Observation Journal: Fitting pictures into shapes

This observation journal page is the art-exercise counterpart to a previous post on fitting stories into spaces.

Double page spread of observation journal. Tiny handwritten observations, a drawing of sanded semicircles lowering the edge of a concrete footpath. On the right, sketches fitting a man and dog, ibis, and sanitiser bottle into set shapes.

This time, instead of getting an (illustrated) story to fit into a panel progression, I was forcing images from the past few days (a tree, a person with a dog, an ibis, a bottle of hand sanitiser) to fit into a simple shape. (I’d done something similar in the post Sketching the People Glimpsed From the Corner of Your Eye).

Ballpoint sketches (coloured with blue marker) fitting sketches of a man and dog, ibis, and sanitiser bottle into set shapes.

Lessons learned:

  • This sort of exercise can be useful for developing an illustration. Choosing a strict framework for a composition both narrows the available options available and makes me be creative in designing new ones. It can also compress an image and make it iconic.
  • It’s also good practice for fitting art to unusual surfaces, e.g. a tureen.
  • A standardised shape for a set of illustrations can unify a set of disparate ideas. E.g., the illustrations for the main story-chapters in Flyaway all fit into a square. You can see some of those here: Illustrating Flyaway.
  • But squashing something into a strict shape which doesn’t necessarily suit it can teach a lot about that containing shape, too. That was the point of the exercise in the Rearranging Scenes post earlier this week, just with plot structure instead of e.g. triangles.
  • Those realisations aren’t revolutionary. A triangle, off-balance, creates an unbalanced composition. A triangle tends to be less organic, and movement runs into/up against the frame, but feels as if it lends itself more to narrative or character-in-action. A circle lends itself to organic shapes, and is more balanced and contained and iconic, but creates peculiar interaction with artificial/less-organic elements.
  • But in an exercise like this, the process of reinventing the wheel is the important thing — learning by doing instead of by being told, or understanding why what I’ve been told is so.

Illustration exercise (for writing exercises, try the ones in Fitting Stories into Spaces or Rearranging Scenes)

  • Basic exercise:
    • Pick three things you’ve seen today (objects or interactions).
    • Pick three basic shapes (circle, rectangle, square, pentagon, triangle, etc).
    • On a sheet of paper, draw each of those shapes three times.
    • Now, try to sketch each of your subjects (scenes/objects) once into each shape, as pleasingly as possible.
  • Bonus: Make a note of which combinations were easy, and which resisted. Did certain shapes fit certain types of subjects better? How did your approach to sketching a subject change as you repeated it through different shapes?
  • Bonus bonus: Pick a scene from a favourite story or movie or artwork (tip: consider viewpoints). Sketch it into several different shapes. Notice which weaken and strengthen the scene, and what you learn about both the shape and the scene.
  • Variation: See sketching the people glimpsed from the corner of your eye.

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If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like this about it (particularly welcome at the moment, as I’m still in isolation with Covid), here are some options!

1 thought on “Observation Journal: Fitting pictures into shapes

  1. Pingback: April 2022 — round-up of posts | Kathleen Jennings

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