(Number one in a series of ten ideas I have about sketching.)
4 August, 2018. I’ve been gathering my thoughts around a list of topics I consider to be important for a positive, fun, and personally successful sketching experience. I started out with a couple of “non-rules,” simple guidelines and suggestions I found myself sharing with my drawing students and fellow sketchers. My list eventually grew to ten non-rules I more or less follow in my own work. And like most such things, I do tend to ignore one or all of them from time to time. But invariably, when I find a sketch is somehow personally dissatisfying, a quick analysis generally reveals I’ve ignored one of these ten principle ideas. So there you have it: I ignore my own advice at my peril.
So, principle number one: Scale. What do we mean by “scale?”
Fundamentally, it refers the size of things. In a drawing, scale refers to the size of one object in comparison to others. If you make a sketch of a very tall tree with a person standing in front of it, the drawn scale of those objects is important viewer information. For the sake of argument, let’s assume you’ve drawn the very tall tree so that it is about the same height as the person. Because we know the tree is in reality very tall, a viewer may assume the tree is in the background, far off in the distance. Otherwise how would it appear to be the same height as the person? If instead, we want the person to appear to be near the tree, it may be that we draw it so large that only part of the trunk and lower branches are visible; the scale of the tree is much larger than the person.
The concept is probably pretty obvious, and I’m certain a long and tediously academic discussion could be formed around this topic. Let’s keep things simple and more to the point by considering how scale in your sketch influences the viewing experience:
Be aware of the size of your drawn objects relative to each other and relative to the page. Ask yourself: Is everything of similar size in your drawing? (Booooo-ring!) Try to make somethings more important than others by varying the size of objects.
In the sketch above, I’ve used scale to create the illusion of a crowd that extends into space. The size of the people vary and a viewer understands that some are closer, while others are further away. Compare the size of people to the car in the near ground. We understand that the car is closer than most of the crowd, not only because of the overlapping shapes, but also because it’s quite a bit larger than the comparatively small people in the background. Extending that thinking further, even the people in the middle ground are large in comparison to the buildings, again cluing the viewer in on how much distance exists between them, and between the buildings and us, the viewers.
I enjoy finding ways to communicate the illusion of space as simply and efficiently as possible. Pay attention to how you manipulate scale in your sketches. I think you’ll find this is an effective tool for designing a more visually interesting composition.