I like photographs, but I adore illustrations.
Unfortunately, my drawings don’t (yet) live up to the images inside my head. While I am able to make acceptable small-scale drawings, I usually hire an illustrator to help with the complex stuff. Until I become a better illustrator, I take photos, trace the parts I like, then shade them with hatching.
It’s a simple process and produces acceptable results. Here are the details if you’d like to try it yourself.
For the paper, I use 100 percent rag vellum. It’s expensive, but it smudges the least of any “tracing” paper I’ve used. You can get the stuff at good stationery stores.
I manipulate the photo I’m tracing in Photoshop, usually to lighten it so I can see little details. Sometimes I bump up the contrast, too. Then I scale the photo so it’s 110 percent of the finished size I want on the page. This scaling is important. If I don’t scale all the chair photos the same, then the line thicknesses will be inconsistent from drawing to drawing. The reason I draw the image at 110 percent is that the slight reduction of the image (to 100 percent on the page) tends to sharpen up the lines a bit.
I print out the photo on cheap copy paper and tape it to the backside of the vellum. Then I get out my LED lightbox. This is an inexpensive apparatus that makes tracing easy. You can get them at art supply stores. Mine is made by Artograph; there are much cheaper alternatives. Before I owned one of these I would tape the vellum to a window and use the daylight to illuminate things. The lightbox makes life easier. And I can work at night.
I use three sizes of mechanical pencils: .9mm for the thick, exterior lines in the foreground; .7mm for shading, interior lines and exterior lines that are distant; and .3mm for details and fine shading (like inside a spindle).
The only drawing tool I use is a translucent plastic 6″ rule. No templates for curves or ellipses. I tried working with those years ago and preferred drawing without them. The straightedge rule is great, even for chairs. You learn to draw entasis and shallow curves with a straight ruler after a while. The other hard-won lesson was this: Move your arm when you draw, not your hand. Your lines will be much smoother as a result.
All my shading is done with straight lines. It’s a bit comic-book-y, but I like comic books.
I take liberties with the tracing. I fix broken spindles, repair splits in seats and restore chunks that have been taken out of the legs. And the shading is used for two things: to show value, of course, but also to emphasize key parts of the construction, such as through-tenons and seat saddling.
So far for “The Stick Chair Book” I’ve made about 40 drawings and have many more to go. If you’d like to see the results of the tracing, you can download this sample chapter.
Please note that the text is a draft. There is still a lot of editing and peer-review to do. I mostly wanted to see how the images and text looked together. So, if you don’t mind, please blunt that sharp tongue of yours.
— Christopher Schwarz
Read other posts from the “Making Book” series here.
24 thoughts on “Making Book Part 15: I Can’t Draw, But…”
Vellum is a great thing. When I worked as a screen printer, we used it as low resolution film to expose images in the screen. Use it instead of printer paper in a laser printer, then Spray it with clear lacquer and the transparency increases tenfold.
Thanks for sharing! As a professor of painting, and an amateur wood worker, I greatly appreciate the intersection of both. In regards to the precedent for tracing in “high” art, have you seen David Hockney’s “Secret Knowledge” film? It can be found on youtube, and I highly recommend it.
Great little film!
So are you writing a book on writing a book?
Nope! This is just a “how the sausage gets made” series about a book. And I hope it has a happy ending!
Mmm mmm, sausage.
Great tracing technique. Thanks for sharing the draft/sample chapter. Definitely looking forward to this book!
I like the line drawings. Thanks for tips.
I taught for decades, through 17 editions on one particular textbook. At one point, the expense of licensing photographs must have become prohibitive. The photographs were traced, colorized, and textured and converted to something that is best described as low-resolution still from a rotoscoping.
Keep up the good work … entertaining and informative.
Really looking forward to the book.
As an artist since childhood, having majored in fine art and spent 30+ years in the graphic design and illustration profession, I could draw anything I saw or imagined. But what surprised me most was that when it became imperative to move into computer graphics, the eye/hand coordination extended to drawing as well with a mouse in Illustrator and Photoshop, as well as using the painting, airbrushing, tracing and other tools afforded in software. Then Apple’s touch screen pencil put that tool back in my hand for work on the large iPads, which also means using any of the other tools back in the hand, and infinite layers make possible things never before available to any artist in history since they made images on the walls of caves. I have largely moved away from the use of paper over the years. Computer art also has the advantage of making multiples of whatever one creates. I use a large scale eight-color inkjet printer at ultra-high resolution with archival rag papers and mineral inks that may last for centuries. I do convert digital photos into my art quite a lot. My newly acquired Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max has lenses and capabilities absolutely equal to pro digital DSLRs, especially in low light, and will shortly be able to shoot in RAW.
Thank you. The access you provide, on a number of topics, is a treat. Home with four small children, it is very gratifying to immerse myself (briefly) in a topic I enjoy AND has nothing to do with diapers, distance learning or domestic chores. Again, thank you for this wee respite.
Thank you for this peek into the book-yet-to-come. It looks like another must-have-and-will-hugely-enjoy-book in the making, and if you don’t mind me saying so, I think that your drawings are very nice to look at in their own right, and work well indeed to illustrate and aid comprehension of the text.
Tracing onto vellum is a process very familiar to me. My father, who trained as a draughtsman and artist in the 40s and 50s, used it all his life for sketching and for transferring his sketches to the final surface, whether paper or canvas. He would do a series of sketches, from first rough to final version, on vellum (well, actually he used to use greaseproof sandwich paper from the supermarket, as that was rather less expensive and good enough to sketch on), using fine-line permanent markers.
As the vellum was semitransparent, and the marker lines black, he didn’t have to use a lightbox until the final stages, but could just trace from more rough to less rough by what he saw through the top layer. The last in the series would then be very carefully drawn, usually on the lightbox, from the penultimate one to produce a final sketch were every line was as he wanted it, and nothing extraneous remained. He would then turn the vellum over, and put a layer of soft pencil (3B, I think) behind each line, tape the sketch the right side up again to the final surface, and go over his lines once more with a hard pencil.
This created a clean and thin pencil line drawing on an otherwise virgin surface that had not until then had to be handled and from which nothing had had to be erased. He would then either ink the lines if that was called for (for example for the cartoons he made for the [Swedish edition of] Mad Magazine in the 70s and 80s), or use them as a basis for applying the paint if he was working in gouache or oils. The very last work he did, the day before he died, was in fact preparing such sketches for an oil painting he was going to work on when the natural light came back in spring …
The exact same technique that you describe of producing a line drawing from a photo is one I used myself (except I worked with Rotring pens) when I did National Service with the Town Archeologists at the [Kulturen[(https://www.kulturen.com/welcome-kulturens-museums/) museum in Lund in Sweden in 1990. In that year, Lund celebrated its 1,000 Year Jubilee, having been founded in 990, and I helped prepare the give-away catalogue for the Jubilee Exhibition at the museum by tracing images of some of the key archeological finds from photographs onto vellum to produce line drawings that were more suitable for the (inexpensive) reproduction technique to be used.
Very cool. Thanks for explaining your father’s process especially. Some good ideas to try in the future!
Wow! that chapter is looking really good! Great job on the drawings, they are perfect for representing the form with clarity, better I think than any photograph could accomplish since our eyes are not distracted by colours, highlights and shadows. Really looking forward to the book.
Illustrations (yours certainly count) rule because they allow their creator to emphasize or de-emphasize parts of the whole. The worst feature of the old Chilton auto repair manuals was the muddy black and white photos of some guy’s arm reaching into an engine compartment. What was he touching? Check the text because the photo didn’t help.
Ready to pre-order the book now.
I also like the font used for the text. Which is it?
Ooooh. I love to talk type.
It’s Adobe Caslon Pro. Set at 10.5 points over 12-point leading. I love how easy it is to read.
Great illustrations! Especially for the topic — chairmaking, with its inherent improvisation and ad-hoc adjustment, feels like sketching with wood to me when I try it. To indulge another metaphor, the point about scaling down reminds me of the trick for slowing music recorded to tape to tighten it up (but can confound tuning – try jamming along to Spacemen 3). I like to pair Univers with Caslon, if you’re curious about a sans-serif.
Will this book talk about stabelles/brettstuhls/moravian chairs as well ? Is it a common style in the US?
The book is about 90 percent how-to on the subject of vernacular stick chairs. The techniques shown will allow you to build these sorts of Germanic backstools. But I don’t think I’m going to build one of these specifically for the book. But I might change my mind.
They are still everywhere in Switzerland, old and new. Some are very ornate museum pieces and some are regular furniture, still in use.
I love these chairs so I’ll put one argument in their favor : the tapered sliding dovetail with a an angled and tusked mortise & tenon. One of the coolest joints in woodworking!
They are also in the movie Elf!
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