Paint Schoodic

We're offering three workshops for 2020, at Acadia National Park and aboard the schooner American Eagle. Register before January 1 for an Early Bird Discount!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: how to draw a boat

This exercise is like learning perspective. You’ll never draw this way in the real world, but practicing it will improve your harborside skills.

Cadet, by Carol L. Douglas
I tell my students that it’s best to paint a boat from the deck of another boat or a floating dock. If you can’t, then keep your distance. The tides in Rockport average about 12 feet. That means that if you stand on the public landing painting the lovely and graceful Heron, her angle is going to shift more than 20° over six hours. That’s an impossible perspective shift to manage.

There aren’t tides on lakes, obviously, but the waterline-view of a boat is still often the loveliest view.

Two figure eights. The top one is going to be stern-facing; the bottom one is going to be bow-facing. Thus the lines on the right are straight for the sides of the transom, curved for the bow. I made the bow loop slightly bigger because in practice the bow is likely to be higher.
I learned to draw boats based on figure eights. This is simple. You can master it in the studio before you go out to tackle the real thing. Since the bow of a boat is generally higher than the stern, I draw that end of the figure eight higher. The figure mustn’t be two circles, but you can make it as short or long as you wish. There’s no reason the two loops must be equal, although you should try it that way first. It’s easiest to do this when you’re not trying to be overly precise.

The fattest points of your figure eight are going to be the stern and bow of your boat. The keel curves in the front, so that line is drawn as a curve. The stern may curve in a fantail or be a flat transom. That varies by the boat.

The next step is to erase the extra lines and add a little shading. I took the liberty of adding a little extra height to the bow on the bottom.
In the top example, I put the transom forward; in the bottom drawing I put the bow forward. The important thing to realize is that the figure-eight is just like an optical illusion: it can go either way. Once I draw the curve or cut off the transom, I just erase the extra lines and gussy it up with some shadows. 

The actual direction of the boat is like an optical illusion; it can flip either way. The Scrumpy's notch is a little crooked; sorry.
In the very old days, small boats were sometimes clinker-built, meaning they had overlapping planks that made for beautiful curving lines beloved of artists. If you see those planks on a modern boat, they’re molded. I halfheartedly faked them in on my drawing, because I no longer entirely believe in them.

Dinghy, by Carol L. Douglas, shows how fast that can be done in practice. This was a workshop demo.
Drawing boats like this is like drawing perspective. You need to know how to draw 2-point perspective but you’ll never really draw those rays on your canvas while you’re working. It’s an exercise that teaches you a principle that you then incorporate into your work.

Once you see it as a process of squeezing and lengthening the horizontal shapes while leaving the heights the same, drawing boats is easy.
The same with this kind of boat drawing. The take-away lesson is this: as long as you have the relative heights of the pieces of your boat right, it can swing on its anchor all afternoon without significantly messing up your painting. Block it in with initial measurements and let it go from there. The parts will stretch out or grow shorter, but their heights will always remain the same. That liberates you from worrying when your boat—as it will—wanders around its mooring. I did the little sketch above to demonstrate that.


Anonymous said...

Great tip Carol, thank you. Now off to the Bay of Fundy I go!

Rebecca Gorrell said...

I was just writing about the challenge of drawing boats a couple days ago. I didn't know this trick. Looking forward to trying it, and will post what I come up with.

Carol Douglas said...

Rebecca, when you do, post a link here.

Anonymous, good thing there are no tides in the Bay of Fundy!