How to Draw Scenery

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Drawing "scenery"--whether a scenic background for a play, dance performance or opera or a rendering of a familiar monument, such as the Grand Canyon or Victoria Falls, to be framed and put on a wall--confronts the artist with two challenges: large-scale composition and the use of perspective.

Things You'll Need

  • Drawing paper
  • Drawing pencils or charcoal
  • Gridded paper, to make transfer of a small drawing to a larger context, such as a stage backdrop (optional)
  • Establish the limits of what you are going to draw. Hills, valleys, river gorges and waterfalls do not come with frames around them. Your first exercise in composition is to decide the "frame" you will put around your view. This may take some time, and you may wish to make some very rough sketches to make sure you will like the final composition. Since you are working with very large elements in three dimensions, you may wish to try out several versions of your sketch. Perhaps basing your viewpoint by including a nearby object--a tree, rock, bench--will add depth to your scene. Leaving it out may give you a grander sweeping view. Try both and decide.

  • Begin identifying the sizes of the major elements in your picture. One of the most important contributions of the European Renaissance to art was rediscovery of classical perspective. Without perspective, pictures from the Middle Ages seem curiously flat; a hunter, his horse and the deer hiding from them behind a stand of trees are all the same size. A battle scene shows soldiers of different sizes, as though giving soldiers in a larger army smaller bodies were the only way to fit them into the picture. We take it for granted that objects close to us seem larger than objects far away. We place more importance on that than on using varied sizes of objects, depending on how much we wish the viewer to notice them. Record your own "Renaissance" discoveries in more rough sketches or fill in your first one.

  • Flesh out the remainder of your composition with the small details. To enhance the three-dimensional qualities of your composition, you can join many other artists who have added their own small objects: a person climbing a steep path, birds flying over a mountain, a cow or two in a lush valley.

  • Consider recording your drawing on gridded paper if your final "scenery" is going to be extremely large, or making your own grid as a guide to transferring your image to the larger context. This technique, reducing your overall picture to a series of small partial pictures, is a longstanding compensation for losing your own perspective when you are "working large."

  • Remember that objects close to you are not only larger but also clearer in detail as you prepare to complete your scenic project. Trees in the foreground may well have identifiable leaves; those farther away will be blurrier. Step away from your work frequently to keep your full picture in mind.

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