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Nsio Explains: Introduction to Guidelines



It's time for 13th tutorial in my "Nsio Explains" tutorial series. This time around I'll try to explain few key things about guidelines. This is rather heavy tutorial but not quite complete either. It's hard to explain every single thing because there are so many things to consider.

Guidelines - can you trust them?
I always use some sort of guidelines, be it physical or imaginary. Their purpose is to give you a "constant" element on your drawing, something you can use as a reference for every other element on your drawing. However, you can never trust any guideline you draw blindly. Calling some line a guideline won't make it any more right than any other line. They are approximations at the best, so you will need to make the decision whether to follow them or deviate from them. It all depends on how the guidelines relates on the elements you have already drawn and vice versa.

Also, when you are looking for new guidelines for you to use, you need to understand that not all guidelines will work for you. There are many prerequisites you need to understand before the guideline you attempt to use will actually work for your benefit. For example, perspective guidelines are basically always right as long as they meet at the vanishing point, but it's not guaranteed that it's position in space is right. I myself had a lot of troubles understanding how to use the perspective guidelines, so my drawings just ended up wrong. I abandoned them completely until I finally understood how they work when I worked on 3D CAD modelling at the university. The moment I understood it, I didn't really need it anymore. Knowing the concept was enough for me, so I construct perspective only in special occasions.

Using guidelines requires great deal of precognition. That said, you need to "see the future" to actually use them and you won't be able to do that without a lot of experience. You gain experience only trough trial and error, sadly. For example, you may know some Youtube tutorials by Mark Crilley. With all respect, his guidelines are ingenious and clever, but they are basically useless unless you know how to use them right. In that kissing tutorial example, you should know right from the beginning how the two human characters will be positioned in relation to each other, not to mention how to draw human characters. These kind of guidelines are very advanced stuff and I must admit that I couldn't have drawn the example with those guidelines if I didn't watch the video. And what if the viewing angle was different? What kind of guidelines I would need for that?

Because of this, I try to use guidelines which are logical, applicable in any situation and always follow the same rules. I don't think my way of using guidelines is easier than any other system, but if you get the idea and practice using them, you may find them as useful as I do.

But first things first...

1. Straight and parallel lines
The first prerequiste for my guideline system is the ability to draw nearly perfect straight and parallel lines, in any possible orientation. This may sound easy, but it's not. Even with a ruler, making lines parallel isn't that simple. By all means, if you can do this freehand (after some time), it's a huge benefit.

2. Right angle
You need to be able to draw two lines perpendicular for perfect right angle. Another not so simple thing to do, especially when you need to do it every time. Together with point 1. this means that you must be able to draw perfect rectangles. The right angle will be very important references later on for my guideline system.

When we are drawing 3D objects, spotting the right angle is crucial, because in three dimensional drawing any angle might become a right angle, even thought it doesn't look like that from our perspective. The perceived angle depends on how the you draw the other visual cues. In other words, you will need to know how to draw parallelograms with parallel lines. But more about this a bit later.

3.  Imaginary reference points/lines/angles
This is where your perception and insight joins in. Once you know how to parallel lines and right angles, it's time to start foreseeing how you need to draw your lines to achieve your goals (See section 7. for more). You do this by drawing one line and then you begin to think how the rest of the lines will be related to the line you just drew. By knowing the right angle, you should now see how perpendicular lines should be positioned. If you draw three dots, you should be able to see imaginary lines connecting them and figure out whether the angle is right angle or not. You should also be able to draw third dot between two dots so that it's on a imaginary line connecting the two dots. The possible location is on "area of approximation", an imaginary area that depends on your experience and understanding.

In layman terms, area of approximation is an area in which you guess the most likely position of the element in relation to other elements (a dot on imaginary line in above case). Did you miss the imaginary line? This just means that your area of approximation is still so large because you can't see the imaginary line properly. Analyse how much you missed the line and try again. Did you hit the imaginary line now? Perfect! If not, you should now be very close with your third try (if you did your analysis properly). Drawing with guidelines is pretty much about this: you make decent guesses and then analyse whether they work or not.

Any point on your drawing can be used as a reference, but there are some places they are most useful.

4. End points, middle points and divisions
This also has to do with perception and insight and lays the foundation for my guideline system.

This is just as simple as it sounds: middle point is in the middle. You can find it by using a line you drew as a reference. The halves are equal in length. This same rule can also be applied on any other division. for example, If you divide a line on four parts, then you halve the halves. It's always easiest to find the middle point, because it involves only two elements (halves). Dividing by three is already more harder, because you will need to see three equally long lines. However, being able to divide the line is useful skill to acquire because it trains your perceptional accuracy.

If you now draw a perfect rectangle and connect the middle and end points with lines, you have found the exact middle point of the rectangle. Congratulations, you have just drawn useful guidelines. We are getting to the point now.

5. Middle lines and shape equality
Middle lines are really useful guidelines, because they make it easier to analyse whether the drawing is drawn properly or not. With a rectangle example, your goal is to check that the guidelines truly intersect in the same spot. If they don't, something is wrong with your drawing. Now check how the rectangle is divided into four parts. If they aren't equally sized, there is definitely something wrong with your drawing. If the shapes are really wild and have nothing in common, I'm afraid you haven't drawn a rectangle.

Shape equality is a good way to analyze your drawing for fatal issues. If you just can't get the divided parts look equal even if you got the middle points right, you will know that you need to fix your drawing. Wrongly drawn drawing is a good reference as well: you now know how it shouldn't look. Keep adjusting the lines until you have a perfect rectangle.

In all simplicity, this is it. You will need to master all of these before you can truly tackle with the following steps.

6. Introducing third dimension
In preceding steps I have kept insisting that if you don't draw perfectly straight and parallel lines, perfect right angles and divide lines perfectly in two halves, your drawing will end up wrong. Now it's time to break all of these rules.

When we move from two dimensional plane to three dimensional space, lines are no longer straight nor parallel, there are no right angles and middle points are in different places. This is because  the above rules will bend and distort according to perspective. At this point, guidelines aren't as reliable as they used to be with the simple rectangle example. From no on you will be relying on your perception and your understanding how the rules work on 2D planes.

There are three levels of distortion: on first level, there is no distortion, because there is no depth at all (note that parallelogram still counts as level 1 object). On second level, classic perspective rules are applied. All lines are still straight, but not parallel anymore. As a result, middle points aren't visually in the middle of the line, but instead "farther away". On third level, there are no more straight lines at all. Along with perspective rules, this level takes in account the field of vision and eye movement of the beholder. The guidelines only give a rough idea, so using the above rules relies purely on perception and insight. This means that you will need to be able to see distorted shapes as if they were equal. I don't know how to explain that any better than that. If you don't get the third level, don't worry. Focus on first and second levels first.

(At this point I should explain everything about perspective, but I won't. Check out my previous tutorials instead)

7. Active and imaginary guides
Once you are familiar with the system, you don't need to draw all the guidelines. This is mind game, in which you imagine all the necessary references and then just draw your thing. This is what is going in the artists mind when they are drawing, although they may not think exactly the way I'm presenting here.

When you draw three dimensional object, you need to have directional and plane sense to get the job done. In other words, you need to know in which direction your lines are pointing at in space and in which direction the resulting plane will be facing. Although you are drawing on two dimensional surface, lines on three dimensional drawings aren't locked on this plane. You will need plane sense for shading as well.

This "mind game" as I call it works this way: you draw few "active" guidelines on the canvas and then imagine the rest in your mind. You make decent guesses and draw the lines accordingly. I usually draw a dot or asterisk for endpoints and then connect them to form a  3D object. I'm not drawing middle lines with basic shapes unless I feel there is something wrong with them. Most of the time I get decent results with this, so I save a lot of efforts.

8. Complex shapes
With complex shapes, there are no reliable guidelines at all. The same rules are still applicable though, but require good perceptional skills and insight. Although you can try drawing complex shapes any time you want, you can truly tackle them when you got the basic shapes (and you can't draw basic shapes if you don't get the basics of lines first mind you). Drawing a sphere isn't really hard, but drawing the guidelines on it is. I suggest approaching curved surfaces with "object within object" principle, so draw a cube first, then sphere inside it. You can use the cube as a reference pretty neatly. I haven't drawn the cube fully on my example, but you ought to get the point.

To my surprise, these methods are surprisingly effective. I don't normally draw objects this meticulously, but I think I should give it a try more often. This tutorial was useful practice for me.

9. Draw your own references
No matter how well you can draw basic shapes, they won't help you much unless you know how your subject looks from different viewing angles. This is why projection drawings are handy. Use parallel guidelines to analyse where individual elements are located and check that there aren't contradictions between your projections. As you keep adding new projections, use your previous projections as references. And finally, when you got all crucial projections done, you can use them as references for more advanced viewing angles. The example projections and drawing is from my foreshortening tutorial, see the thumb above.

You don't know anything unless you do the research. Study everything you see and experiment a lot. I do hope that this tutorial, albeit heavy, could shed some light on using guidelines.

Kissing tutorial by Mark Crilley:
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Nikolaios's avatar

Do others tutorials my bro