Now that I’ve completed my black-and-white study and I’m happy with the design, I can finalize my drawing, knowing that I won’t have to move anything around. Here’s a close-up of the basket as I left it before my study.

Japanese basket #37

Returning to the drawing after a break helped me to see that the overall shape wasn’t correct. The ‘waist’ (narrowest part) under the rim was too thick. Also, the major woven strips weren’t in quite the right positions.

Japanese basket #36

I corrected those mistakes. Now I began to fill in all of the little woven strips. They’re quite difficult to draw. First, I must look at the set-up to locate a detail, then to my paper to draw it, and back again to the set-up to re-check. These quick back-and-forth movements of the eye are crucial in judging if the detail I just drew is in the correct place.  I must see not only the detail, but where it is positioned in relationship to the rest of the basket, quickly comparing reality to my drawing to make sure they are in agreement.  Drawing a complex object is difficult because it’s easy to loose track of which little detail I was observing. By the time my eye leaves the set-up, goes to my drawing and returns to the set-up, I often lose track of which strip I was looking at!  If my eye is confused as to which detail to return to, I lose the ability to compare and judge.

This is where measuring can come in handy. It can help me to locate a spot on my drawing, check the proportions of an object (it’s height to its width, for example), or compare the sizes of different objects in the set-up (one object might measure 1 1/2 times the length of another, for example.). Using my view-finder in the beginning stages of the drawing was another kind of measuring.

I use several tools for measuring. The most handy are a pair of very thin knitting needles. I hold them up at arms length, one in each hand, one horizontal and one vertical, touching each other and forming a cross. To judge the proportions of the Japanese vase, for instance, I hold up the crossed needles, and mark the height on the vertical needle with my thumb. I then line up the horizontal needle with the widest part of the vase, always keeping the needles touching, in the same plane. I mark off the width with my other thumb. Now, holding the two needles together, and keeping my thumbs in place, I bring the whole unit in front of my drawing. If I’ve already determined how tall I want the vase to be, I bring the unit of needles at the correct distance from my drawing so that the vertical distance I’ve marked off with my thumb corresponds to the height I’ve drawn. The horizontal needle will now show the correct width of the vase.

Japanese basket #39

Japanese basket #41

I also use a plain ruler. I hold the ruler up in front of me in such a position that some convenient mark (say 1/2 inch) is the same length of something I want to measure. If I keep the ruler in the same plane, I can shift it around to measure some other object to compare it to the first. For example, the base of the vase might measure 1 inch and the box might measure 1 1/2.”  I now know that if I divide the length of the box into 3 units, the base of the vase should measure 2 units.

Japanses basket # 40

I can also use a knitting needle to show me any angle in the set-up. I hold the needle in front of me and line it up with an angle, say, the receding side of the box. If I rotate my body, keeping my hand holding the needle steady, I can then hold it in front of my drawing and check the angle. I find this method a little iffy, as it’s easy to move the arm too much.

Japanese basket #40

Here’s the drawing after some more measuring and seeing.

Japanese basket #38

Though measuring is helpful, and can be a good check, it can easily become a crutch, and worse, can be misleading. It can lure you into a false sense of security, encouraging you to think that everything you’ve measured is objective and correct.  In fact, hands are shaky, and the measurements can be far from accurate. Also, in a sense, measuring takes you way from seeing the whole picture because you are concentrating on isolated spots. It takes you away from that constant comparing and judging that is the source of good drawing. I find measuring most useful to quickly place items in a composition at the very beginning of a drawing, to check the horizontal and vertical proportions of individual objects, and to estimate the relative sizes of different objects.

So many times after spending a drawing session measuring and re-measuring, I’ll return the next day and see that the proportions are off! In the end, I always trust my eyes, not the ruler.