfect way to connect with a specific place.

Georgia’s natural resources are inspiring as well. Here are a couple of my sketches from a recent trip to Magnolia Springs State Park (one of our favorite spots to camp in). These were done with sepia copic liner.

Sketchbook drawing, Adriana Burgos, April 2014

Sketchbook drawing, Adriana Burgos, April 2014

Adriana Burgos, sketchbook page, Magnolia Springs April 2014

Adriana Burgos, sketchbook page, Magnolia Springs April 2014

On contour line drawing

One of the great things about teaching is that you never cease to learn. As an artist, I can choose to focus on the drawing and painting processes I enjoy the most. As an instructor however, I teach for specific course outcomes and encourage my students to gain a better understanding of the broad scope of drawing.

Over the years, I have grown to love the contour line drawing process. This is an approach in which the artist slowly records the inner and outer edges of an observed subject with a pure deliberate line. Many drawings by David Hockney, Henry Matisse, Egon Schiele, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Ellsworth Kelly, are great examples of contour line drawings.

It is the end of the second week of Fall quarter, and we have been working on contour line drawings from complex still lives in my Drawing I class. Although the emphasis of this unit has been on form and space, the question about drawing texture came up. I decided I would do some studies from textural forms myself to make handouts. Looking around for good subjects, I thought it would be fun to draw the pineapple that had been sitting on my kitchen counter and this was the result.

pineapple demo

Pineapple study, Adriana Burgos 2014, from the sketchbook

It was fun to interpret the texture and the radiating patterns of the leaves. I wanted to make sure the drawing did not look flat, so I relied on line variation to show the pineapple’s three-dimensional form.

To me, the beauty of contour drawing lies in the purity of line and its expressive potential. Great results can be achieved early on, from simply observing intently. The best subjects for contour drawings (even for beginners) are complex forms or setups. Botanicals, the human form, bones, urban-scapes, drapery, shells, shoes are ideal to work from. Complexity will allow the artist to get lost in the observation process and focus on developing keen perceptual skills. Over time, the practice of a variety of drawing methods and a deeper understanding of form has a positive effect on how much can be expressed with a single line.

I prefer working in a gestural manner for my large drawings, but enjoy exploring many approaches in my sketchbook. Below is a selection of contour studies from my sketchbooks.

Exploring silverpoint

Silverpoint is one of my favorite mediums for small format drawings. I began using it almost 11 years ago when my oldest son, Nicolas was a baby.  My work is usually large and gestural but when I became a new mother, I adapted my studio practice to my new circumstances. I could no longer plan extended times in the studio, so I began a series of small observational drawings of Nicolas while he napped.

Format affects the choice of media and working small required a change of drawing tools, I took this opportunity to explore silverpoint (a thin piece of silver with a sharp point). Old masters worked with silverpoint among other drawing mediums before graphite was invented.

Silver will make a mark on a surface if it is prepared with grounds such as gouache, acrylic or rabbit skin glue; there are even prepared grounds specifically for silverpoint on the market. With time, the drawing tarnishes and turns a beautiful warm grey.  I have worked on gesso boards, 5 ply bristol prepared with gouache and most recently on plike paper, which needs no preparation. One of the advantages of preparing your own grounds is that you can tint it. Many old and contemporary  silverpoint drawings have been done on tinted grounds.

Most of my silverpoint drawings are observational.  In my figurative and still life drawings, my focus has been on reinforcing form and space with line. When drawing landscapes, I have been interested achieving an atmospheric quality and capturing a sense of the place. I find it convenient and fun to work with silverpoint “en plein air” (on site) because my paper fits easily in my sketchbook and I carry very few tools, yet I can take my time to develop the piece.

My latest drawing, “The Encounter” (below) is a narrative piece in which I resumed the process of working from numerous references. I can see how my perceptual drawings have influenced the handling of space. This piece is the first of a new series of small format narrative drawings as studies for larger pieces. Look for posts on the progress of the series in the coming months!

“Encounter”, Adriana Burgos, 8.5″ x 11″, silverpoint on plike paper, 2014