Seeing the Masses

On a previous blog post,  The Ways We See, a fellow EDM artist, Johanna, asked this question in her comment :  “So, how can I train my seeing to work with masses and shapes?”  There are probably many ways that a “line” person can train his/her eyes to see the shapes/masses, but I thought I’d give just a couple here…

ONE: Squint!  Yes, you heard right: narrow your eyes so you don’t see so much detail.  Take off your glasses, squint, whathaveyou to make everything fuzzy.  It’s an odd thing, but you actually SEE BETTER with your eyes half-closed.  This will simplify what you are trying to draw into basic shapes…shapes of light and dark, masses of values, rather than individual things, lines, details.  Try it out on a clear day in the morning or early evening when the shadows are long and crisp.  Then begin drawing the SHAPES you see while your eyes are half-closed.  And as you are drawing:

TWO: Don’t draw things, draw shapes and the connections between shapes!!!  In other words, if you see a shadow shape that includes the lower part of the canopy of a tree AND the tree’s trunk AND the area of the ground under the tree, then draw the shape of that shadow as one whole shape, NOT the individual PARTS of a tree.  Does this make sense?  If you’re looking at a face, and there’s a shadow shape that covers the eye socket, down one side of the nose and under the nose, then draw this as ONE shape, not as separate parts of the face.  Squint so you can really see this!:)

Try this on everything!  When you’re first starting out, you will “see” the masses better when there is strong lighting.  Set up a lamp on a still life arrangement, or beside a person you are drawing.  As you get more and more practice at this, you will be able to see it even if the light isn’t quite so strong.  Trees are a great thing to practice this on…draw the shape of the MASS of trees, rather than the INDIVIDUAL trees!  If the value of the trees is the same as the roof on a house, then draw the trees and the roof as ONE shape, not separate things.  Here is an example from my sketchbook about a year ago.  I was having a frustrating time drawing my backyard:

I didn’t like what I was drawing…everything felt disconnected and elementary.  Yuck.  So, I abandoned the drawing and began afresh with the same view, but I squinted, slowed down, and looked for the shapes and the connections between shapes:

Ahhh…much better.  I still didn’t finish it…life happens and drawings don’t get finished, but I kinda like that even so.  I hope you can see the difference in the two drawings.  Even unfinished, the second one has more solidity and connectedness.  Try it for yourself, whether you are a “line” person or a “mass” person…it’s great training for your eyes!

0 thoughts on “Seeing the Masses

  1. Alex Tan says:

    Nice post!!! I squint A LOT when I draw =) I didn’t know I was doing it until my wife(girlfriend then) told me that that’s what I do whenever I draw…I squint ^^ And NOW I know why I do that ^^ Thanks Jennifer!

  2. Johanna says:

    Thank you so much Jennifer for answering this question! I will try all of this for sure, I might even go out in my back yard as soon as I finish typing this. This was a very useful post!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.