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Understanding Sketching Techniques

Analyzing Complex Objects

The ability to break down complex shapes into simpler geometric primitives is an essential skill for sketching and modeling objects.

Before you begin to draw the outline of an object, consider its overall shape and the relationships between its parts. Construction lines can help you preserve the overall dimensions of the object as you sketch.

Bear in mind that you should be thinking in terms of basic shapes whether you are sketching by hand or using a CAD program. Because basic curves and straight lines are the basis of many of the objects that people create, practice in creating the basic elements of a drawing will help you sketch with ease.

Essential Shapes

Look for the essential shapes of objects. If you were to make a clay model of an object, what basic shape would you start with? A ball? A box?

Try squinting your eyes and looking at familiar objects. Do you see their shape as a rectangle? A circle? What other basic shapes do you notice when you look at objects this way?

Think about breaking down more complex objects into their simpler geometric shapes as shown in Figure 3.10. You can block in these shapes using construction lines to show their relationships to one another. Then, add details, continuing to pay attention to the spatial relationships between them.


3.10 Identifying Essential Shapes


3.11 The essential shapes of the corkscrew in the photo are sketched at right.

Construction Lines

Artists often begin a sketch by blocking in light guidelines to help them preserve basic shapes and proportions. In technical drawing these are called construction lines (Figure 3.12).


3.12 Using Construction Lines

It is often helpful to begin a sketch by describing the object’s main shapes with construction lines, taking some care to accurately represent the relative size and placement of features.

Use the basic shapes as a guide to place key features, then use those main features as a “reference map” to place smaller details. For example, the sixth fret line is about halfway up the rectangular guitar neck.

Throughout this chapter you will use light construction lines to draw circles, arcs, and ellipses. Section 3.4 discusses the process of estimating and maintaining the proportions of an object in further detail.

Contours and Negative Space

The contours of an object are the main outlines that separate it from the surrounding space. One way to think about the contours of objects is to look at the contrast between the positive and negative space. Positive space is the space occupied by the object. Negative space is the unoccupied space around it.

In Figure 3.13 the space occupied by the contour of a pair of scissors is shown. Note how you can identify specific shapes by looking at the negative space. The individual shapes that make up the negative space are shown in different colors to make them easier for you to see. Some people sketch more accurately when they try to draw the negative space that surrounds the object.


3.13 Negative Space


As you sketch objects, keep in mind that you want to maintain a consistent viewpoint, as a camera does. This is easier when you are sketching a picture from a book, because you can’t move around the object. When you move, you see a different view of the object depending on where you stand.

Sometimes people have difficulty sketching because they want to show parts of the object that cannot really be seen from a single viewpoint. For example, knowing that the handle of the rubber stamp in Figure 3.14 appears circular from the top, you may be tempted to show it as round, even though it may appear elliptical from your viewpoint.


3.14 Rubber Stamp

When you are sketching an object pictorially, temporarily set aside your knowledge of the shapes the object is actually made of and carefully examine the shapes you see from a single, static viewpoint. In this type of sketching, instead of trying to envision the object as it is, try only to see it as it looks.


Adding shading to your sketch can give it a more realistic appearance because it represents the way the actual object would reflect light. Shading doesn’t mean “coloring in.” You may want to shade only the most prominently shadowed areas. First, identify the darkest and lightest areas on an object. If you want, you can shade various middle tones, placed exactly as they look on the object.

In some ways, shading is like doing a drawing within a drawing, because it is a matter of identifying shapes. When you are shading, instead of identifying the shapes of the object’s contours, you are identifying the shape and relative darkness of the shadows.

Hatching lines, shown in Figure 3.15, and stippling, shown in Figure 3.16, are commonly used methods to add shading because they are easier to reproduce with a photocopier than continuous-tone pencil shading. In the illustration you can see that shadowed areas are darkened simply by adding more hatching lines or stippling dots.


3.15 Hatching


3.16 Stippling

It is not uncommon for people to draw outlines by hand and add digital shaded fills to a scan of the outline. Another way to make a subject the clear focal point of a drawing is to stylize the shadows. Industrial designers often use markers to add a stylized shadow to their sketches. You can use a straight edge to protect the original sketch from the marker and quickly sketch the shadow (Figure 3.17).


3.17 Marker Shading in a Concept Sketch (Courtesy of Douglas Wintin.)

Regardless of how you apply shading, darken the outline to define the shape clearly and boldly. Remember that when you are communicating by using a sketch, its subject should be clear. To make the subject—in this case, a rubber stamp—clear, make it stand out with thick bold contour lines.

Edges and Vertices


An edge of a solid is formed where two surfaces intersect. Edges are represented in drawings by visible or hidden lines (Figure 3.18).


3.18 Edges and Vertices of a Solid


A vertex (plural, vertices) of a solid is formed where three or more surfaces intersect. The end of an edge is a vertex. These vertices or “points” are very useful in defining the locations of the solid object feature that you will sketch (Figure 3.18).

Points and Lines

A point is used to represent a location in space but has no width, height, or depth (Figure 3.19). A point in a drawing is represented by the intersection of two lines (Figure 3.19a), by a short crossbar on a line (Figure 3.19b), or by a small cross (Figure 3.19c). Do not represent points by simple dots on the paper. This makes the drawing look “blobby” and is not as accurate.


3.19 Showing Points

A line is used in drawings to represent the edge of a solid object. A straight line is the shortest distance between two points and is commonly referred to simply as a “line.” If the line is indefinite in extent, in a drawing the length is a matter of convenience, and the endpoints are not marked (Figure 3.20a). If the endpoints of the line are significant, they are marked by small drawn crossbars (Figure 3.20b). Other common terms are illustrated in Figures 3.20c to i. Either straight lines or curved lines are parallel if the shortest distance between them remains constant. The common symbol for parallel lines is | |, and for perpendicular lines it is ⊥. Two perpendicular lines may be marked with a “box” as shown in Figure 3.20g. Such symbols may be used on sketches, but not on production drawings.


3.20 Showing Lines


An angle is formed by two intersecting lines. A common symbol for angle is ∠.

There are 360 degrees (360°) in a full circle, as shown in Figure 3.21a. A degree is divided into 60 minutes (60′), and a minute is divided into 60 seconds (60″). The angle value 37°26′10″ is read 37 degrees, 26 minutes, and 10 seconds. When minutes alone are indicated, the number of minutes should be preceded by 0°, as in 0°20′. If the minutes value were listed alone without showing the zero value, it might be mistaken for a distance measurement. For example, 20 minutes, 10 seconds written as 20′10″ might be mistaken for 20 feet 10 inches.


3.21 Showing Angles

The different kinds of angles are illustrated in Figure 3.21. Two angles are complementary if they total 90° (Figure 3.21f) and are supplementary if they total 180° (Figure 3.21g).

In sketching, most angles can be estimated. Use a protractor if necessary when drawing odd angles.

Drawings and Sketches

The following are important skills to keep in mind for sketches and drawings:

  1. Accuracy. No drawing is useful unless it shows the information correctly.

  2. Speed. Time is money in industry. Work smarter and learn to use techniques to speed up your sketching and CAD drawings while still producing neat accurate results.

  3. Legibility. A drawing is a means of communicating with others, so it must be clear and legible. Give attention to details. Things that may seem picky and small as you are drawing may be significant and save money or even lives when the product is built.

  4. Neatness. If a drawing is to be accurate and legible, it must also be clean.

Freehand Sketching

Freehand sketches are a helpful way to organize your thoughts and record ideas. They provide a quick, low-cost way to explore various solutions to design problems so that the best choices can be made. Investing too much time in creating a detailed layout before exploring your options through sketches can be costly.

The degree of precision needed in a given sketch depends on its use. Quick sketches to supplement verbal descriptions may be rough and incomplete. Sketches can be used to convey important and precise information when they are clearly drawn and annotated.

Freehand sketching requires only pencil, paper, and eraser. Mastering the techniques in this chapter for showing quick single-view, oblique, perspective, and isometric drawings using good freehand line technique will give you a valuable tool for communicating your ideas.

The term freehand sketch does not mean a sloppy drawing. As shown in Figure 3.22, a freehand sketch shows attention to proportion, clarity, and correct line widths. Figure 3.23 shows an as-built drawing with corrected items sketched on the printed CAD drawing.


3.22 Sketch on Graph Paper. Sketches are also used to clarify information about changes in design or to provide information on repairing existing equipment.


3.23 An As-Built Drawing with Corrected Items Sketched on the Printed CAD Drawing

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