Drawing Spherical Forms

These first lessons are the most critical and are the most deceptively simple in appearance. Through experience, I have found them to be the most difficult for the student because of this apparent simplicity. Everything depends on your putting the time and effort into these initial lessons. Lesson one on Gesture was a good example of what seems to be simple but is something that in reality is only truly mastered after a lifetime of effort.

Now that you’ve “mapped out” the action of the pose, the next step in the process is to define your figure in three-dimensional space. Learning to see your subject in terms of simple shapes and forms along with values is one of the basic elements in learning to draw. I refer to this ability to see and use basic forms as visual tools. These visual tools, like any tool, help you to accomplish certain tasks. Without the right tools, doing anything becomes much more difficult.

This course is designed, step by step, to give you those tools and basic skills in using them. However, the design of a course does not guarantee that you will learn those skills automatically. You have to put in the time and effort to do the learning. To do anything successfully you must apply three basic elements: first, you must have a plan of attack or approach; second, you need the knowledge to put that plan into effect, and third, you must have the tenacity to carry it through to completion.

Let’s Get Drawing!
Start by drawing a series of spheres on your paper: first, singularly, and then, in pairs, overlapping and changing in size in relation to each other (See Illustration No. 1).

Drawing Spheres 1
Drawing Spheres 1

Combining two spheres as one complete form but still having, clearly, two parts gives the form a sense of life (See Illustration No. 2). Have your form walk, bend over, be curious, meet other forms like it, and create relationships. In short, bring it to life.

Drawing Spheres 2
Drawing Spheres 2

Creating a Sense of Volume
Through all this, you must maintain the sense of volume. What is a sense of volume? The use of the term “volume” in drawing generally means appearing three-dimensional. Having a “sense of volume” in a drawing is to give it this three-dimensional quality.

Drawing Spheres 3
Drawing Spheres 3

There are many different ways of creating this three-dimensionality that we experience as volume in a drawing. Illustrations No. 1 & 3 demonstrate overlapping, the most basic way to create a sense of form existing in space. Illustration No. 2 also uses overlapping but in this case the forms are connected and the overlapping does not completely separate the parts.

Drawing Spheres 4
Drawing Spheres 4

In Illustration No. 4 “A,” “B,” and “C,” you can see how important it becomes to decide carefully which lines overlap. In Illustration 4: “A,” the forms go away from us; in “B,” they come forward; and in “C,” they create a twist. Still, just making forms overlap in itself will not ensure that the drawing will exhibit this sense of form.

The most elemental skill is the ability to sense these basic volumes on the flat paper as if they were actually existing, being created by you as you move your pencil over and around their surfaces and through the magic space of the paper. Some people have a natural affinity for doing this and others have to work hard and long to achieve it.

Keep Practicing
Drawing should be an everyday part of what you do. Look at other artists of the past and see where you can find applications of these lessons. The drawings on this page are examples of ways that you can use spherical forms. The important thing is that you practice drawing them. Don’t feel pressured into feeling that you have to do fancy detailed drawings. Being loose and feeling the roundness is the important thing at this stage of your development. Create characters out of your imagination, draw familiar things around you, applying the various lessons to what you draw. Copying or drawing from other artists is an accepted traditional approach to learning in conjunction with drawing from observation and creating from your imagination.

Drawing Spheres 5
Drawing Spheres 5

Each lesson will build upon the previous one, so spend the time on each one and don’t rush to the next until you feel comfortable with the current one. Don’t hesitate to go back to the previous lesson. Each individual is different and there is no set length of time that it should take to acquire the material in these lessons. Most importantly, have fun with your drawing!

By Glenn Vilppu

This article first appeared in Animation World Magazine August 1, 1998. This was taken from the second in a series of articles on drawing for animation. The lessons are based upon the Vilppu Drawing Manual and will in general follow the basic plan outlined in the manual. This is the same material that I base my seminars and lectures on at the American Animation Institute, UCLA, and my lectures at Disney, Warner Bros. and other major studios in the animation industry both in the U.S. and in their affiliates overseas. If you have not seen the previous lesson in the June 1998 issue of Animation World Magazine, 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.

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.

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