How to make a scale drawing
Where do beginners go wrong? They ignore scale. If you ask a person with no drawing training to draw a face, they will start with an eye and work their way out. In this manner they end up with a series of individual features that seem disjointed. They should have started with the shape, rotation of the skull and used curved guidelines to plot the features (see my tutorial here). If you ask a beginner to draw a house in a landscape they will start with the house and invariably make it too large, meaning that the rest of the landscape goes off the page. This is because they are fighting with their brain which is trying to tell them that houses are huge.
I am going to show you the 8 step method I use in my classes for getting students to accurately scale up a drawing from a photo without grids or drawing aids. If however, you need pinpoint accuracy, for a portrait, or if you are scaling up a tiny photo into a huge wall mural for example then probably you need to use the grid method. If however you just need a fair level of accuracy for drawing then this method is for you:
**Although I am talking about photos, elements of this method can be used if drawing still life, figures or outdoors. In the case of working from real life it can help to draw an imaginary box around your subject or use a viewfinder to contain it.
You will need: Source photo. Paper, canvas or other work surface. Soft pencil (or charcoal/chalk) and eraser. A set square or other object with a 90 degree corner, such as a palette or a piece of printer paper.
Step One – Rotation of paper
This bit is easy, look at your subject and decide if it fits best on your paper as landscape, portrait or square. Sounds simple, but I have lost count of the amount of people I see drawing a tall vase with their paper in landscape rotation.
Step Two – Re-size your paper retaining the aspect ratio.
This is important. Your paper must now be expanded to the exact proportions (not size) of your photo. For square this is easy, just place your photo in the top left hand corner and add the same amount to each side, re-drawing with a set square. If your paper is some form of rectangle then you need to use the corner method, because adding the same amount to each side won’t work. Place your photo in the top left corner. Using a long ruler draw a diagonal line from the top left corner and through the opposite corner, extending out onto your paper. Make a mark along the line for how big you want to go, and then just drop a right angle from top and side to form your new, larger drawing area.
Step Three – Find the main dividing lines.
Find the biggest vertical and horizontal lines in your painting. Examples would be horizon, a large tree, the wall of a house. Extend these imaginary lines to the sides of the photo and ask yourself what portion of the edge they take up. Is the horizon half way up? Is the tree one third of the way across the paper? Mark these major guidelines on the paper; they will become the bones to build your drawing on.
Step Four – Check proportions.
Now, whilst adding more basic elements you can start to check proportions. Slide your thumb down a pencil to take a measurement. Does the height of the house roof fit twice into the height of the house? Is the closest tree double the size of the further away tree? Do not use your fingers to take these measurements, they move, you need a rigid object.
Step 5 – Check angles.
First line up your photo with one of the edges, close to the angle you want to check but not covering it. Do not leave this step out, or you won’t be on the same plane and any angles will be inaccurate. Using your pencil as a straight edge lay it along sloping angles like roof. Without moving the angle slide your pencil across to your drawing to check.
Step 6 – Check object alignment.
At this stage you are double checking. Using your set square along the edge of the paper drop some imaginary lines between objects. Is the house roof on the left higher or lower than the house roof on the right? If you drop a line from the distant fence post does it line up with the foreground tree? Don’t worry about pinpoint accuracy with this part; you can end up going down a rabbit hole of adjustments, where if one thing is out of alignment everything else is suddenly wrong. This may be important for figure drawing, but if you are doing landscape then fairly good is good enough.
Step 7 – Rub out your guidelines.
If you have drawn any guidelines on your paper now is the time to get rid of them before you take your drawing further or add paint.
Step 8 – Add details.
If this is going to be a graphite or pastel drawing then now is the time to start adding areas of tonal shading and detail. If this is an under-drawing for a painting then you may at this point add details like windows, fences, whatever you need to help you apply the paint. If you are going to paint this picture keep the drawing to a minimum, and don’t do any shading, this will be done with the paint.
Remember – angles and proportions don’t change with size. If your horizon is half way up the photo and the river is a 37 degree angle then whatever size you make your drawing these measurements will be unchanged. Using this drawing method should enable you to confidently scale your paintings to any size. Do watch the video that accompanies this article, and remember to subscribe on YouTube!