Botanical Art & Natural Science Illustration Tip #7

Surface Contour – In, Out and Over an Artichoke


For realistic drawing and painting botanical artists and natural science illustrators must always follow contour lines of the subject while shading.

Whether I am going to use graphite, paint, ink or pastel the first thing I figure out is where is the surface contour of my subject………….

What is Surface Contour?

Surface contour is a series of lines that run horizontally (latitudinally) and vertically (longitudinally) across the terrain of an object. Contours wrap around the surface of a form and conform to the laws of perspective. It shows the artist the topography.
Example: If I decided to ride my bicycle in NYC and I used a regular road map, I would see a grid of the streets. I would be able to plot my way from point A to point B. However, I am on a BICYCLE and I really don't want to go up a big steep hill..( a bit lazy I know) If I looked at a topographical map of NYC I would be able to plot a route that is based on the flat, high, and low spots.
Use surface contour to understand how the shape is formed. Strokes must coincide with the direction in order to create 3 dimension and volume. I create an armature drawing to locate the surface contour before I begin the final drawing/painting. (Check out the artichoke)
Okay…. I hear you……. What about texture? Surface texture can follow the underlying surface contour in one or many directions.
Example: Imagine 2 trees. One is an oak and the other is a birch. The basic shape of each is the same; a cylinder. The bark on the oak runs vertically and the bark on the birch runs horizontally. On the oak I would create form by depicting the texture in a vertical manner and the opposite for the birch.
Begin looking at simple fruits and veggies. Many of them have partial surface contour built right in…….. onions, garlic, pumpkins. These are all examples of vertical dominant surface contour lines. Try to create an armature drawing. Once you get the hang of it, you will start seeing everything in 3-D…… without wearing the funny glasses they give you at the movie theater.

I would love to hear your comments of how this works for you! Let your voice be heard. What else would you like to learn about?