My name is Jonene Ficklin, and I'm a full-time wife, mom, writer, and professional artist. I've been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil. I use colored pencils, oil paints, and watercolors. I love what I do!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lesson 6 Form - Using the Box Technique

There are many techniques to help you draw things accurately. Today, I’d like to show you one. The ‘box technique’ is very simple.

Have you ever drawn something that leans or is disproportionate? This is an easy way to avoid it.

Do you want a simple way to get something accurate? Well, this is as simple as connecting the dots, then making small revisions. I love the box technique, because it breaks the drawing process down into simple steps.

First, pick an item to draw. Here are three items: bananas, a feather duster, and a vase.

Imagine that you need to mail them. What shape of box would you need? Tall and thin, square, short and wide? Draw a box shape that will fit your subject. (See last week’s lesson on how to measure using a pencil.)

WARNING: draw your box and all your lines very lightly, so they can easily be erased.

It’s best to start out with something simple, that doesn’t have a bunch of shapes and textures.

So today we’re going to draw the vase. Your box will be tall and thin, like the vase.

Now cut the box in half both ways, so you have a big plus sign in the center of the box.

Take a look at your subject, the vase, from top to bottom. Where is halfway? Now look side to side. Where is half way?

Are there any other features in the vase that would be easy to divide into portions? Look at the top where it narrows into the middle. It is ¼ the way down. Look at the bottom. The widest part is ¼ the way up.

Divide your rectangle just like the image above. I'm taking the natural math of my subject and using it to help me.

Now look to see where the vase is narrowest. Is there any other part of the vase that is narrow like that? The bottom is. They are almost the same width. Mark their spots on your rectangle in the quartered sections.
Now look at the bottom half of your vase. Look at the fattest part. It hits the sides on the bottom quarter line.

Drawing a perfect curve is hard, so we're not going to. Not yet. We're going to draw straight lines - connect the dots. Using your ruler, connect the bottom dots to the edge of the  rectangle at the bottom quarter line where the vase is fattest, then connect that line up to the dots on the halfway line.

The next widest part of your vase is the very top. The neck of the vase is almost straight. We're going to pretend it is. So take the top quarter and draw the neck straight up. Then from the top quarter line, connect that line out to the top edge of your rectangle, like in this drawing:
There. Now you have the basic proportions of the vase. Yes, we will round it out soon. But first, let's round out the top and bottom.

Let's start at the very bottom of the vase. Starting at the middle line, curve a line out until it runs into your side-bottom line. Do the same to the other side. You CAN get this free-hand, but it will probably take a bit of work. If you have a hard time, use some tools. You can use a protractor or compass, ore even use the edge of a clean, dry cup. Put it down on the paper and use the edge to get your curve.

Now go up to the top and do the same thing. Notice that I didn't swing the curve right into the top line of the rectangle. In the photo, the widest part of the mouth is a little below the top.

Tip: You'll want this curve to match your bottom curve. You don't want it to be a fatter or leaner curve.

Now finish the top half of the mouth of your vase. Again, you'll want the curve to have the same arc, only in reverse. This may take a bit of work, but you can do it. Use the cup if you have to, just flip your paper upside down.

Next, notice how the base of the vase has a double line? Just draw a parallel curve just above your bottom line, the do the reverse curve on top to finish out the bottom circle, just like in the drawing below. With that done, NOW it's time to round out the sides of your vase. Let's start with the widest part at the bottom. I went from the middle down to the bottom quarter line on both sides. Again, you'll want to make sure that the curve matches on both sides.

Don't be afraid to erase and try again if it doesn't work the first or the tenth times. Erasing is good! (We are always searching for erasers at our house because the are always used up. I buy them by the crate.)

Now follow through with your curve going to the bottom.

If you erase the 'helper' lines in the bottom half, your vase will start to look like a real vase. Exciting, isn't it?

Okay, now look at the photo. The mouth of the vase has a lip. On the under side of your curve, it runs parallel, but on the top swing of the curve, it ties in. Because it is glass, you can just barely see the lip through on the other side. For now, just draw the bottom parallel curve and tie in the sides around the top, like the drawing below.
Now, you are ready to begin smoothing out the angles in the upper half of your vase. Wherever you run into an angle in these parts, such as at the top quarter and middle line, smooth the line out so that it flows from the rounded part of the vase into the neck and up to the top.
Now do the other side.

You can erase your 'helper' lines.
And you can take out the rectangular box surrounding it. Feel free to go back and add any details you'd like, such as the center circle on the bottom, and hints of the lip on the back edge of the upper curve.

Now you have a beautiful vase that is accurate, centered, and flowing!

This box technique can be used on just about anything. Practice with another simple object or two. Break your subject down into the simple math of where the middle is both horizontally and vertically. Then look for any other features that break down into simple math. Use dots to mark the spots. Use straight lines at first, then add curves and dips. It's a blast!

Next week: Shading your vase.


  1. I love artists. This is such a fun place to be ;)

  2. I absolutely love your blog! You make the art look so easy! I know for a fact it's not, for me anyway. I will check back and try your tutorials. :-)

    Also, I love your beautiful piece on the mother and child from Africa. What an incredible story!

  3. Jolene, thank you! You made my day.

    Nancy, I'm a big fan, so I really appreciate it! Thank you!


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