Overview of Process:

Developing an Envelope

The drawing process utilized in this program will echo the process taught in various contemporary ateliers and those used by numerous ateliers of mid-nineteenth century. Refer to these two historic texts following this process, both written by students of Alexander Cabanel: 

“Drawing in Charcoal and Crayon for the Use of Students and Schools” by Frank Fowler 
“The Practice of Oil Painting and Drawing” by Solomon J. Solomon 

The process developed for this program, while following the text closely, has been modified to accommodate both students with no experience or natural abilities of proportion and those with experience who are lacking refinement at various stages of the drawing process. It is preferred that you work in the prescribed method during the program, and you may deviate to more simplified methods once skills have been developed sufficiently. 

Determining Proportions

The first task is to determine the proportions (height to width) of the intended subject, and mark these lines on a blank paper, effectively drawing a rectangle. Imagine a glass box around the subject (a figure, a portrait, a plaster cast, etc.). Your goal is to create a rectangle on the drawing paper that mimics the dimensions of this glass box. 

When working sight-size, this should be relatively easy. Select and mark on the blank paper the left-most side of the intended drawing. Using a dowel, align the left side of the subject with the tip of the dowel and the right side with your finger. Slide the dowel to the blank paper, align the mark on the paper with the left side of your dowel, and mark the right side (next to your finger). Draw two plumb lines for the left and right sides of the box. These will act as plumbs that may be measured against. Next, select a top of the subject (you may choose to have your drawing level with the subject, in which case the top of your drawing should fall on the same level as the top of the subject). Using a dowel, align the top side of the subject with the tip of the dowel and the bottom with your finger. Slide the dowel to the blank paper, align the tip of the dowel with your top mark, and mark the bottom side by your finger. Draw a level line through the mark at the top and at the bottom, and you now have the outer boundaries of your box.

When not working sight-size, you must employ comparative measurements. Compare the short side of the “glass box” to the long side. How many short measurements does it take to create the long measurement? This proportion must be determined first. Let us consider we have measured the width as the short side, and decided the height is 1 3⁄4 widths tall. We must now determine a box size (most likely enlarged from our reference), whose width is a size of our choosing, and whose height is 1 3⁄4 times larger. Perhaps our reference is a seated figure, too small to render sight size, and we would like to produce a drawing of good size on a 24x18” piece of paper. If we select a measurement of 12” for the width, the height (1 3⁄4 the width), would in turn be 21”: a good size figure for the selected paper. Mark the left and right boundaries of the box (approximately 12” apart), and using the dowel, mark the top and bottom boundaries (approximately 1 3⁄4 the size of the width). Using a ruler is discouraged, as mathematical calculations will take too much time from the comparatively small amount of time available with the model. Learn to determine solid approximations for halves, quarters, thirds, and fifths. Once the boundaries are marked, draw plumb lines for the left and right sides of the box and levels for the top and bottom. Re-measure to verify the proportions are accurate. 

Developing an Envelope, Scheme, and Shadow Map

Once accurate proportions are obtained, a solid scheme should be created. The scheme is the structure for the subject, indicating general tilt, proportions, and the simplification of curves into angled lines. A solid scheme should accomplish all of this with 4-10 lines. It is the simplified shape of the subject. While it is sometimes wise to construct scheme lines around solid, unmoving masses (such as the trunk of the body), it is highly recommended to begin by creating scheme lines that follow the outside of the subject. Oftentimes, students who have utilized scheme lines that intersect the subject become confused about which subtle points fall on which side of the line, and tend to spend valuable time back-tracking to sort through the confusion. Once skilled, however, the student may use any scheme line deemed valuable and understandable. 

First, determine which aspects of the subject intersect the box drawn (there should be at minimum four). Plot these points on the box. These are your anchors, and should not change. If these four points have been determined correctly, you may triangulate from them, refer back to them via plumbs and levels, and work comparative measurements from them. 

Next, work to reduce the many sides and shapes of the subject into the basic scheme. Consider that at all times each scheme angle should touch the subject in at least one place, preferably two if possible. Work primarily to cut corners from the box, removing as much empty space as possible, as a sculptor removes stone. Strive to work around from the side of the box to the adjacent side, until you have made your way all the way around.

Progressing Toward an Envelope:

Let us consider how we might reduce this shape into a successful and informative scheme. The first and primary goal is to “put it in a box”. Correct proportions must be established. If this primary element is out of place, all subsequent measurements will likely lack accuracy. Once the box is established, be aware of the points on the subject that interact with the boundaries of the box (which we will call “anchors”). In this case, there are six.

First "Chop"

Working from an intersecting point established, an angle is transcribed to the solid end of the shape’s curve. The line is drawn. This is similar to the first large chop a sculptor would take when carving down a block of stone.

Second "Chop"

Going counterclockwise, an angle is transcribed from a separate intersecting point to the same end of the shape’s curve. The intersection of the two lines marks the point (through the principle of triangulation). The point may be further checked by administering additional triangulation (from other intersecting points), comparative, or sight size (if applicable). 

Third "Chop"

The intersecting point from step two is connected to the intersecting point on the bottom to create the third chop.

Fourth "Chop"

An angle is transcribed from the bottom intersecting point to the peak of the curve on the form. The line is drawn. 

Fifth "Chop"

Now the process becomes subtle. An angle is taken from a student-selected point on the right plumb of the box that will touch a peak of the curve of the shape, ultimately intersecting the previous cut. The angle of this cut will vary depending on the launching point from the box. This type of cut (launching from a non-anchor) is more delicate, with larger room for error, and must be treated accordingly. Ultimately, the angle should help to reveal the average of the curve it is simplifying.

Sixth "Chop"

This most delicate of cuts works from a student-selected point on the top of the box to a student-selected point on the side of the box, grazing the peak of the shape’s curve in the middle. This one angle must be chosen to best average the curve of the form. 

Transcribing the Scheme

Either while creating each angle, or once the scheme has been established on the reference, transcribe the angles to the paper in the same manner they were determined on the reference (opt to launch from points intersecting the box, determine the angle with a dowel, slide the angle over to the drawing paper, and draw the line at the angle indicated by the dowel.) Check measurements via triangulation, comparative, or if possible, sight size. The scheme should reveal the proportion and tilt of the subject, as well as a simplification of curved angles. 

Did you Know?

If you are feeling overwhelmed with the initial volume of scheme measurements, you can simplify it more! This scheme still reflects accurate proportions and direction. 

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Once a solid scheme has been established, each straight line must be further broken into two straight lines, working all the way around the drawing. Once this pass is completed, each mark must be measured for accuracy. Then, an additional pass may be advised to break each of those straight lines down into two additional straight lines, re-measuring after the pass is complete. The student has the option to continue this process until the straight lines naturally dissolve into curved lines, or, once enough straight line information has been established, the student may strive to execute a confident and accurate curved line describing the boundaries of the shape. When uncertain, and if the student has not developed enough hand-eye coordination to command the subtlety of the curve, additional passes of the chop procedure are recommended. Consider the following: 

After the First Pass

In breaking down the first scheme line drawn into a series of straight lines to represent the curve, we will note the ending points of the line that represent the corners of the shape. 

The Second Pass

Transcribe an angle from the corner of the shape to a (student determined) point in the middle of the curve. Draw the line. Transcribe an angle from the other corner of the shape to that same point in the middle of the curve. Draw the line. The meeting of the lines on the drawing will describe the point on the reference (the method of triangulation). You may check this measurement with additional triangulation from the anchors, comparative measurements, or sight size (if applicable). 

The Third Pass

Transcribe an angle from the corner of the shape to a (student determined) point in the middle of the curve. Draw the line. Transcribe an angle from the midpoint established in step two to that same point in the middle of the curve. Draw the line. The meeting of the lines on the drawing will describe the point on the reference (the method of triangulation). You may check this measurement with additional triangulation from the anchors, comparative measurements, or sight size (if applicable). Work again from the opposite corner. 

At this point, enough information should be present for the student to use his or her eye and freehand the information between the two points. If needed, the student may plot points or triangulate to find additional information to complete the curve. 

Did You Know?

If the subject presents an element of symmetry (such as the human body or a portrait seen from the front) it may be wise to slightly modify the pass process listed above. Instead of working steadily around the subject, work from side to side noting answering shapes. 


For example, each time the scheme lines of one hip are broken into more lines, address the scheme lines of the opposite hip. This will not only ensure the envelope for a single area is being developed correctly, but that the relationship between parts of the envelope are being developed appropriately to each other. 

Mapping the Shadows

The Shadow Map

Once an accurate envelope has been created (this can be as broad as a second pass or as finished as a perfect contour), the student must repeat the process to map the shadows on the inside of the form. While the process of transcribing angles, plotting points, and using plumbs and levels is the same, students must now begin the organizational process of assigning general values to the subject. 

First, look at the subject with eyes nearly closed (squint down at the subject). The subject should begin to reduce to a light side and a dark side. The darks of the shadows will all begin to blend together, separating them from half-lights and highlights. This will reveal the boundary line to draw, dividing lights and darks. If squinting does not yield the division between light and dark, squint harder until the eyes are barely open. If two values are too close together to determine a boundary (while eyes are squinted), they should be considered part of the same group- either light or dark. 

Ultimately, consider that this is an organizational tool to use. If the drawing contains countless small shapes delineated within the shadow map, the subject is most likely not simplified correctly, and some of these shapes should be grouped together. Also consider that areas deemed dark will ultimately receive a scrubbing of willow charcoal to be stumped and dragged to establish tone, so be certain a shape is dark enough to warrant this treatment. For example, half-lights may be erroneously considered dark when placed next to a highlight, due to their contrasting nature, but a half-light should not receive an initial scrubbing of willow. 

Finally, consider that not all subjects will warrant a shadow map. If the tone is delicate and evenly lit, with no considerable value jump from lights to darks, there is no need to create a shadow map. This will demand a greater concentration and development of the envelope, however, as there will no longer be the ability to compare the shape pattern created by shadow mapping. The conditions creating this are typically a studio with evenly distributed light, lacking focus or intensity, and a subject with a uniform local value. This handicap may be avoided if local values exist on the subject to create and group smaller shapes within the confines of the whole. 

The shadow map is built in the same method as the envelope, but the interior shapes are addressed. It is important to consider this focus is the abstract shape pattern, NOT the anatomy or planes of the subject. Addressing anatomy too early will likely cause severe drawing errors.