Using Light to Create Three-Dimensional Figures

Creating a Sense of Volume
In other lessons, we have discussed creating volume by drawing over and around the form, seeing how lines are able to create a feeling of three dimensions. In the real world we live in, we see volume described not only by the surfaces which go around the forms, but also by the light and the shadow that distinguish the sides of figures, or the planes, as we call them.

To create this same intense feeling of reality in our drawings, we need to be able to see our subjects as having tops, fronts, sides and bottoms. The simplicity of the box is the starting point for visualizing these planes. The use of the box for simplification is a traditional approach with a long history going back into the Renaissance and beyond. Luca Camiaso and Albert Durer are good examples of artists that used it to great advantage.

Our next step will be to define these planes with values of tone that give the illusion of light falling on them. When we are working in the field, the direction of light is usually established for us. As we discovered in earlier chapters, we do not necessarily need to take the light that is given to us, but have the option of making it come from wherever we need to have it come from for our purposes. Although we aren’t stuck with the direction of light given us, we should try to be consistent in our use of our light source.

When working in the field, I find using a simple watercolor wash the quickest and easiest way to create a sense of light that describes form. The tone can also be applied when you get home or at a later time.

Use Light and Wash to Create Three Dimensionality
See how the wash helped to show the volume of the figures.

By Glenn Vilppu

Glenn Vilppu teaches life drawing at the American Animation Institute, the Masters program of the UCLA Animation Dept., Walt Disney Feature Animation, Warner Bros. Feature Animation, Dreamworks and Rhythm & Hues Studios. Vilppu has also worked in the Animation industry for 18 years as a layout, storyboard and presentation artist, most of this time was spent working at Disney. His drawing manual and video tapes are being used worldwide as course materials for animation students. Glenn Vilppu has, in effect, either through teaching them directly or teaching their teachers, trained an entire generation of professional animators.

This article originally appeared in Animation World Magazine, December 12, 2001. This is the tenth in a series of articles based on my Sketching on Location Manual. The manual was developed as a series of lessons that I use on my guided sketching tours of Europe and as material in my regular drawing classes. As such, the lessons can be part of a regular course or used by individual students as a practical learning guide. If you have not seen the previous lessons, it is recommended that you do. The lessons are progressive and expand on basic ideas. It is suggested that you start from the beginning for a better understanding of my approach. If you really want to start at the beginning, open with the lessons based on the Vilppu Drawing Manual.

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