Digital abstracts

 

Digital abstract, 001, iPad finger painting, 2017

001, 2017

 

Digital abstract, 002, iPad finger painting, 2017

                                                                002, 2017

                                                                

Digital abstract, 003, iPad finger painting, 2017

003, 2017

 

Digital abstract, 004, iPad finger painting, 2007

004, 2017

 

Digital abstract, 007, iPad finger painting, 2017

007, 2017

 

Digital abstract, 012, iPad finger painting, 2017

012, 2017

 

Digital abstract, 017, iPad finger painting, 2017

017, 2017

 

Digital abstract, 022, iPad finger painting, 2017

022, 2017

 

Background

I created these painting studies recently using PaintShop Pro and the Procreate painting software for iPad. The forms developed from a combination of two related sources .. impressions received while searching the Thames foreshore, and my collection of used painting palettes.

I feel I might be making some progress in getting more comfortable with working digitally, making the digital manipulation of images actually work for me .. to give me what my mind’s eye wanted .. rather than generating enticing variations which, however interesting, move in other unforeseen and unprepared directions! In traditional image making .. I mean physical painting or drawing, applying real substances onto a physical surface .. there are many limitations in comparison. With continual practise one can extend the range gradually but also become comfortable in working within these limitations, even turning them to advantage. The way one works within limitations defines one’s self .. one’s hand-print, one’s style, one’s visual aesthetic .. with consistency it almost guarantees that what one is doing will be different from another’s. Paradoxically, the infinite range provided by digital image making has led, it seems to me, to a lot of people’s work looking very much the same!

As for the Thames foreshore, I think I’ve written elsewhere that much of the experience is about tuning in to the special ‘otherness’ amongst all the sameness, or looking for the natural or man-made signs of ‘life’ amongst  the stones. But the interesting thing is that while doing that I think I’ve acquired a heightened sympathy for it ALL .. the whole range of same, similar, other or distinctive .. because nothing is identical, and everything however simple has a character of its own! In particular, there are the flints with their strong contrasts of dark and light, and their lifeform-like suggestiveness. I have a theory that it was stones such as these, the very same ones around at the dawn of humankind, which assisted the first inklings of the idea that we could both imitate other things and create shapes of our own.  

The other aspect of my Thames foreshore experience which seems to be soaking into my work more and more is .. trusting the ready-made, accepting the found object or, in other words, having faith in serendipity .. and this leads in to my second source of inspiration. For some years now I’ve been collecting up the painting palettes used in my courses, letting them dry and scanning them before soaking and scraping them clean. Have you ever stood in front of a ‘non-representational’ painting and been almost literally struck by an overwhelming feeling of ‘rightness’, a feeling .. that the balance is so sensibly poised between harmony and conflict, that the colours are so carefully considered, or that it can suggest a number of ideas but doesn’t need to be any of them? The thing is, on a number of occasions I’ve been hit by a very similar feeling while looking at a used painting palette! Is it possible that a few minutes worth of unfocused paint mixing can inspire the same feelings as weeks of painstaking work? Why not? Isn’t a painting palette a perfect example of form and colour for it’s own sake .. because it can’t be anything else? Isn’t it on the one hand pure and untainted by thought and on the other an honest embodiment of natural forces? When a painter composes an evocative abstraction, i.e. one which elicits agreement on an emotional rather than an intellectual level, aren’t they just painstakingly recreating in their own terms those same instances of rhythm and interruption, sameness and otherness, the individual and the whole, determinism and randomness .. the same that occur in a littered street, a stony foreshore or a painting palette?

While working on these studies I have become very interested again in the questions surrounding abstraction and in particular its relationship with music. This relationship is not about painting that strives to be ‘like’ music, to imitate it, certainly not painting that seeks to evoke musical or auditory sensations. It’s painting that attempts to parallel the way music is experienced.

Why is this so terribly hard? The urge to create paintings that could be experienced like music was introduced into the Fine Art forum about 100 years ago, but that means it’s still a fairly recent notion in the timespan of cultural history. Many recently past or contemporary artists may have evidenced how it could be achieved but that remains only one side of the deal that needs to be struck between creators and public perceptions. It may just be impossible; it may even go against the way we perceive things?

For me the fundamental is ‘Can we appreciate something without feeling the need to recognize what it is, where it comes from or what is meant by it?’ Yes, that’s possible with music! Of course if music appeals to us we become curious about where it comes from, and we may begin to formulate other questions, but those and other thoughts hardly affect its appeal while listening to it .. and I’m sure that most people would agree that the question ‘what is meant by it’ is unlikely to be in their minds while enjoying it? It does its job without the need for meaning! To put it another way, music can work on us without the need to reference anything other than itself.

Why can’t we do that with painting? For the moment I’m fairly convinced that we can’t .. but I don’t know why yet. Is it simply because vision is our primary means of reading, interpreting or in other words ‘making sense’ of our world, so we just can’t let go of that basic directive when it comes to processing anything visual? Or is it linked to the very different way we receive the two i.e. music can only ever be one note at a time, as it were, whereas a painting is commonly taken in all at once, then re-examined in detail? So the brain has to process the input in a different way? In a sense, music is never there, it can’t be ‘frozen’, our perception of it is a combination of the memory of what has been and the anticipation of what is to come. Maybe it’s just this disembodiment which is the key to understanding why music can work on us so ‘abstractly’ whereas painting cannot?  

     

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The coalescence of putti in a summer sky

 

coalescence_basis1-5_1200

 

coalescence_basis1-4_1200

 

coalescence_basis1-3_1200

 

putti11-15_2_1200

 

putti11-15_1_1200

 

putti11-15_3_1200

 

Background

In preparation for an exhibition of my sculptural work next year I am planning to show a lot of my working sketches. In fact, I’m hoping that the exhibition will feature process just as much as final outcome, not only sketches but maquettes, colour/texture samples and even the raw materials, but at the moment I’m not sure how far I can take this. I’ve recently been trying out a new method of preparation and idea development, which first involves creating maquettes, photographing them and then using these photos to explore/develop form and colour digitally. Because digital material is infinitely adaptable and reusable it opens up all sorts of rehearsal/improvisation opportunities. It can also lay the basis for promoting sketchworks to finalised outcomes in their own right.

My new work on one of my favourite subjects of ‘putti’ is a case in point. The interest developed many years ago during a visit to the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich. Amongst many other truly emotive and tactile examples of Baroque sculpture, the museum had one of the best collections of nativity dioramas in the world. In a darkened, maze-like room thick with atmosphere I saw huge installations filled to bursting with carved figures. In many the richly blue skies were just as crowded, with colourful airborne beings .. many of them adult-looking angels, but just as many infants, and as I remember it, some were just fragments or, as if, in the process of forming .. like heads with wings, or clumps of flesh-coloured buds with golden petals, sprouts with layers peeling. This made a deep and lasting impression .. though a mainly formal and associative one. I don’t subscribe to religion, but I can be moved by the beauty such devotion generates.

So for the ‘putti’ sculpture I’m working on .. and have been nudging forward on-and-off for years .. I’m trying to recapture that thrill, trying to find a sculptural form which will suggest the physical simulation of something glorious .. but also ancient, and also strongly organic. For example the words ‘protean flesh’ spring to mind, and that’s the reason why I’ve preferred to keep to the title ‘putti’ rather than something more maturely angelic, because this makes me think of ‘putty’ and particularly the gorgeous, dark pink, rubbery ‘silly putty’ one could get when I was a child which seemed to have an innate life and will of its own and could become many things though only what it wanted to.

So I think it’s very fitting that I happen to be using digital material to find a way through this .. it’s very fluid, it can be breathtakingly spontaneous, all manner of variations can be fairly instantly and effortlessly previewed. Although in the beginning I fought against the intangibility, the fact that what I was doing did not really exist in any physical sense .. until it’s printed, and then it’s something else .. I think I’ve come to value that ethereal, ‘protean’ aspect. In a sense it has more allegiance to, or is in the same space as, what’s inside my head.

Technical

As I said though, I prefer to make something physical as a starting point, providing an anchor .. but something simple, no real pressure, it’s just raw material for transformation. These are the ‘putti’ forms I produced a while ago in response to the flying angels, and which I still want to use as a basis ..

putti originals

.. though over the years they’ve acquired a lot of experimental patination, because I haven’t been able to get the surfaces right yet.

older putti photes 2015

new putti photos Dec2015

To create the sketches I took these, or similar photos into PaintShop Pro where I could experiment with either softening or enhancing contrast. Eventually I found that the best basis for the effect I wanted was to enhance the contrast and deepen the shadows but change to an almost complete monochrome, to give more freedom when later ‘colouring in’. For this, the main ‘painting’ process, I exported the modified photos to Procreate on my iPad.

Procreate is a ‘painting’ application developed solely for the iPad. It has given me pretty much everything I’ve wanted so far from this kind of tool and I would strongly recommended it .. though I don’t know how it compares to others since I haven’t had to consider them. In either working colour gradually into the photo-basis or making alterations to the forms I found the brushes, blender and eraser nicely delicate. I did experience some frustration though, which I have not yet overcome .. feeling that I couldn’t fully judge what I was doing, compared for example with controlling the effect of real paint, pastel or pencil shades on paper. It also took me a while to realise that, for all the choices of brush or setting that digital painting offers, one has to choose a manageable handful of favourites and stick with them.

Recommended websites for visual research

You’ll find this list now under Visual research in the Methods section, and I’ve illustrated it with examples taken from some of the websites listed. I’ve compiled it with scenic designers in mind .. set designers for theatre, film or television .. but I’ve included a section on ‘Costume and fashion’ and the list should also be of relevance to prop-makers. Apropos ‘subject divisions’, I think I still need to work on these .. I’ve divided it according to instinct and feeling, but it may need a bit more logic. Like many things on this site, it is a work-in-progress, meaning that it is meant to develop over time even if this is hardly perceptible.

The so-called 'Hobbit House' built by an eccentric artist in the Cotswolds

Above from derelictplaces.co.uk .. the so-called ‘Hobbit House’ in the Cotswolds Below from collectorsweekly.com .. Eric Eakin’s collection of bedpans.

Eric Eakin's bedpan collection

I will always be on the lookout for interesting additions to this list, so if you’d like to recommend any yourself don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’ve given preference to websites with high visual content obviously, but the quality of supporting information has been almost as important. The Internet is a vast and far-reaching resource for all of us .. the task of making it more ‘responsible’ is one we all share!

 

Why not just Google?

A while ago I thought it might be useful to put together a list of websites most valuable for visual research, either those I’ve used and favorited in the past or some recommended by others, and I posted in Facebook groups such as the Society of British Theatre Designers (SBTD) asking for suggestions. Many thanks for the comments I received! .. I’m still working on the actual list and I will put it in a new folder Visual research in the Methods section very shortly.

For the time being I wanted first to provide a sketchy illustration as to why one shouldn’t confine one’s visual research to Google .. at least, not to the extent I’m accustomed to seeing from my undergraduate teaching. Don’t get me wrong! .. I don’t believe that Google Images can be .. or should be .. ignored! It all depends on how one uses the tool. For example, it is often my first port of call if I first want to define exactly what I’m looking for or to locate sites which are likely to give me better images and more information.

As an illustration, if I’ve really no idea what a ‘duchesse brisee’ is I can type it in and Google will very likely correct me if I’ve got the spelling wrong. That’s a great help in itself! Most of the images then displayed will give me a clear and immediate indication of what it is but also give me a wide choice of period interpretations. It may help at this point to change the search size from ‘Any’ to ‘Large’ because this often keeps the more informed sites and cuts down on the Pinterests and Flickrs. Now Google can be .. and should be .. left behind to refine one’s choice; checking the period and country of origin, and generally acquiring the kind of supporting information that sensible designers need to have! Here for example is the one I might have chosen  ..

Louis XV period duchesse brisee

The website it’s from.. Antiques.com ..tells me that it’s Louis XV period or mid 18th century, carved in walnut and even that it’s attributed to the maker Pierre Nogaret. A quick Google of ‘Pierre Nogaret’ shows me many other pieces of furniture of the same feel and period. Unusually Antiques.com doesn’t provide measurements in this particular case, but many other antiques or restoration sites do for similar pieces. Here Google repeatedly offers an invaluable ‘means’ ..but not the ‘end’.

Or to take another example, if I want specific information on what a tenement dwelling in New York looked like in the 1890s I might also try Google first just for fun. In this case, because typing ‘1890 New York tenement’ could bring up too many irrelevant results it may be better to choose the ‘Advanced’ search option and type one’s search words in the ‘all words’ box. When I did this I was presented with this image from someone’s Flickr page, which looks pretty authentic and is entitled ‘New York tenement 1890’, but as often with Flickr or Pinterest there’s no other information and no indication of source so that I can verify that it’s authentic! For the serious designer this is a rather ‘blind alley’ and therefore a waste of time.

photo from Jacob Riis 'How the Other Half Lives' first published 1890

What one needs to do is either scroll down to see whether the image appears again from a more ‘official’ source in which case there is likely to be more information about it or, failing that, click on the thumbnail and use the ‘Search by image’ option in the window that appears to find other sources. Luckily this image appears on a number of reliable sites such as the Smithsonian, Britannica.com or Wikipedia and further clicking on any of these will reveal the fact that the photo comes from a priceless social document How the Other Half Lives published in 1890 by the American journalist Jacob A Riis (although initially the photos were reproduced either as line drawings or halftone and wouldn’t have had the impact they have today).

photo from Jacob Riis 'How the Other Half Lives' published 1890

The point I am making is that someone intent on the ‘fast-food’ method might not even discover that, or the wealth of other relevant photos from Jacob A Riis that might not fall within the search terms used. Sure .. Google, Flickr or Pinterest will deliver instant results which can be effortlessly collected. It’s so easy to ‘click and save’ that even the thought of having to halt one’s happy gathering in order to check and document weighs curiously heavy!

The way we used to work as theatre designers before the establishment of the Internet could be admittedly arduous at times .. we had to go to libraries! We had to first search through catalogues arranged by subject or browse the shelves to locate books that might be helpful. If we found images we wanted to ‘keep’ we would have to take them down to the photocopier .. often just black&white, if there even was one and if it was working! But that meant that we had to become very focused and selective in our responses to images and the choice of them! We had to make conscious notes of where we found things, rather than trusting a computer to save that info ..which meant we were accustomed to reading and digesting it first! The books we found the images in would usually tell us all we needed to know about them and suggest yet other sources in their bibliographies. More often than not, writers were both circumspect and thorough when it came to the printed word! All this could be time-consuming, but on the other hand we could assess the quality and relevance of a book in mere seconds, just by flicking through it .. try doing that with a website!

Jacob A Riss understood not only the value but the necessity of ‘hard graft’ .. as a humanitarian, a pioneering journalist and a documentary photographer he was essentially optimistic, driven and persistent! Any serious designer, especially for theatre/film/television, has to operate in much the same way as an investigative journalist like Riss .. leaving few stones unturned. The problem with the Internet is that there are far too many pebbles!

Making ‘white card models’ for film or television design

I have fully updated this article, which was originally written a few years ago, and I have added some more illustrations. This form of model-making is, I think, still proving itself invaluable despite increasing competition from the likes of SketchUp. I’m keeping it in the Methods section for the time being, though not sure whether it shouldn’t go with Technical Drawing.

The following aims to serve as an introduction to the purposes of the so-called ‘white card model’ in film/tv design work, what it should include, and the materials one can choose to make it. In the case of the materials and techniques recommended, it is really just an overview of possibilities and doesn’t go into full, step-by-step instruction on how to build. It is important to make the distinction right now between the ‘white card model’ meant in this case and the other case .. the exploratory, often rough and inexact, sometimes coloured, ‘sketch’ model which is often referred to by the same name, especially in the theatre. The ‘white card model’ of the present context is, in many ways, anything but rough and inexact and most often, due to its usual place in the chronology of design steps, it is no longer exploratory.

‘White card models’ explained

Although the film/tv production designer is free to use a wide variety of visual means in developing and recording a set design concept, including rough or ‘sketch’ models during the early stages, the so-called ‘white card model’ produced for the final stages conforms to very specific requirements. It is usually made once the design has been finalised, most often incorporating the detailed technical drawings created for the construction of the set. It is therefore quite literally a three-dimensional ‘blueprint’ of the intended design.

white card model

It is usually not a realistic, atmospheric rendition of what the set will look like, let alone how it will appear in the film. It may offer no information on colour, little on texture and materials, but all the most essential information on space, structure, movable elements and their practical implications. The designer may build a version earlier in the design process to test the design’s three-dimensionality ( to check general proportions, to better visualise filming possibilities etc.) but these things have usually all been worked out by the final stage and here the model made is more of a communicative device than a ‘testing’ tool. It serves as a communication to the whole film crew. It tells the director and the cinematographer exactly how much space there is for whatever action is required for a scene but also gives a summary idea of what will be seen behind it (this supports the value of creating technical drawings/model with some graphic indication of surface textures etc.). In addition it tells the cinematographer, and camera, sound or lighting crews, how much space there will be for equipment and whether any obstacles such as pillars, steps or levels need to be planned for. It gives an overview for the technical crew responsible for building and furnishing a set (or modifying an existing one) of how much work is required. It furnishes the financial administrators with the same overview to help them assess the costs.

The most common scale for this model is 1:50 (or the equivalent 1:48 if Imperial ..feet and inches.. is used). This is usually the scale in which the main technical ground-plans are drafted, and it is generally accepted that this is neither too small to show a significant amount of graphic detail nor to appreciate proportion in relation to the human figure. In any case models in a larger scale i.e.1:25 simply become too big to be manageable. Common types of card can be used, with the drawings spraymounted to them. These are then cut out and assembled to form 3D structures. The ‘rule’ is that anything which has a significant physical bearing on the set space (such as a pillar, steps, changes in floor level, opening doors, railings etc.) needs to be represented in 3D whereas anything which can be ignored from the point of view of space (such as shallow decoration or panelling, light curtains etc.) can be left flat as drawing. I always recommend that, at 1:50 scale at least, one can safely represent most things under 5cm deep (in reality) as flat drawing. 5cm amounts to a thickness of 1mm in a 1:50 scale model. On the other hand, anything protruding 5cm or more should be given that physical thickness in the model! For example a thin modern radiator could be just drawn whereas an older, more ‘bulky’ type really needs to be represented more physically in 3D (at the very least as a separate cutout which is stuck at the correct distance from the wall to convey the object’s total depth). Another common example is bookshelves, which also really do need to be shown in their proper depth however ‘fiddly’ this might seem. This is to ensure that there can be no misunderstandings about the exact spatial limitations of the set, which is of vital importance considering the amount of money in filming-time which such misunderstandings might cost.

One exception to the ‘5cm rule’ may be the floor area .. and this calls for the personal judgement of the designer/maker. In the case of the floor, even differences under 5cm could have a huge physical impact in terms of moving things around, so it would make sense to emphasize these physically in the model. It helps even more if the height indications included on the drawn ground-plan are kept visible .. another good reason for using the actual ground-plan, pasted to the baseboard.

There is always a margin left for personal judgement! Just as there is always room for the personal touch, to be a little bit more personal, creative or even .. aesthetic! .. in how one renders one’s own technical drawings (better still if it actually enhances rather than detracts from the communicative clarity of them!) the same should apply to the white card model. Showmanship may not be strictly necessary in practical terms .. but it can inspire!  Even this kind of model can be stylish as well as functional and, dependant on individual taste, ability and.. most importantly.. time, it can be embellished with graphic detail, structural finesse or effects designed to ‘sell’ the visual concept. Even at the later stages of design development it pays to be truly creative with the model, to be inventive with methods of representation or ‘simulation’. Such experimentation can directly pool into what I call our general ‘creative matrix’ as designers. I wouldn’t say that elements of colour are totally ‘banned’, but particularly here it is important not to upset the overall balance. Colour can become a distraction, giving visual weight to some elements to the detriment of a balanced overall view.

Edwina Camm white card model

Above is part of a white card model made by Edwina Camm for ‘An Instance of the Fingerpost’ an MA Production Design film project at Kingston. Edwina drew her original technical drawings this way .. little needed to be added to create this rich, convincing effect when used for the white card model.

There is another form of ‘white card model’ often used in film which I’d call ‘virtual’ or imaginary .. where a building, structure or even a whole landscape is constructed in precise dimensions even though it will never be physically built in its entirety. These are just as important to the production process because they make sense of how the various embodiments of the ‘set’ (whether CGI, built interiors, realistic physical models made for filming) are meant to fit together. I will be coming back to these later, but for the moment we are still concentrating on white card models for physically built sets.

There now follows a short list of the most significant individual points worth noting:

The base on which the model is mounted should be flat and stable i.e. secure enough to be a good support, not only when transporting the model but also for resting it down even where there are no totally free table-tops available. Production offices are often like this, and certainly studios or locations with sets in progress. Mountboard on its own is never enough! Generally 5mm foamboard will suffice for an A2 size model and 10mm foamboard for A1 and is often a better option than choosing heavier plywood or MDF! However if the foamboard is warped (and the cheaper polystyrene core foamboards often are) this must be first corrected by firm bracing on the underside. Another important extra precaution is protecting the baseboard corners against knocks (perhaps just by gluing triangles of mountboard on the top side). There’s nothing that transmits an impression of carelessness more than a lot of bashed corners! These may well become inevitable with a ‘working’, much-carried cardboard model, but just a little bit of extra strengthening can limit the damage. One needs a balanced attitude with respect to all this .. on the one hand caring about one’s professional appearance but on the other accepting that in a heavily populated working environment one can’t remain too ‘precious’!

White card model for 'Moon' 2009

Model in preparation for the build of the Sarang moon-station for the film ‘Moon’ 2009 on Shepperton Studios K-Stage. Often to save time, and if changes are anticipated, the white card model is mainly held together with pins .. unfortunately these models are always falling apart! Photo courtesy of Gavin Rothery.

The ground level (at least the visible set floor) should also be represented in white rather than bare wood if this is used. There should be a unity .. or rather, the word is homogeneity .. of colour and treatment throughout the model. But it should show very clearly where the floor is ‘the set’ and where it is not, so sometimes it makes sense for the ‘offstage’ to be differently coloured. Most often the master groundplan is used, spraymounted to the baseboard. If this groundplan is properly done, then (sometimes overlooked) elements such as scenery seen through windows will be automatically accounted for in the model. For obvious reasons even small ground surface elements or slight level changes will have an impact on how the space can be used, so these need to be physically represented in the model rather than just drawn. If you’re lucky, slight changes in level are easy to achieve just by layering different thicknesses of card on top of the baseboard. If you’re unlucky and part of the floor sinks below the common ‘0’ level, this is another good reason for using something like 10mm Kapa-line foamboard as a base. The section that sinks can be carefully cut out (a precision job with the scalpel), the paper can be peeled from the back of it and the foam sanded to make it thinner, and the section can then be glued back where it came from .. now a little sunk.

There should always be at least one scale figure included, simply as a familiar indication of scale. In my experience, as long as the essential proportions are right this figure should be as simply conveyed as possible and flat cut-out figures often look better in this context than 3D ones.

Practicals (i.e. working or moving elements) such as doors, shutters or removable parts need to work in the model, or at least be clearly indicated as movable. This should remain within reason ..for example, it is easy enough to half-way cut through card to make a working door but it would be unreasonable to expect a working roller-blind! In cases like this the simpler shortcut would be to make the model with the blinds open and make separate inserts to convey the effect of them down if this is necessary. Even in the simpler case of practical doors it may be better just to glue them ajar to show that they’re practical. Having to flip little bits of cardboard open in the model just to show that they open seems a bit unnecessary and could even be dangerous to the model if nerves are affecting one’s motor-control! It is often necessary to make parts of the model removable so that, especially, interiors can be better seen and to take better photos of these parts. This may directly reflect how the set will be built for filming in which case the so-called ‘floating’ walls will be indicated on the groundplan. Ceilings are a bit of a ‘grey area’ (i.e. often misunderstood) when it comes to the white card model. Strictly speaking if the walls of a studio set are going to be built to a certain height, even if that extends beyond what the camera will see, they should be built to that height in the model. Similarly if a ceiling exists in a used location it should be included, to make it clear where it is, even if the camera is going to avoid it. This would then need to be made detachable. When the ceiling becomes a feature of the design it should definitely be included, but again detachable.

Windows which are meant to be seen through (or any transparent surfaces) need to allow just that in the model, and need to be cut out, and also surfaced on the back with thin acetate to make it clear if they are going to be glazed (this for example is something both the lighting and sound crews will need to consider).

It is a common mistake to forget that something will be seen through a window, or an open door. If the set design has been conceived and developed largely on the drawing board it may be only at the ‘white card model’ stage that this is even considered! By then it may be too late for major alterations or to create more space for backdrops etc. Digital insertion via blue or green screen, or even old-style back projection, may solve a number of problems .. but these also should be planned for earlier in the design process. This is yet another solid argument for starting the physical model process early on, if only as rough ‘sketch’ version.

Edwina Camm white card model

Another example of the illustrative quality of white card models from Edwina Camm, also showing the importance of including the ceiling in this context.

If slender structures just as stair balusters or metal railings (although spatially flat) are left as blocked-in drawings they can create a false impression of space and often completely obscure the effect of the stairs. These are far better represented as cut-outs where humanly possible. An effective and often easier alternative however is to draw these structures with permanent ink on acetate sheet (but the acetate should ideally be matted to differentiate it from glazing).

There should be no short-cuts taken when representing steps, even long, regular flights of them (i.e. sometimes done by representing them as a flat card incline). This can be visually confusing. It is understandable because making them can be tedious, but ‘sandwiching’ foamboard or card to form the correct ‘riser’ (meaning the height of a step) and then simply layering these is one way of making construction much easier.

Should a ‘white card model’ stay white?

I’ve written elsewhere that I don’t consider pure white card to be the right medium at all when it comes to representing, or even just mocking up spaces. I think that at the very least off-white, beige or light-grey should be used because white is far too glaring .. it bounces the light within and around it like a pinball and consequently it gives a misleading impression of interior spaces! But it’s different when copies of the technical drawings are pasted to the surfaces .. there is less glare and, dependent on the style of drawing and the copier settings, often a variety of grey tones.

As I explained earlier, the effect should be monotone, rather than particularly white. The model can even be sprayed, as long as this doesn’t obscure the definition of the drawings.

SCALES AND SIZES

Since the white card model is commonly a pasted, 3D version of the technical drawings  one would assume that these dictate the scale of it .. but this is only partly true. As I’ve said 1:50 (or 1:48) is the most practical scale and the master ground-plans are often drawn in this scale. But the elevations (meaning the vertical faces of walls, structures etc.) may have to be drawn in a larger scale, such as 1:25, if there is a lot of detail. These drawings therefore have to be converted to 1:50 .. i.e. copied half-size.

Most people with some experience of working with scales would not have to think that long to arrive at ‘half-size’, or ‘50% reduction’ when thinking of the conversion from 1:25 to 1:50 .. it seems obvious. However, what if the elevations have been drawn in 1:20 scale and need to become 1:50? Less obvious, isn’t it? To solve this little mental problem we have to go back to ‘1:25 to 1:50’ and look at what we might have done. If we divide 25 into 50 we get ‘2’ .. if we then divide 2 into 100 we get ’50’. That’s the percentage reduction. So .. 20 into 50 gives us ‘2.5’ and 2.5 into 100 gives us ’40’ .. so this time it’s 40% reduction.

A common mix-up that arises when thinking or talking about models is between ‘scale’ and ‘size’. For example, a 1:50 scale model will be ‘smaller’ both in scale and physical size than the same structure modelled at 1:25 scale but the 1:50 version might sometimes be referred to as a ‘larger’ model because it enables a ‘larger’ area of the real thing to be modelled. To avoid the confusion one should make a habit of referring to ‘smaller’ or ‘larger’ only in terms of scale, i.e. a ‘larger’ model is one that is made to a larger scale even if it ends up a physically smaller portion of the whole. The scale 1:20 is a ‘larger’ scale than 1:25 but many people also get confused because, from the way it is written, it appears a smaller value. It may be a little easier when working with Imperial (feet and inches) and referring to ‘half- inch’ or ‘quarter-inch’ scales, more obviously decreasing in size.

By the way, another misunderstanding often arises when confusing dimension and surface area. For example, when asked to double the size of an A4 drawing many might think ‘A4 to A3’ but this, although doubling the surface area, is not doubling the dimensions. To double the dimensions you need to choose the next size up, i.e. A4 to A2.

Even if one has recently completed the technical drawings, before starting a 1:50 or a quarter-inch white card model .. or any scaled model .. one should take a moment to re-acquaint oneself properly with the scale again. One should, for example, look at how small a figure is (average male actor 1.75m high), how high a door might be (average 2m high), but just as importantly how thick a piece of card is needed to represent 5 or 10cm reasonably accurately.

white card model

Above is an illustrative ‘sample’ of white card model, simply made to convey a few of the typical things mentioned above .. and not outwardly expressing any aesthetic! However, it is clean and neat .. in other words the making of it looks cared about. One should never underestimate the importance of this! On the other hand the white card model works for a living .. it gets around, it’s handled and it gets worn at the edges .. so there’s no sense in getting too precious about it.

Wyeth style house

But, there’s nothing to say that the white card model can’t be dressed with some style! The model above was created by Patrick Scalise while a student at Wimbledon College of Art.

VIRTUAL WHITE CARD MODELS

This may seem like a contradiction in modern language but you’ll understand, it’s the best way of describing actual physical scale models made of buildings, structures or landscapes that are never going to exist in their entirety in real size .. but are treated as if they will! If you visit Warner Bros. ‘The Making of Harry Potter’ you’ll see a number of these, alongside other white card models for interiors and other large ‘props’ that were physically built.

Hogwart's white card model

Hogwarts was a very clever, highly complex and meticulously planned creation which brought together CGI, real locations, realistic physical models and full-size builds. This white card model is pivotal in giving the countless people involved a clear and immediate understanding of how each part is meant to go together.

 

MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES

Foamboard

White foamboard is one of the most common materials used as a structural basis for
these models, together with the thinner mountboard. It is light and very easy to cut, though quality and properties differ widely according to brand and price. Its main advantage is in combining ease of cutting with robustness (i.e. it maintains its straightness while still being soft) but its thickness can also be a bonus when defining proper walls (e.g. 5mm at 1:50 scale represents 25cm). It is manufactured in 3, 5 and 10mm thicknesses, though often only the 5mm is stocked in shops. Cheaper foamboards are filled with a relatively coarse-celled polystyrene which doesn’t stand up to solvent glues or spray-paints, whereas the foam interior in more expensive brands may be denser, giving a cleaner, more solid cut edge and perhaps a slightly more dent-resistant surface. The better brands will usually accept even PVA wood glue quite well for bonding. This is certainly true of the superior polyurethane foam in Kapa-line foamboard which will accept even solvent glues such as UHU and spraypaints. Kapa-line remains straight even under humidity (other foamboards are often quickly warped) and it has the added advantage that the paper layers can be carefully peeled off, either to facilitate bending into curves or to use the foam on its own as a material.

Cutting
When cutting through card with a knife a slightly angled edge is inevitable however upright one tries to keep the blade. The thicker the foamboard the more pronounced this can become. This may not always be visible or matter, but better right-angled edges are needed when gluing two pieces together to make a corner. One possible way of solving this is by cutting just half way through on one side, taking the line carefully round (i.e. with a try square) to the other side and completing the cut in exactly the same place on this side. If the foam edge is uneven this can be gently sanded using a sanding block. In fact if one can use a right-angle sanding block gently enough any foamboard edge can be sanded clean and straight. The fuzzy burr of paper which develops along both sides can be removed by carefully ‘scuffing’ with the sanding block at a 45degree angle. Extra care needs to be taken while working with foamboard not to press down too firmly while steadying the sheet as finger-dents are very easy to get.

Joining
Strong PVA glue (always better to use the ‘wood glue’ type rather than the economy-style ‘school’ glue) will bond foam-to-card well but not instantly, so joints often have to be temporarily taped together with masking tape while setting. One should usually allow at least 15 minutes for this. An alternative ‘trick’ is to insert a few short lengths of double-sided tape along an edge to be glued so that these hold the card pieces temporarily but firmly together while the slower glue (alternating in between) is taking effect. Using a solvent glue such as UHU may be quicker, but it dissolves the foam in the standard brands so clean or effective gluing is not always guaranteed. Coating any foam edges first with slightly diluted PVA will solve this and when dry, UHU or sprays can be used on these edges, but it is rather laborious to go to this trouble.

Bending
Whether curved walls need to be made in either foamboard or mountboard the method is similar. The material needs to be cut half-way through in repeated parallel lines (as little as 2mm apart for a tight curve), making it more flexible. But the grooves only work for bending one way, so for example an ‘s’ curved wall has to be grooved in alternate positions on both sides for it to bend properly into an ‘s’. The walls can be surfaced with paper to hide the grooves, but the curve must be secured (in the right curve) before this is done (if done before it will stop it from bending) and it’s better to use permanent spraymount otherwise a thin paper covering will buckle badly.

Other methods include .. if the superior Kapa-line foamboard is used, the paper layer can be peeled off (either from one or both sides) making it much more bendable without having to score the surface. Perhaps an even easier alternative for achieving curving walls is to use a dense foam sheet such as Plastazote, which is spongy and very flexible, or a thin styrene plastic (see below).

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about the use of foamboard for these models. On the one hand a good, robust, polyurethane-core foamboard is invaluable as a lightweight baseboard .. but if a cheap polystyrene-core one is used it is liable to warp badly over time and ends up showing every finger impression! This is also the problem when using foamboard for wall construction. It has to be handled very carefully, and unless one has taken the trouble to practise with the material for a while before trying to cut clean edges or door/window openings .. it just doesn’t look good! It’s true that it can be a massive time-saver in terms of representing appropriate wall thicknesses, as mentioned earlier. I would suggest you use it sparingly until you’ve mastered how to achieve perfectly clean, straight cuts.

White mountboard

It is essential to have white mountboard (or equivalent white card between 1-2mm thick) i.e white on both sides rather than white/black. Otherwise, the model can become chequered with distracting areas of black. In any case white mountboard tends to be cheaper and some brands are softer to cut. As with foamboard there are many similar brands of white card with a standard mountboard thickness (c. 1.4mm, or 1400microns as it’s sometimes written) and these will vary greatly in hardness and quality. Matte is definitely better to choose (there are some semi-glossy types), and avoid white card which has a noticeable layering inside (a bit like plywood) because this is likely to be the toughest to cut! The same is true generally of ‘greyboard’ or recycled grey or brown cardboard which is hard and full of gritty particles.  Most of the softer forms, such as the standard Daler-Rowney mountboard sold in A1 size sheets are fine for perhaps most of the work ..walls or simple cut-outs.. but unsuitable for more delicate structures such as railings for example, because they are too thick in scale and will break apart if cut too thin.

Cutting
As a general rule when cutting anything by hand with a knife it is always better to take things carefully and slowly. There is never any advantage in being able to cut right through in one go even if that is relatively easy. A straighter, more right-angled and
cleaner cut is almost always achieved by starting carefully with a very light guiding cut and following through a few times, increasing the pressure gradually. As with all straight cutting, it should be done against a flat metal ruler (non-slip, or with masking tape along
the underside to make it so) and positioned so that the main light source is falling into the cutting edge, so that the marked line is not obscured by shadow. It is surprising how many people who might in other respects be very able with their hands find it quite difficult to cut a straight, clean line. From my experience of witnessing people trying to cut a straight line (must be easily in the thousands by now!) I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem lies in not properly ‘feeling’ the straight edge of the ruler enough to stick with it. It may really be this simple! The best advice I can give (apart from the points above) is to spend a little time getting acquainted just with what it feels like to press the scalpel blade firmly against a metal edge and move along evenly. It may also help to say that the scalpel blade is ‘meant to’ bend a little with the pressure of being pushed against the ruler and that if it doesn’t its always liable to wander.

Gluing
White Pva glue is always the best and cleanest option when gluing almost anything porous, like cardboard. Strong Pva (a.k.a wood glue, such as ‘Evo-stik wood’) invariably gives stronger and cleaner joins and a good quality Pva can be surprisingly quick. When gluing edges the PVA must be used sparingly (and excess wiped off) for the quickest results on card. Especially if two larger pieces are being laminated (i.e. glued surface-to-surface) only spots of glue are needed to hold them firmly in place otherwise the water-based glue will cause warping if spread on too liberally.

If .. for whatever reasons of your own .. you prefer to use UHU, you must be able to control it! Unfortunately the UHU tube nozzle, the consistency of the glue and the way it comes out, are not designed for really precise control .. such as is needed when trying to apply the glue to a thin edge of card for example. Some practise is needed first. One tip is that if you want UHU to stick firmly more immediately .. almost as superglue does .. you have to apply the glue and position the piece down as you normally would, pressing firmly, but then lift it up again just a few millimetres. This will ‘string’ the glue slightly, and when you press the piece down again the bond will already be much firmer and will not need supporting.

Thinner white card

It is essential, if you want to keep in scale, to have recourse to something thinner than mountboard but still strong enough to stand up on its own if need be. It also helps if this card doesn’t fragment (divide into layers) so easily when finely cut. Usually the thin white card sold in art shops is not labelled by thickness but according to its weight per square metre. College shops in the UK tend to stock inexpensive thin white card from the art supply firm Seawhite in 200, 300 or 600gsm weights. The 300gsm is roughly 0.5mm thick and the 600gsm 1mm thick. These are quite strong, but also suitable for delicate cutting.

1:48 scale model for 'Boardwalk Empire' 2010

The 1/4 inch (1:48) scale white card model for ‘Boardwalk Empire’ not only fully clarified the space but also communicated much of the ‘look’ due to the inclusion of the signage. Courtesy HBO ‘Boardwalk Empire: Designing an Empire’.

Stencil card

This type of card is also known as ‘oiled manilla’ and is meant for making very fine-cut stencil shapes. The manilla card has been impregnated with linseed oil which prevents it from fraying or breaking so easily. This treatment also gives it a slightly waxy composition, making it easier to cut and ensuring a very sharp edge. Although it is by far the best for intricate work .. especially to convey repeated balusters, railings, delicate window frameworks etc .. it is not ideal for strictly ‘white card’ models because of its warm ochre colour. If used it needs to be covered, sprayed or painted .. unless the whole model becomes a similar colour! Although it contains oil it can be painted with water-based paints or glued using Pva quite easily. It will not warp as much as other types of card when painted. However, if it is used and needs to be made white I would recommend spraying it first with Simoniz white acrylic primer. This won’t eliminate all the colour, but most of it, and more importantly it will seal the surface so that once the primer is dry after a few hours, more water-based whitener such as white acrylic or gesso can be applied without the structures warping.

More about what’s achievable with oiled manilla can be found in Working with stencil card which is under ‘constructing’ in the Materials section.

Acetate

Thin acetate sheet is the most available clear plastic to use for representing window glass. At 1:50-1:20 scale this doesn’t need to be very thick and usually the slightly stiffer version of two commonly sold as A4/A3 sheets in graphics or copy shops (for writing or printing on to use for overhead projection) will remain flat enough.

Cutting
Acetate cuts easily with a scalpel but if need be thicker sheets can be scored and snapped cleanly. If scored lightly then bent on the score line it will stay together as corner, which is useful if trying to represent a glass construction without the messiness of having to glue edges. One can’t mark on acetate with a normal pencil so either the shape to be cut needs to be drawn on paper and used as a template underneath or the surface covered with masking tape and lines marked out on that.

Gluing
If gluing becomes necessary i.e. for attaching to the backs of window frames, small strips of double-sided tape are much cleaner than glue. Superglue for example will ‘fog’ acetate around the area glued while both the ‘cement’ intended for plastics and UHU tend to be difficult to control. A third alternative (but only if gluing acetate to another plastic such as styrene) is the thin plastic solvent available for melt-gluing a range of plastics (e.g. ‘Plastic Weld’ or ‘Extrufix’) which has to be brushed onto a joint from outside. This is generally much cleaner because any excess solvent will evaporate

Plastazote

This is a flexible foam (halfway between hard foam and ‘cushion’ foam) which is available in many thicknesses, densities and colours. Most people will be familiar with the similar, brightly coloured ‘hobbyfoam’ sheets for children which usually range between 1-3mm thickness. The material may also be familiar from exercise or camping mats. Although very soft it can be cut quite cleanly with a sharp scalpel though it can’t be sanded. At an appropriate thickness it can be ideal for curving walls for example, or even for building up a run of curving steps.

Gluing
Plastazote cannot be glued with Pva and even UHU may not be strong enough. A rubber contact adhesive such as ‘Evo-Stik Impact’ will be needed. This has to be lightly applied to both sides, left for a few minutes and then pressed together (UHU can sometimes be used as a contact adhesive in the same way). This has to be done carefully because there is no chance of repositioning. Some brands of this type of foam glue very readily with superglue.

Styrofoam, expanded polystyrene and PU foam

For some structures to be represented it’s easier and quicker to make solid blocks rather than having to construct boxes from a sheet material. Since white card models
don’t necessarily need to be permanent, these light, easily-worked, so-called ‘rigid’ foams may be an option. Styrofoam may be familiar as the light blue sheets (although styrofoam comes in other colours according to different grades or densities) made for wall insulation and commonly used in theatre and film workshops as a rapid carving material. Styrofoam is very finely-celled so it sands very well without crumbling .. using a sanding block it’s possible to get smooth, sharp-edged shapes fairly easily. But styrofoam is of particular benefit for achieving curved, streamlined or organic forms. Regular acrylic or acrylic gesso are best to use for painting it white, since spray paints will dissolve the surface. For more on how to shape styrofoam, including concave as well as convex forms, see my article Shaping styrofoam under ‘shaping’ in the Materials section.

Expanded polystyrene is basically the same substance but formed differently and the cells are much larger. This is made only in white and will be most familiar as hardware packaging material and ceiling tiles etc. This common ‘expanded polystyrene’ is often shortened to ‘EPS’ whereas styrofoam is officially ‘XPS’ meaning extruded polystyrene.

Polyurethane foam .. often referred to as ‘PU foam’ .. is usually found in white or beige, and is often a harder, denser rigid sheet foam than the others. It will resist the solvents in glues and spray-paints, though these will still work well to bond or cover it. Rigid PU foam is mainly available from suppliers of resins and fibreglass materials. But, nearer to home perhaps, some regular foamboards are made with a polyurethane core rather than polystyrene and the paper coverings are easy to peel off cleanly to use the smooth foam as a constructional or shaping material. Examples are Kapa-line foamboard and London Graphic Centre’s Premier Polyboard.

Cutting
These foams are very easy to cut with a knife (or hot wire cutter, except PU foam) and both styrofoam and PU foam can be sanded effortlessly to a smooth, sharp finish even for very small forms. This is not the case with polystyrene because of its much larger cell structure. These tend to break up or can’t be sanded down below a certain size. All can be cut on a band saw, but failing this the best way to ensure a straight cut right through is (as with thick foamboard) to start cutting half way through on one side, take the line round and complete from the other side. Neither a scalpel nor Stanley knife will go very deep so often a sharp penknife, fruit knife or serrated bread knife will serve better. The rough edge produced can easily be sanded smooth with coarse sandpaper on a sanding block.

Gluing
Whereas PU foam is not affected by solvents and can be glued quite effectively with UHU, contact adhesives or even superglue, styrofoam and polystyrene require special ‘foam friendly’ glues such as ‘UHU Por’ or solvent free (I recently found that Gorilla Glue will also work very well since it is polyurethane). Strong Pva wood glue should work with all though takes a lot longer to set. Often it is much easier to tack foam pieces together with double-sided tape which, if pressed together hard enough, will often hold just as well as gluing. Another form of glue which styrofoam seems to accept is spraymount, especially effective if sprayed lightly on both surfaces like a contact adhesive.

Foamed Pvc and styrene

Although foamed Pvc sheet is not so easily obtainable (at least not from art shops) it has excellent properties, being somewhat easier to cut than even some forms of card while remaining much more durable and resistant to warping. The thinnest gauge (1mm) is ideal for delicate cut-outs such as windows and railings. The best brand of foamed Pvc for this kind of work is ‘Palight’, which is one of the smoothest and softest to cut ( or the similar ‘Palfoam’ which is even softer and supposed to be cheaper). Usually the minimum quantity one can order is an 8x4ft sheet (1220x2440mm) which can be quickly delivered, but if one accepts this the price of 1mm or 2mm Palight can work out cheaper than most forms of cardboard. A good online source for ordering/delivery is Bay Plastics www.plasticstockist.com (the 1-2mm white foamed Pvc included in the online catalogue is the cheaper ‘Palfoam’ rather than Palight). Recently though the 4D modelshop in London have started stocking 1mm and 2mm Palight in small (300x600mm) pieces, ideal if you just want to try out a small amount first.

Another plastic, styrene, is also available in sheet form but much thinner (down to 0.25mm) and is also often more suitable than card for slender cut-outs but is denser and harder to cut than the foamed Pvc. Both will allow a certain amount of bending. They are both used extensively in architectural model-making in place of card or wood and are obtainable either from specialist model-making shops such as 4D modelshop or suppliers of plastics (such as Abplas in London).

Gluing
Superglue works very well on both plastics for a quick, strong bond but working with superglue is a practised art because there is no time for repositioning before the glue takes. An alternative when working with these plastics (also generally a much cleaner one) is to use a plastic solvent such as ‘Plastic Weld’. Different from the usual gluing process, the pieces to be glued have to be set up firmly in position first and the solvent is then brushed into the join. Only a little is needed, which is drawn into the joint by ‘capillary action’. There it melts the plastic surfaces and effectively fuses the two pieces
of plastic together. Any excess solvent outside the joint quickly evaporates resulting in a very clean joint. ‘Plastic Weld’ (as with other brands of dichloromethane solvent) works best on styrene plastics but in tests I found that it did work on the foamed Pvc though it took longer to set. If this doesn’t take, the ‘gluing from outside’ method will work just as easily with thin superglue.

For more information on working with Palight foamed Pvc together with illustrative examples click on ‘Palight’ brand foamed Pvc under ‘constructing’ in the Materials section.

I maintain an up-to-date record of the best or most convenient places to get these special materials in Updated sources/prices of specific materials which can be found in the Suppliers section.

Some of the principles of technical drawing simply illustrated – Part 2

In the first part I finished with this drawing of a relatively simple brick structure, which represents many of the fundamentals of technical drawing and is conveyed in a style which is generally agreed to be appropriate to the purpose. The purpose of technical drawing is principally to provide clear and accurate information for making, but in many disciplines the technical drawings also serve other purposes. For example if the subject is a theatre set, or one for a film or a television show, the designer’s ground-plans become essential information used by almost all the other production departments. The set of drawings become a final ‘blueprint’ for the physical/spatial practicalities of the production including for example stage-management and costing. But as I also pointed out, the designer will often find that measured drawing is an essential tool for ‘working out’ the design even in a rough way during the early stages.

complete orthographic information

The object above doesn’t bear much resemblance to a theatre set .. for one thing it’s a solid object rather than a space, so it’s viewed from the outside rather than the inside. However, the principles for drawing a spatial design are much the same. Here is a somewhat ‘stripped down’ drawing of a setting .. part of a derelict house. I’ve omitted text and written measurements partly to focus better on arrangement.

Showing the arrangement of views of a set design on the drawing sheet

The most important and influential feature of a technical drawing is its layout .. the arrangement of views of the object and other parts of the drawing. The views of the object itself are the most important and everything in the arrangement should emphasize this importance, for example the other ‘parts’ such as rows of measurements are kept at a respectful distance and the views themselves are not generally disturbed with text or too many other lines unless there’s no alternative. The arrangement of the views on the sheet is also a prime device in understanding them .. they are aligned with each other so that one can directly relate an elevation, a wall seen upright, with its counterpart on the ground-plan next to it. In this sense it really is like ‘reading in three dimensions’!

Unlike a solid object, a room seen from within can be flattened out like a cardboard box, as above. In this example, at least the three main walls can be laid out in direct relationship to the ground-plan. The other two inner walls also need elevations to describe them but these need to go somewhere else. Ideally these should be positioned where they line-up with and directly relate to something else. This usually means that some measurement lines can then be shared, which helps to reduce the clutter!  When I say ‘line-up’ I really mean ‘have the same spatial orientation as’ and the same relationship to the floor plane. For example with wall ‘D’ I had the choice of either lining it up with wall ‘C’ or wall ‘A’ .. but the relationship with wall ‘A’ is a little more direct and .. very importantly .. it gives more space to include the cross-section view ‘G’ with it.

Just briefly at this point .. because I will be dealing with this in more detail again .. you will have gathered that the overall layout of the sheet is not something that happens all by itself but something that needs to be carefully designed! But often the most effective layout is only apparent after all the elements required have been drawn up! There are various ways of ‘rehearsing’ what to do, and this is a separate subject for later.

I called ‘G’ a cross-section because this is a more familiar and descriptive term but in technical drawing these are commonly just called sections. They show the structure, or part of it, sliced through at a chosen point. This often provides valuable information which is not immediately clear from reading the ground-plan and elevation. In the case of ‘G’ it is just a simple wall of even thickness, which could be guessed from the ground-plan, but at least the section confirms it .. sections are often just there to confirm.

detail of technical drawing showing a section view

Sections become more crucial when the wall has more to it .. i.e. a window structure, door frames, decorative profiles etc .. all of which benefit from being described in cross-section. Everything ‘cut through’ is commonly represented in bold line and filled with diagonal hatching. Close, repeated diagonals make a lot of sense because these areas are then distinguished from most else that’s likely to be in the drawing. But there’s a very human, historical aspect to this custom of hatching .. the lines relate to the marks made in wood when it’s sawn through.

In Part 1 I explained the value of pinpointing both the direction and the position of view for the different elevations by means of arrows surrounding the ground-plan. For the section shown above this is clearer .. the dashed line shows the exact position of the ‘cut’ and the arrow shows the direction from which we’re looking at the cut face. It’s also accepted that what’s drawn in the section is not only the cut surface itself but also what we see beyond it, hence in ‘G’ the lines underneath the hatched area represent the side of the doorway we would see and, above, the broken top of the wall. One could describe the use of letters to identify the views and the link to the arrow symbol a method of ‘labelling’, but in technical drawing this aspect is commonly known as coding.

detail showing ground-plan

The ground-plan is rarely as simple as the one above, especially those that are meant to serve as the ‘master’ ground-plan for a set. These may need to show how other overhead elements, such as flying bars or lighting rigs, relate to what’s on the floor or show the position of floor openings etc. .. but this simple one will serve for the moment to illustrate a number of additional principles in technical drawing.

The ground-plan is also a form of cross-section. It’s not usually stated on the drawing, because this is another of those ‘agreed assumptions’ introduced in Part 1, but the ground-plan is actually a ‘view’ cutting through the whole at about the eye-height of a person in the space. The reason for ‘eye-height’ is that it gives us more significant information concerning doorways, window openings etc .. a viewpoint of ‘most information’ in other words. This is not strictly adhered to because, as I will show, information is often included relating to structures above this viewpoint and it doesn’t mean that everything in the space needs to be faithfully ‘lopped off’ at the same height. If it can be called a rule .. it’s a loose one. But the eye-height view means that generally window openings are cut through at an informative point. If there were proper window frames in this example we would also see these constructions chopped through, which would tell us the position of the window frame within the wall, the thickness of the struts and even the position of the ‘glass’ if the drawing is that detailed. In this example all we see when we look down are the wall edges making the bottom of the window opening and we see these as unbroken lines.

detail showing groundplan relating to elevation

We don’t see those unbroken lines when it’s a door opening because there’s most often nothing there below except floor. But with doorways it’s also customary to indicate that the wall continues solid above the doorway and that’s the reason for the dashed lines included here. This is one example of including so-called hidden lines, which are always either dashed or sometimes dotted, and include properly ‘hidden’ i.e. important structural lines which would not otherwise be actually seen because they’re masked by something and also, as in this case, structural lines which are above or behind the point of view taken by the drawing.

Technical drawing is much like driving a car .. anyone can learn how do it properly because it involves more knowledge than actual skill, though it really does help if you have the right ‘mindset’ for it .. and that at the very least, you’re able to concentrate!

Car driving shouldn’t allow for too much ‘freedom of expression’ .. there are things that have to be done and things that shouldn’t be done. Nevertheless, often the driving style of an individual expresses their personality! Is it the same with technical drawing? How much room for choice is there? More importantly how much opportunity is there to be overtly individual, personal, creative, stylish, decorative .. even anarchic .. while still informing clearly and accurately? This is one of the aspects I’m most interested in and I hope to explore this, amongst other things, in later articles.

 

 

Some of the principles of technical drawing simply illustrated – Part 1

Have a look at this drawing. This is ‘technically speaking’ a technical drawing .. but a naked one! It describes an exact three-dimensional form in just three views, just using lines to represent the visible edges.

Orthographic projection without scale

Technical drawing relies on a number of agreed assumptions: .. that all views are of the same object and only that object, but from different viewpoints and that all views are the same scale; that all visible edges are shown by a line and that we assume those edges progress away from us to form faces which are normally flat and at right-angles unless otherwise indicated elsewhere on the drawing; that there is no perspective used in the drawing. In other words our lines of ‘sight’ do not converge with distance but are parallel and perpendicular (at right-angles to) the face of the object shown; that wherever possible these views are ‘lined up’ with each other so that we can easily relate one to another, moving three-dimensionally in space, as it were, around the object and that most often the ground-plan view is placed at the bottom because it is the ‘basis’ from which all else is elevated.

If you had not read  the above and had never seen a technical drawing before you wouldn’t be able to read much with certainty from these shapes. But when one takes on these agreed assumptions .. known as conventions in technical drawing .. one can start to read it, deducing various things, albeit not with complete certainty yet.

For example, if the bottom view is the ground-plan view then the shape above it is most likely to be the front face because it’s the same length and it explains that the line we see dividing the bottom form is because the block extends upwards at that point. Because the shape to the right of the front view is lined up on the same ‘level’ we can assume we’ve turned on a horizontal axis so it’s a side view and it looks the right width if we compare this to what we see on the ground-plan. We can be certain that we are looking at the left-hand side because this is the only view that fits with the other information we’ve got. We’ve had to do a small amount of mental/spatial visualization to get this! As I’ve said, this drawing has been stripped of all the additions which are supposed to make it easier to read than a visual puzzle .. but nevertheless a certain amount of mental visualization is always needed.

simple orthographic layout

Of course it all becomes easier to interpret if this is added .. a simple 3D line drawing using perspective! Now we can see clearly that we were right about the ground-plan view and the front, although we still have to use our power of visualization a little for the side. Despite being undeniably helpful, perspectival views haven’t been common in technical drawings up to now. This is probably because they take too long to do and are somewhat outside the skills or motivation range of most draughtsmen. It may also come from the purist notion that technical drawings shouldn’t need them, or that it even goes against the rulebook of using a language devoted to strict parallel projection. But nowadays it’s so easy to create perspective views in programmes such as SketchUp and either print or trace them, with or without shading, onto the drawing if there is an available space to put them.

The first version shown above satisfies many of the fundamental strictures of a proper technical drawing .. but of course not all. The most important missing are scale and measurement. Here below is the same drawing .. now almost fully ‘clothed’. Now it is clear what size we are dealing with .. the scale used for the drawing is given in the block of information commonly termed the title block and in any case the measurements are also displayed. We could get all the measurements if we scaled up the drawing 10 times (the scale given is 1:10) but the inclusion of most (often not completely all) of the measurements is a recognised courtesy, so that the reader of the drawing doesn’t have to use the scale ruler for everything. It’s also possible that a drawing can distort during copying, whereas written measurements remain exact. Also, if the scale is there but no measurements given against any lines, how can you be certain that the drawing has been copied at 100%?

basic orthographic drawing with measurement info

These measurements are written in millimetres here, the most common practice for theatre in the UK and increasingly now .. thank goodness! .. in film and television. Notice how the longer, overall measurements are kept a little separate to make them easier to find and notice how heights and lengths are not needlessly repeated. Notice how these ‘clothes’ sit .. comfortably, with some breathing space. The structure itself is still very clear, because the measurement lines are thinner and spaced a little away from the edge of it. Because of this the beginning and end of each measurement line needs to be emphasized, hence the slight crosses. Notice also that the measurements are written to be read in just two directions, from bottom-top and left-right .. rather than circling like ants!

We now also have important written information .. the views are labelled to remove any remaining doubt and the title block has, as the name suggests, a title! The sheet is identified as ‘1 of 3’ and the version dated. All this, and sometimes more, is necessary to keep track of what might become a large batch of drawings within a single project.

But what is represented here is a very simple form which assumes no significant surface detail. I intended this playground ‘street furniture’ unit to be made of brick and chose the dimensions to conform to standard brick measurements, but I wanted a specific pattern. When the designer intends an appearance which directly affects the construction of it, this information must also be on the drawing. I also had to draw all visible sides first in scale just to work out how standard bricks could be laid in the pattern I wanted. This illustrates yet another fundamental .. that measured drawing is not just a final rendition after all design decisions have been made, but an important tool for working things out even in the early stages.

complete orthographic information

The drawing is now starting to look more typical of the densely packed set drawings you may have seen if you’ve had a chance to look at any from theatre, film or television. The perspective view has had to go, to make room for the two remaining elevations as they’re now called, and to avoid any possible confusion arising from ‘back’ or ‘front’, ‘left’ and ‘right’, these are given letters which correspond with clear indications of viewpoint arranged around the ground-plan. This is a more sensible method, because these pointers not only indicate the direction of view but also where the point or rather the plane of view is. The identification and linking of parts of the drawing by means of letters and symbols is known as coding.

Notice also how the measurement lines are now arranged .. overall measurement on the outside with more detailed divisions closer to the object. The line bordering the sheet may seem just a presentation nicety .. but it actually has a more serious purpose. When the drawing is copied it indicates that the whole drawing has been copied, i.e. with nothing missing at the edges.

So, in conclusion to this first part, the ‘principles’ I referred to in the title are firstly those general and often unspoken assumptions I listed at the beginning, plus the following which I’ve tried to illustrate in this article, namely:

.. that technical drawings need four qualities above all else: accuracy (both drawn and written measurements should be correct, precise and in the right place); clarity (both meaning and appearance should be clear and readable); consistency (the ‘language’ used should be used in the same way throughout); economy (the drawing should be uncluttered by needless repetition)

.. that the layout, the arrangement of views on the sheet, is fundamental to the understanding or ‘reading’ of what they mean

.. that technical drawing primarily involves common sense in the way three-dimensional structures are represented in line but that common sense alone is not enough to either create or to read them. The special language of conventions has been developed to assist and it is expected to be used. This reduces the amount of mental visualization we need to employ when trying to understand three-dimensional space from a two-dimensional drawing, but it will always involve some!

.. that there should be no room for misinterpretation, no ‘reading between the lines’. The reader of the drawing should not have to make guesses outside of the agreed ‘assumptions’ or conventions referred to.

.. that the object views themselves should be treated a lot like VIPs or ‘untouchables’ .. clearly defined, with everything else at a respectful distance

.. that technical drawing is not just the ‘final account’ where all the sums are checked but an important tool in developing the design

.. that at the very least the primary measurements should always be written even if the scale is clear and that this is not only a courtesy but also allows the reader to check the accuracy of the copy

.. that the drawing should include all important information that directly concerns the structural making of the object or anything in ‘relief’ but doesn’t usually include details of painted design or colour. It is also generally agreed that the designer’s responsibility is to convey what is seen but not necessarily how it will be made

So far though I’ve illustrated using a simple, solid object which doesn’t bear much resemblance to a theatre or film set .. we’ve dealt with a simple block from ‘without’ rather than a box from within. When something like this is the object of the drawing there are some major differences .. the layout usually has to be different, the ground-plan contains much more information, and there is often the need for sections in addition to elevations, a device we haven’t considered yet. These and other things will be featured in Part 2.