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J.D. Harding Notes

These are some personal notes about the book Lessons On Art (2nd Edition) by J.D. Harding. They will probably make little sense if you haven't already read it. Some points deviate from the book and/or contain my own commentary as well.

First Edition Preface

You can learn to draw! You do not have to be born with any amount of talent in order to succeed, nor do you have to be a "genius". The same is true of any other skill, like composing music, writing stories, etc.

Everyone has the abilities required to do them in some degree, and as you learn to apply them more and more, your skills will increase.

Whether or not one continues to pursue art, these skills are useful in our day-to-day lives. They sharpen our awareness and give us a deeper appreciation of Nature. Therefore, they are worth studying and practicing.

Preface To The Second Edition

The author has attempted to make the book as useful as possible to both the student and teacher.


This book shows what to look for and how to direct one's hand in order to draw from life accurately. We can learn to draw anything by reducing seemingly complex subjects into more simple forms.

Again, it doesn't require anything special, only an awareness of certain principles and the regular practice of some fundamentals.

While it might seem "boring" at first, do not skip ahead. Each lesson builds upon the previous. Go through them in order and master one before moving onto the next. Memorize the steps first, and then try to do them from memory (i.e.: without looking at the example image or re-reading the instructions). Think carefully about what you are aiming to draw and why before you actually draw it. Likewise, if you make an error, think carefully about how you can correct it before you attempt to do so. Redo them with a ruler only after you have attempted it by eye.

By the time that you reach the end, you will be able to creatively apply everything that you have learned instead of simply copying from life.

On Holding The Pencil

Do not curl your fingers. Hold the pencil loosely and move from your elbow or shoulder.

• Lesson 1

Place a dot on the paper and then attempt to put another dot some distance away from it, but level with it. Draw a line connecting the two. If the line is not level, put a new dot above or below the second dot and draw another line that is level.

Repeat this procedure below that line to form two lines that are parallel to one another. Stay aware of the first line while drawing the second line to make sure that they stay parallel throughout!

Repeat this process with pairs of lines that are slanted upward and downward. If you are drawing with your right hand, move from left to right. If you are drawing with your left hand, move from right to left.

• Lesson 2

Repeat the above process, but with vertical lines instead of horizontal ones.

Do Lesson 1 and 2 until you can draw lines smoothly at any angle. The pencil point should be some distance away from your fingertips. Move your whole arm. Keep far enough back from the paper to see it as a whole.

[Right angles are made from perpendicular lines. Always form acute and obtuse angles in reference to right angles.]

• Lesson 3

Copy a given acute angle by making a line the same length as one of its sides, and then make a line perpendicular to it on the widest opening of the angle, taking note of where the other side crosses it.

• Lesson 4

Form an obtuse angle by extending one of its sides and making a perpendicular line that gives the end of the other side.

• Lesson 5

This is exactly the same as Lesson 4, except that the guiding right angle is made on the inside of the obtuse angle rather than on the outside.

• Lesson 6

Measure an angle with sides of different lengths by drawing a line through its corner, extending it to either side until it lines up with the ends of both sides of the angle. Draw perpendiculars on that line that touch those end points.

• Lesson 7

For two overlapping angles, repeat the procedure from the previous Lesson to measure one angle, and then use where the lines align or overlap to get the other angle.

• Lesson 8

Make a square by drawing one side, and then referencing the adjacent side against it to form a right angle. Keep the other sides in view as you do the other two sides.

[Remember, everytime that you draw a line you must set down the start and end points first.]

• Lesson 9

Draw a square and then extend its sides above it and off to one of its sides to draw two more squares of the same size, like an "L"-shape.

[This method can help one to make rectangles of any proportion by measuring them in terms of squares.]

• Lesson 10

All of the previous methods can be used to draw a stack of shapes, like the outline of a house.

Find areas that are square, make rectangles of proper proportion by looking at their width-to-height ratios, and copy angles as necessary. Find the lengths of lines in reference to all of the other horizontal and vertical lines that have already been put down. Make auxiliary lines (i.e.: extra horizontal and vertical guidelines) as necessary. Keep the whole of the drawing in view.

• Lesson 11

This is similar to the previous Lesson, but with a much more complex shape. The same rules apply. The length and angle of each line always depends upon other lines. Continuously compare them to perpendicular lines / guidelines and to right angles. All lines and angles are to be understood in reference to all others.

• Lesson 12

It is at this point the Lessons move from 2-D shapes into the illusion of 3-D forms (i.e.: basic perspective is introduced).

In order to draw realistically, we have to draw things as they look, not as they actually are. A cube actually has right angles, but all of them seem to be acute and obtuse when we look at it. Likewise, we never see more than three faces of the cube at a time, even though it has six faces in total.

This Lesson is essentially a 1-point cube where we see the top surface. The front surface is a square.

Compare the distance between the far and near edge of the top surface to the height of the square that represents the front face. The far edge is shorter than the near edge, and they form two acute angles and two obtuse angles. Find these angles by comparing them to right angles. Extend the sides of the square and the far edge of the top surface to find these to find these right angles.

• Lesson 13

This Lesson is similar to Lesson 9, where we drew three squares. Instead, we will draw three cubes.

The top surface of the top-most cube is done exactly as in the previous Lesson. The top surface of the lower cube is wider than the upper cube because we see more of it. It is also partially hidden by the adjacent cube so that there is only one acute angle to it (similar to construction encountered in Lesson 11).

• Lesson 14

This is an image of two rectangular prisms, one sitting flat horizontally and another standing up vertically behind it.

Draw a rectangle of proper proportion (i.e.: width-to-height ratio). This is the front surface of a rectangular prism. Make perpendicular guidelines on the top-most side of this rectangle to find the far edge of the rectangular prism's top surface. These guidelines are not the same distance from either side!

Find the edges of the vertical rectangular prism by comparing them with the far edge of the horizontal rectangular prism in front of it.

• Lesson 15

This is similar to the previous Lesson, except there are two horizontal rectangular prisms forming steps with another rectangular prism sitting on top of the closer one.

Remember to keep in mind that things that are farther away get smaller. Edges that are partially hidden behind other objects still line up with themselves whether or not they are visible. Surfaces become shorter the closer they get to eye level. Angles change as things move from side-to-side.

• Lesson 16

This is how to draw the gable of a house. Form a rectangle, connect the diagonals, draw a vertical from where they cross, and form a triangle by connecting that line to the top two corners of the rectangle.

Change the length of the vertical relative to the short side of the rectangle to get gables of different heights.

• Lesson 17

This is similar to the previous Lesson, except the starting rectangle is much skinnier, creating a different ratio between the height of the rectangle and the height of the triangle.

Two lines are added to the midpoints of the triangle to form two three-point arcs. This forms a Gothic arch (or "Lancet").

• Lesson 18

This is similar to the previous Lesson, except one extends the side of the rectangle to form two squares instead of a triangle. By taking the diagonals of these squares, one can make a semi-circular arch. The arc that makes up 1/4 of the circle crosses through the point 1/4 of the square's diagonal.

[Scale the Lessons up and down to get used to drawing them at different sizes.]

• Lesson 19

This is a gabel in perspective. The horizontals of the square shorten from their actual length and move at an angle, while the far side also shortens as it moves back.

Make a level line through the front corner as if you were measuring an angle like in Lesson 6. This will help determine the angle that the plane is tilted away. When placing a dot for the final corner, make sure it lines up with the corner below it, and is a little lower than the corner off to its side (because it is farther back).

• Lesson 20

This is a Gothic arch in perspective. Just keep in mind that the farther curve is shorter than the nearer one.

• Lesson 21

This is a semi-circular arch in perspective. Start with a square, and use its diagonals to find its center. The vertical line that passes through it is actually in the middle, but it divides the square into to parts that are not equal (the portion farther away is smaller).

When forming the arc, the 1/4 rule no longer applies. The space between the corner and the arc is larger on the near edge, and smaller on the far edge.

Do the last few Lessons in mirrored positions so that it becomes obvious that the far edge is always smaller.

• Lesson 22

This is a series of four gabels in perspective. Form a rectangular surface that is tilted away from the viewer. Find the midpoint of the near and far edge. Connect them together with a line. Extend the near and far edge so that they make lines divided into thirds.

Divide the rectangular surface into two parts through its diagonals to get a vertical line. Repeat this for both the near and far portions of the rectangular surface until it is 3x4 units in dimension.

Finally, form four gables in the upper third of the rectangular surface, taking care that the areas that are tilted away are becoming progressively smaller as they recede off into the distance.

• Lesson 23

This is the same as the previous Lesson, except we are forming Gothic and semi-circular arches.

[Technically, we were supposed to estimate the divisions by eye in the previous Lesson and compare it to using the diagonal lines to divide the surface in this Lesson.]

This concludes the first set of Lessons. All of these skills are foundational. Master them before continuing on. There are some review questions on pg. 32.

• Lesson 24

From this point on, light and shadow are also considered. This Lesson teaches basic shading with hatching and burnishing. The lines of hatching are visible on near objects to show the character of their surface, while they are smoothed out into an even tone on far objects (because the details disappear with distance).

• Lesson 25

This is a 1-point cube that is rotated slightly so that three faces are visible at once. The side face is in shadow.

Draw a square, extend two of its sides to form a gnomon. Connect diagonals to this larger square to represent the receeding edges.

Repeat the procedure in mirrored position.

• Lesson 26

This is almost the same as the previous Lesson, but they are rectangular prisms instead of cubes, and are drawn in a slightly different manner.

Draw a rectangle and divide it vertically and horizontally. These automatically form the front face of the rectangular prism and act as guidelines to find its diagonals.

• Lesson 27

This is like a combination of the previous two Lessons. It is three rectangular prisms in a row, all slightly to the right so that their left-most face is in shadow.

Make sure all of the top-most edges are angled properly in relation to one another. Also notice how the left-most side becomes more like a line the closer to the center of one's field of vision it is (i.e.: the vertical SP line).

[Set up objects like they are within the Lessons to practice drawing from life.]

• Lesson 28

This Lesson can be intepreted in two different ways, either as a rectangular prism with a small slab next to it, or as a long slab with a cube on top of it.

Keep gauging lengths of lines with perpendiculars. Compare lengths of lines to those that are closest to them, and compare angle to those that are farther away (e.g.: see if they tilt in the same general direction).

Use guidelines off the near objects to gauge the size of objects farther away. Make sure that any edges which are partially hidden line up with themselves again wherever they are visible.

• Lesson 30

The last two Lessons involved two stones. This one involves three. However, it is drawn in pretty much the same way as the previous Lesson.

• Lesson 31

This is a box with a lid. It is done similar to the previous couple of Lessons. The same method applies to boxes of any proportion. Set up a box in a similar position to check. Repeat drawing in mirrored position.

• Lesson 32

This is an open frame sitting on a slab. It is very similar to the previous Lesson.

• Lesson 33

This is a view looking into a doorway. The position of the viewer is somewhat low, as evidenced by how much of the ceiling is visible.

Use horizontal guidelines off the front edge of the doorway to gauge the size of the opening farther back. Also make sure that the top surface of the front step aligns with the floor.

• Lesson 34

This is the interior of a room. The previous two Lessons show how to form the doorways of this room.

• Lesson 35

This is the same as Lessons 25 and 26, except we are looking up at a rectangular prism from below instead of looking down at it from above.

• Lesson 36

It is at this point where more complex forms are presented, in this case, houses.

The techniques used for drawing them accurately are the same. Always start with the nearest angle of the nearest object and determine everything else relative to it.

Pay close attention to the detials. The roof has thickness and projects past the edge of the gable. The chimney conforms to the slant of the roof. Some parts overlap to produce shadows. Etc.

• Lesson 37

This is similar to the previous Lesson. Remember, guidelines do not have to be lines that will be present in the final rendering. They just serve to help you find the ones that are!

A line that is higher up in our field of vision will tilt down more strongly than one that is lower.

We are starting to get a wider variety of tones. Shadows that are deeper into the recess of the archway are darker, as are cast shadows from the support beam.

• Lesson 38

The building now has a greater variety of textures (e.g.: walls formed of stone and wooden planks, thatched roofs, yards of grass and rock).

Shadows appear underneath the lip of the roof, the bottom of the archway, and the interior of the windows.

The ridgepole of the roof on the right seems slightly longer than the one on the left because it is less forshortened!

The shading should enhance these subtle changes in length and angle that exist throughout the entire form.

• Lesson 39

This is two adjacent cubes with semi-circular archways on every face. The lines along their top surface are longer the farther right that they are. The arches are done exactly the same as before (such as within Lesson 21).

• Lesson 40

All forms up to this point have been some type of 1-point perspective (with the nearest face parallel to the picture plane). This stack of two cubes is in 2-point.

The roof is a triangular pyramid and is found by making a perpendicular. The horizontal touches the corners that are farthest to the left and right, and the vertical touches its apex.

• Lesson 41

This is a cottage made from a rectangular prism in 2-point perspective.

Pay close attention to how the length of lines shortens and their angles slope more as they receed.

• Lesson 42

This Lesson covers how to draw brickwork. Divide near and far edges of rectangular prism into fourths.

Notice how the divisions of the bricks becomes smaller the farther away that they are. In other words, they seem to get closer together.

There are some subtle details, like the rounded corners that of each brick (from being worn down by the weather). Highlight the top edge of the bricks pointed towards the light, and put shadow into the cracks. The shading varies on the surfaces pointed towards the light, giving them texture.

[Always know why you are putting down a line. Do not do it carelessly without thought.]

• Lesson 43

This Lesson introduces objects with circular surfaces (like a cylinder). When our eye is perpendicular to that surface, it is a circle. When viewed at an angle, it becomes an ellipse. If it is level with our eye, then it is a line. The ellipse becomes smaller the closer it comes to eye level.

Approximate the ellipse with a square plane in perspective. Take the diagonals of the square to make a cross. Remember, the portion farther away is smaller.

Extend the sides downward to form a cylinder. The cylinder is thickest where it curves towards us, yet both sides are equal to one another. The higher/lower the curve, the steeper its bend. Again, this is because an ellipse becomes a line at our eye level, so a curve bends more the farther away it is from our eye level.

The shading along the rounded surface of a cylinder makes a gradient. The cast shadow nearest the form is dark and becomes progressively lighter the farther away it is.

• Lesson 44

This is equivalent to the previous Lesson, but looking up at the cylinder from below, instead of looking down at it from above.

Observations on Shade and Shadow

Light transitions into shadow gradually along curved surfaces, and more abruptly on angular ones.

Natural Shade = the shading naturally associated with each object
Accidental Shadow = when one object casts a shadow on another

An accidental shadow can be either lighter or darker than the object casting it. If both objects are the same color, the accidental shadow will be darker than the shaded side of the object from which it is cast. If the object it falls on is darker, then the accidential shadow itself will also be darker. If the object that the cast shadow falls on is a lighter color, then the accidential shadow itself will be lighter than the shaded side of the object casting it.

The intensity of shadows also depend on the proximity of objects [and on the type of lighting].

Shadows do not exactly follow the object which casts them, but the surface upon which they are cast.

Cast shadows have well defined edges. They are darkest nearest the object casting them, and become lighter farther away from it. The light will always be brightest on an object around any shadows that are cast on it.

• Lesson 45

• Lesson 46

• Lesson 47

• Lesson 48

• Lesson 49

• Lesson 50

• Lesson 51

• Lesson 52

• Lesson 53

• Lesson 54

• Lesson 55

• Lesson 56

• Lesson 57

• Lesson 58

• Lesson 59

• Lesson 60

• Lesson 61

• Lesson 62

• Lesson 63

• Lesson 64

• Lesson 65

• Lesson 66

• Lesson 67

• Lesson 68

• Lesson 69

• Lesson 70

• Lesson 71

• Lesson 72

• Lesson 73

• Lesson 74

• Lesson 75

• Lesson 76

• Lesson 77

• Lesson 78

• Lesson 79

• Lesson 80

• Lesson 81

• Lesson 82

• Lesson 83

• Lesson 84

• Lesson 85

• Lesson 86

• Lesson 87

• Lesson 88

• Lesson 89

• Lesson 90

• Lesson 91

• Lesson 92

• Lesson 93

• Lesson 94

• Lesson 95

• Lesson 96

• Lesson 97

• Lesson 98

• Lesson 99

• Lesson 100

• Lesson 101

• Lesson 102

• Lesson 103

• Lesson 104

• Lesson 105

• Lesson 106

• Lesson 107

• Lesson 108

• Lesson 109

• Lesson 110

• Lesson 111

• Lesson 112

• Lesson 113

• Lesson 114

• Lesson 115

• Lesson 116

• Lesson 117

• Lesson 118

• Lesson 119

• Lesson 120

• Lesson 121

• Lesson 122

• Lesson 123

• Lesson 124

• Lesson 125

• Lesson 126

• Lesson 127