Line Drawing Part Four – Enlarge Or Reduce While Drawing From Life

This is the forth is a series of five drawing lessons that take you from using a viewfinder, to freehand drawing, and finally into fluid and expressive line drawing.

You need some experience with freehand style drawing for success with the enlarging and reducing methods in this lesson, so here are the first three lessons of the series.

Line Drawing Part One – How To Use A Viewfinder
Line Drawing Part Two – Draw From Life With A Viewfinder
Line Drawing Part Three – Draw From Life Using Sight-Size


Most sight-size devotees move closer or father away to adjust the size of the drawing so they can draw at a one to one ratio. I prefer to use a few measuring tricks to do the same thing from wherever the most comfortable place best point of view is.

The most peculiar thing about proportion that you need to know is that you can’t just add the same amount, like an inch, to the height and width and get away with it. The whole drawing will stretch in very bizarre ways if you do that, unless you’re working with a square. We’ll use a square in that way, to our advantage, later on.

You can multiply height and width by the same factor and stay in proportion though, and that’s easy to do and a good place to begin.

Bounding Box Enlarged Proportionally X2 

Photo of vase, garlic bulb, and flowerpot by C. Rosinski.Look for something that you can clearly see and block in accurately with a few easy lines, like the vase in this still life.

If possible, I pick the largest object so I know the entire drawing will fit on the paper.

Vertical measurement of vase doubled. C. RosinskiImagine where the center of this object needs to be on the paper and mark that point.

You don’t have to be exact, as long as the drawing ends up centered on the paper relatively well.

Now, take the longest vertical measurement of the the object, and mark that length on both sides of the mark vertically.

(See previous lessons for how to take measurements.)

Vertical and horizontal measurements of vase doubled. C. RosinskiOkey Dokey, now do the same thing with the horizontal measurement and you’ll get a cross.

Bounding box for vase. C. RosinskiDraw a box around the cross. You can use your viewfinder as a square to get the lines parallel and the corners true.

(Use viewfinder from Lesson Two.)

Vase proportionally doubled in size. C. RosinskiDraw a simple sketch of the object inside the bounding box and it’ll be enlarged by a factor of two, or doubled in size. Tah Dah!

Reducing by Two

To reduce by two, you simply divide the measurements by two. Sounds easy, right? Well, it is, but it’s a little chancy trying to find ‘half’ by pencil measuring alone.

A ruler is much more accurate for reducing. Just hold it at the end of your arm, like you hold your pencil when taking a measurement from the scene, get real numbers to work from, and divide those numbers by two. Then draw the reduced size bounding box.

One Bounding Box/Any Size – With All Other Elements In Proportion

There’s nothing stopping you from making the bounding box any size you want, as long as you enlarge or reduce height and width by the same number.

If you are an extreme math-phobe, keep a calculator in your toolbox to do the dirty work for you. You can hide it with the ruler under the chamois cloth and tissues.

Adding all the other elements –  Instead of plotting out a bounding box from life for each element in the scene, you can base the measurements for everything else off of the first box you drew. This reduces the chances of making a proportional mistake, and it saves a lot of time. I’ll show you how to do that farther down in the post, but first I want to show you another method of proportional drawing that also helps you place everything else in the scene exactly where it belongs.

Sizing Square Method/Any Size – With All Other Elements In Proportion And Where They Belong! Really!

Using the Sizing Square Method, you simply draw a square based on one measurement and find all other proportions and placements from that square.

Taking vertical measurement of vase from scene. C. RosinskiYou can use the width or the height of any element for the square’s size, but I like to keep it at or under a pencil length so I can easily take measurements from the scene.

In this still life, the height of the vase was the best measurement for me to use because it was the clearest to see, and it made the square’s width so wide that it allowed me to center the entire scene on the paper easily.

Proportional sizing square on paper RosinskiSquare The Line, And Look For Landmarks

You can make the length of the line on the paper any size you want. That’s the beauty of this method.

So, draw a square using the line length you’ve chosen. As always, make sure the lines are parallel and the corners are true.

Measuring to find sides of sizing box in scene. C. RosinskiUse your pencil held horizontally and vertically to take a look at where all sides of the imaginary square would lie in the actual scene.

Some of the square’s lines will be easy to spot,  like the horizontal lines and the left vertical here, and some will take measuring to find, like the right vertical of this square.

Visualizing sizing square C. RosinskiHere are some things I saw when I held my pencil over the scene that helped me draw my still life:

The right side of the square touched the rim of the flowerpot. That was good news because then I knew how wide to make the pot.

The bottom line touched the flowerpot too, and that helped me locate where to draw that part of the pot.

And I could see the concave curve of vase’s side when I held the pencil vertically next to it on the left.

Proportional sizing square with mid-cross C. RosinskiAdd The Center Cross

Draw a cross with long arms in the center of the square to help visualize center and quarter sections, both on the paper and in the scene.

Once you establish where this cross is in the scene, you have several more anchor points to measure from and refer to.

Finding midpoint in still life C. RosinskiIf you’re really lucky, you’ll find a clear land mark at the center of the square in the scene. As you can see here, I didn’t have a very clearly defined mark in this still life, but I was able to remember where it was generally, and that was still very useful.

Proportional square with center mark over still life C. RosinskiI used the center cross arms to help place the leaves on the vase, the stem stub of the garlic bulb, the top of the flower pot, and the vertical highlight at the top of the vase.


Proportional sizing square with bounding box RosinskiAdd The First Element

Create a bounding box for the first element. You took the sizing square’s measurement from this element, so one side of that square will be it’s width or height. My sizing square is the height of the vase, and also blocks-in the left side, so I just needed to add the right side to build a bounding box.

Finding mid-point with pencil RosinskiTo do that, I held the pencil vertically over the midway point in the scene so I could see how much vase there was on the other side of the pencil. Then I quickly moved to the paper and marked that amount to the right of the midway mark there.

I check a measurement like this several times, especially if it’s the first element’s bounding box and I’m going to refer back to it for sizing of the other elements in the drawing.

If you you can’t see one side of the element well, undulating lines and forms that fade into the distance come to mind, you can align your pencil anywhere on the square’s lines, quarters, or middle cross to help estimate where it is.

To make sure you’re sighting from true vertical and horizontal lines, you can dangle a pencil and let gravity create a vertical plumb-bob, and you can balance it on your fingertips to create a horizontal level. With these two true lines you can, at least partially, deduce the accurate shape of just about anything. (Ha! Take that you undulating line! I’ll skewer you with deduction and a sharp pencil lead!!)

Proportional sizing square with bounding box and vase blocked in. C. RosinskiYou can see here how I blocked-in and sketched the vase. I added a full length center cross to the vase’s bounding box too. The measurement marks do accumulate, and I just let them. But, if things get too confusing, I erase the extras.

Adding Other Elements

No matter what method of enlarging or reducing you used to get to this point, after the first element is drawn things will go much more quickly. You can take easy measurements from life, and then draw proportionally based on the work you’ve already done. You can do that in a couple of ways.

Measuring vase horizontally. C. RosinskiTo measure a medium sized element like the flower pot, extend your arm and measure the first element horizontally or vertically, then move over the medium element to see how the measurement compares.

Comparing first element's measurement to flowerpot. C. RosinskiThis flower pot is a little over 3/4 of the width of the vase. You can see my thumb is still marking the vase’s width, so I can estimate the flower pot’s width visually on the pencil.

Proportionally drawn flowerpot. C. RosinskiRepeat this process on the drawing to block in the medium object’s size, and use the sizing square to help position it.

For example, I already knew that the flower pot jutted out of the main square, and its top rim was a small bit above the center point.

These measurment terms seem obscure when I refer to them as ‘jutting out’ and ‘a small bit,’ but they were solidly recorded in my mind’s eye from the time I spent measuring the scene.

Trust that measurements will stay in your mind too. If they don’t stay there firmly now, they will with practice.

Measuring garlic with pencil. C. RosinskiFor something small, like the bulb of garlic, measure it and see how many of them you can fit into the first object side by side.

Here you see me with my arm outstretched, taking the garlic’s measurement.

Measuring garlic bulb against vase. C. RosinskiThen I move my arm up to the vase, and count how many garlics fit into it. Two fit nicely.

Proportionally drawing garlic bulb. C. RosinskiFind that measurement on your sketch, and draw the new element’s width using the sizing square for placement.

Failsafe And Anchors

The main sizing square is your failsafe proportional reference, and it’s center cross lines are your anchors. As long as you remember to step back and check your drawing against these things regularly, your drawing will remain in proportion.

When I work, I blend the sizing square method with bounding boxes.

The sizing square method is  extremely useful for placing elements where they belong in the composition, and bounding boxes are excellent for getting the proportions of each element right. So, practice both of these techniques by themselves, and then experiment with your own blend to find what works best for you.

Turn off thinking and turn on seeing.

I’ve talked a lot about theory in this lesson, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember that drawing is always primarily about seeing. As you work compare your drawing to reality all the time, and don’t be afraid to make lot of  corrections marks.

No matter how many years of practice you’ve had, you’ll still draw the first lines wrong before you draw them right. That’s the interesting thing about drawing. It can be both rewarding and kinda embarrassing at the same time. Just like life! :O

One more lesson, the last in this series. 

The last lesson in this series is much more intuitive than these last four, and we’ll push line into the interpretation of shadow, light, and form.

Until next time, draw well, draw strong, and never stop!


Supplies for happy drawing:

Here are the supplies you need for this whole series of lessons, plus a few others I added to make your drawing life happier. I’m Blick affiliate and get some money when buy from my links, so thank you very much if you do.

Derwent Graphic 2B
Derwent Graphic HB

Derwent Graphic 2H

(If one is out of stock, get the next softer grade.) – Derwent Graphic Pencils are good inexpensive art-grade graphite pencils to start with.

Canson Classic Cream Drawing Pad
– This inexpensive Canson paper has a good tooth for graphite and it holds up to erasing fairly well too. It does dent, so don’t press too hard when you draw or you’ll ruin the grain.

Faber-Castell Kneaded Eraser
– This is the brand of kneaded eraser I use. It’s not too sticky or oily. It’s just right.

Alvin Vinyl Eraser
– The vinyl eraser is good to have for erasing marks the kneaded eraser won’t remove, and for general clean-up around the edges of the paper.

Helix Electric Cordless Eraser – A tapered ergonomic shape that stays out of your way and inexpensive. Sharpen it’s nib by spinning it on rough paper or sandpaper, then you can ‘draw’ extraordinarily delicate lines and textures in graphite gradations, along with dozens of other things that you’ll invent to do with it. You’ll go through a lot of nibs, so pick up extras.

Kum Long Point Pencil Sharpener –  The only pencil sharpener I use. Two holes: one hole sharpens the wood, and the other sharpens the graphite. Makes a very long sharp point and hardly ever breaks lead. There are extra blades in the back.

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