Thursday, July 9, 2009

Scale Tip

Here’s a tip for making something look gigantic: exaggerate the contrast between large, soft forms and tiny, sharp details.

For example, in this pencil sketch of a B777-200 yesterday, I peppered the big sausage shape of the fuselage with lots of tiny accents, all the way down to the rivets around the cockpit windows. (Click to enlarge.)

For a drawing like this, you’re not necessarily aiming for an obsessive level of finish. Instead you’re emphasizing extreme contrasts of scale and ignoring the middle-size shapes, such as the service vehicles.

I used a cardboard stomp to soften the big shadow shapes on the ground and on the underside of the aircraft. And I kept the HB pencil honed to a needle-sharp point.

It looks like I'm sketching Jeanette's portrait here, but actually I'm looking past her out the window.
Photo by Little Travel note: We're in Newcastle, U.K. now, a lovely city of honey-colored Victorian buildings left over from its industrial heyday. The architecture should make good watercolor sketching on Friday if the weather permits. Friday night the city transforms with its legendary "stag and hen" revelry.


Unknown said...

Great tip! I will have to give it a try.

Be sure to visit the Laing Gallery if you have a chance - it's free and it has some nice classical stuff like William Holman Hunt and Tadema.

Daniel.Z said...

Fantastic sketch!

Katherine Kean said...

Super tip - thanks!

Wonderful drawing too.

Victor said...

Man, that's a great drawing. How long did you have to make it?

Dave said...

Have a great time in the UK----- Jeremy says that there is a Tadema in the Laing Gallery––– its interesting that when we see a book of an Artist like Tadema we are really seeing a very small part of the artists work–––and then your in a Museum and there is a work that you have never seen before. and What a great surprise. Dave.

Anonymous said...

Great drawings as always... and advices. Here I have one question. It is metioned that:

"... ignoring the middle-size shapes, such as the service vehicles."

But isn't that true, that known objects, such as human figure, helps to define scale? In this case it would help to understand if that is "Airbus" or a smaller one.

Eric Braddock said...

Awesome sketch, James! How long were you waiting there? Regardless, it's a lovely drawing. Thanks for the tips! (as per usual) heh :)

Hope you enjoy your trip out there, it sounds wonderful.

Anonymous said...

welcome to U.K!
Was it a direct flight to Newcastle?
Or did you have to go to heathrow?
Liked the sketch of the plane!
Have a good stay in Newcastle.

harry bell said...

I look forward to seeing what you make of Newcastle (over the river from my home town of Gateshead). And if you get to the Laing, look out for the Burne-Jones and "Mad" John Martin's apocalyptic paintings, well represented there. The small Gauguin's not too shabby, either.

Torstein Nordstrand said...

One artist who truly excels at scale is of course John Harris. Any readers here not familiar with his work should order his wonderful book "Mass". In my opinion it is the bible of depicting size, scale and, yes, mass.

My Pen Name said...

In some ways you remind of Louis Auchincloss. Someone asked him how he found the time to write when worked full time as a lawyer and had a family. He said he just carried a notepad with him whereever he went,sometimes, waiting in court would be 10 minutes, sometimes an hour...eventually he had a book.

It seems to me that you take advantage of every opportunity to sketch. When i do do this, I find it really helps my overall drawing - i find it easier to get in a the flow of drawing when I am back at in my studio.

Question: Do you ever carry a smaller sketch book, like a pocket sized moleskine or do you find it is just to small to work with?

I also sometimes carry copies of master drawings or paintings in my sketchbook and practice copying those

Daroo said...

"... emphasizing extreme contrasts of scale and ignoring the middle-size shapes, such as the service vehicles."

I hadn't really thought of treating shapes in this way -- I'll adjust sizes to eliminate repetition or if it makes a more interesting composition.

But this makes sense -- its like keeping the tonal values of your light and shadow families separate. Or your warm and cool color temperatures clearly separate, instead of having an even transition that smoothly connects everything up and muddies what you are trying to say.

Gurney's Law of Conservation of Scale -- thanks for the new way to think about shapes.

Michael Dooney said...

Yeah it did look like you were drawing each other. It reminded me of a good tip from Scot Burdick, sometimes when he wants to take a photo of people somewhere in the world where they are tired of tourist taking their pictures, he puts his wife in the scene and folks think he's shooting her and not them...sneaky but good tip!

Mary Bullock said...

"exaggerate the contrast between large, soft forms and tiny, sharp details"
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm . . .
does this mean if I take all the details off my jeans, that I will look smaller? :-)

James Gurney said...

Frontblogger: you're right, if I had put little figures into the scene, it would have been the best way to suggest scale, but no one walked into the scene.

I did the sketch over an hour and a half period at Newark, and then we went on to Heathrow and a short flight to Newcastle.

We saw the Laing this morning, and the Victorian painting was spectacular. Harrybell, David, and Jeremy: you're right, the Tadema and Martins were fantastic, and there was the best Gotch I've ever seen, called Holy Motherhood

Anonymous said...

You're in Newcastle??? I'll be in Carlisle tomorrow! Would be really funny if we bumped into each other by chance!

I'll see if I manage to sketch some at the airport.

S. Weasel said...

I'm way, way down on the south coast. But if you're getting up there what we're getting down here this year, please enjoy our balmy tropical weather.

treplovski said...

Did you rmemeber to carry coals?

Mark Shasha said...

Wonderful! I enjoy your blog very much.