Location Drawing: mapping it out

“Get the big things right first” -Amy

Once you’ve chosen your subject matter, it’s critical to create an outline or “map” of your composition. This serves several functions, the most important of which is to establish your basic design. It also ensures that everything you want to include will fit.

Here is an example using three potted plants.


I begin my establishing the “outer limits” of the objects. Where is the highest point? The lowest? Find the extreme left and right sides. I purposely leave a border so the objects have breathing room and aren’t uncomfortably close to the edge of the paper.


Now I work inward from all directions. I use light lines to establish the basic shapes.

potted plants 2

Notice the use of ellipses to establish the size, shape, and location of the pots.  When I establish everything fits, I’m free to move on to the fun stuff.

Using darker lines, I override, emphasize, correct, and otherwise start to “build” the drawing.

potted plants 3

Here’s another example using more complex subject matter.

Khao Song Road I use a light line to map out the entire image.

koy song(lt)

The initial lines show the general shape of the buildings as they recede into the background on the left. I decided to put the big oval sign in the “sweet spot.” At this point I’m not sure whether I want to include the figure or the car.

Don't forget to use varying pencil holds!

Don’t forget to use varying pencil holds!

Notice how I draw “through” everything. This ensures things will line up correctly when they need to. It also helps me see the relationships between the lines and the shapes.  See:  How to Hold a Pencil

Mapping out your composition is a critical first step, especially for beginners. Get into the habit of seeing and establishing the entire composition before committing.


The Mapping it Out Lesson is technically over but I want to show you how much fun it is to play with the subject once you don’t have to worry about fitting everything in and you’ve got the big shapes placed.

Using darker lines, I start to build up the drawing while simultaneously making corrections. I notice the big signs are actually at a slight angle relative to the edges of my paper, so I make that correction easily by overriding with darker lines.


At this point I don’t care about a “literal” description at all. I move throughout the image picking up bits and pieces of information as I go. If something interesting occurs at an intersection, I let my pencil linger and describe it playfully. Since I have the basic proportions established, the smaller subdivisions don’t have to be correct and quite frankly I couldn’t be bothered! Realism is overrated.

At this point you may decide to erase some of the exploratory lines. There may be a few here and there you just can’t live with. Feel free to clean up but don’t kill it! Those extra lines add excitement and movement to the drawing.  They are direct evidence of the artist’s hand.

Important Disclaimer: Due to circumstances beyond my control, I am forced to use photographic references for demonstration purposes. Working from photos is fraught with peril for many artists, especially beginners, and I do not recommend it unless absolutely necessary.