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, January 27, 2011

Lesson 17 - Designing Your Drawing - Horizon lines, Balance, Flow, and Leading the Eye

I want to focus on four things in this lesson:
Horizon lines
Leading the Eye

If you were to draw a scene from nature, you'll want to find the horizon line before you begin. This is where earth meets sky.

Let's try two, one with the horizon up high, and one with it down low. Away from the sea, it may be hard to find, since mountains, trees, houses, etc., tend to get in the way. It's basically the furthest point where land meets sky - such as at the base of the furthest mountain you can see.

Let's draw the Li River in China. (I love the crazy shaped mountains of Guilin.) By putting the mountains and foliage just right, I want to lead the eye to the horizon.

Here is our paper and I'm drawing the horizon line on the upper third. Draw it light, because we'll be erasing this line later.

Now I'm ready to put in a bank and cluster of trees coming from the right.

If you'd like to try a very balance drawing first, put your bank and trees on the left about the same distance above the first strand.

Next, I put mountains on the right, then on the left, again spacing them about the same distance from each other. (But if you continue to do that, it ends up looking too contrived. You'll need to break up the 'sameness' by making the small range of mountains behind them at intervals that aren't exactly spaced.)

Now when you look at this picture, notice how the eye zigzags up. That's called 'leading the eye', and if it goes where you want it to go, that's good. If not, you'll want to adjust the mountains or river until the eye goes exactly where you want it to. A good drawing of nature will take you on a journey.

Okay, let's try a low horizon line, and this time, we won't be symetrical in our placement of trees and mountains. We'll do it nature's way, which is random. But, being artists, we have the right to claim 'artistic license' which means we can adjust it any way we want to balance it out and keep the flow smooth.

This time, my horizon line is on the bottom quarter of the page.

I'm going to stretch things by putting my two banks nearly next to each other. I'm doing this because I want to tighten up the mountains and make the river much shorter. I want to leave a lot of sky. Now, notice I drew an extended bank below on the left one. I'm working the angle the eye will take, guiding it to turn right, curving it into the river behind the right bank.

Here is my horizon line. Let's see if we can squish all the mountains in, and still show distance.

I don't leave a lot of space between the bases of the mountains, but I do leave just a little, again guiding the eye back to the horizon. However, this picture has too much blank space up top. We need to add clouds.

Since the river angles right, I'm putting my first cloud low on the right, pointing left. I'm keeping it thin and light, so it doesn't overpower my mountains. Now I'll balance it by adding a cloud on the left, pointing right. There's still air above, but now it doesn't dominate the picture.

Do your eyes go up the river, then swing left, then right in the sky? If I did this right, they'll go from the bottom of the picture up, then circle right and go down again. I'm trying to draw your eye into the picture again by angling my highest cloud down just a little.

So here's your challenge. Find a photo of nature. Find your horizon line. Look to where your eye goes, and why. Something is leading it there.

Now practice drawing a picture where you deliberately lead the eye on a path, but it is restful, unhurried and enjoyable (that is what Flow means). Practice moving things until they balance. Remember, it's no sin to run through erasers. (The eraser company will love you.) Keep trying until you're happy with the journey you just made.


  1. I love how you show us the difference in the pics. It really makes me think about what I'm seeing when I look at everything. :)

  2. Thanks, Leisha! The possibilities are fun to play with.

  3. Amazing difference in the two. I love how even your simple line drawings are absolutely gorgeous.


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