Monday, March 17, 2014

Back to Basics, Lesson 2 (The Foreshortened Circle)

Foreshortening is a visual effect experienced when objects recede (move away from us) in space: objects appear smaller as they pull away, parallel lines appear to converge as they pull away, and nearer objects may overlap and obscure farther objects.

All of that is fairly clear and, over time, we do a pretty good job of incorporating it into our artwork. But there are two things that can prove particularly challenging: the foreshortened circle, and the subconscious struggle between what we "see" and what we "know" (and which of these two we choose to depict in our artwork.)

(the circle is defined here in yellow)

What we know about circles -- a circle is a curved shape with a constant radius. This is also what we see if we view the shape from a 90ยบ angle. And, if we draw it, the circle could be said to have equal width and height.

What we see -- this is were things go variable.

viewed from the side (width, no height)

If the circle and our eye level share the same plane, we see the circle as a flat line (width, but no height.)

slightly beneath eye level - width and a little height (see the mouth of the pot)

farther beneath eye level -- width and more height (see the incised circles on the pot)

and further down still (see the bottom of the pot)

As the circle moves below our eye level the width remains constant while the "height" increases as the circle drops farther below your eye level. (NOTE: this will also occur if the circle moves above your eye level.)

our eye level is just above the vase, notice how the height of each lower 
circle increases in relationship to its width

If you bisect a foreshortened circle with a line running horizontally through its widest point, the upper curve will be identical to the lower curve.

How to draw foreshortened circles -- if you have a set consisting of more than one circle, begin with the circle on or closest to your eye level.

If you are drawing a complete foreshortened circle, place a straightedge (such as the handle of a paint brush) across the circle's horizontal width.

Observe and draw its upper curve.

Repeat the process with the lower curve.

Modify the upper and lower curves to match. (BE CAREFUL: Observe that the outer-most "points" on the circle are steady arcs, NOT points.)

(note the three incised circles curving down from the straightedge)

If you are only drawing half of the circle (for example, the forward half of a circle that passes around the outside of an opaque cylinder), place your straightedge across the widest part of the circle and draw the visible curve.

What you see vs. what you "know" -- probably the easiest way to discuss this conflict is by giving an example using the vase.

what we see vs...

...what we "know"

If the vase is below your eye level, the visible half of the circle that describes its base will curve downward toward its center. However, we KNOW that the base of the vase sits flat upon the table's surface. And, if we allow our subconscious to dictate what we draw (i.e., we draw what we "know"), we will inadvertently put our viewer's eye level in two places -- above the table and on the table's surface -- at once.

foreshortened circle (yellow oval) to the right of our line-of-sight

Final note: if we stand the circle up on one end we will experience the same foreshortening effects as the circle moves to the left (or right) of our straight-ahead "line-of-sight."


  1. I like the way you explained this. Now, I understand it more! Don't you love it when the light bulb goes off in your head? LOL

    1. Thanks, Cindy. (I love it when the lightbulb goes off in anybody's head.) :-D

  2. wow, thanks great explanation. That helps a lot. Thank you,

  3. Great tips! Ellipses don't seem so devilish anymore :).

  4. Well Earnest I have to ask you...what don't you know? ha ha Joking aside I am grateful to get to "study" with you and to be able to learn all of this. You're a great teacher. Thanks.

    Off the subject but would appreciate help if you would like to: I'm finally preparing to buy artists watercolors...what brand do you like? I've been using a YARKA pan set. I seem to like the pans but never tried the tubes. What do you think? Color palette to start, etc? Appreciate your time.

    1. Well Darlene, the world is full of sublime and amazing things and (fortunately) the things that I don't know could fill volumes. So, I'm committed to making the most of the gifts I've been given... and to filling as many of those volumes as I can. :-D

      With regards to the watercolor question, Yarka (or any other brand that is available) is fine if it allows you to sketch/paint a lot. (The key is to practice as much as possible, and to determine what best suits YOUR needs and interests.) If you decide that watercolor is a medium that you truly love, you will eventually want to upgrade to a professional/artist grade (higher pigmentation, less filler, more lightfast/archival, more economical) such as W&N, Daniel Smith, Holbein, or any of maybe half a dozen other extraordinary brands. You'll need a warm and cool each of red, blue, and yellow, and secondaries as needed to meet your personal needs. (Are you fond of purples? Orange? Do you particularly enjoy landscapes and feel the need for extra greens?)

      Just remember, good tools will make the job easier (to a point.) But what you do with them is far more important than the tools themselves.


    2. Thanks, there are so many products out there that it can be quite daunting to try and choose. I do have to remind myself to just keep it simple and work with what I have. Thanks for your input...asking the questions about secondary questions helped.

  5. Thanks. This description and the one in the 1st video for week 2 helped me the most with the concept. I've been struggling with drawing ovals!

    1. Thanks redhandparts. We're all running the same course and struggling to overcome the same obstacles along the way. So, I figure it's only right that those of us who have managed to scale an obstacle should offer a helping hand to anyone following along the same path.

      Cheers! :-D