Drawing With Envelopes

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drawing with envelopes


  • L E S S O N P L A N S F R O M




    This lesson explores what an envelope is, how to make a good envelope, and how to apply envelopes in observation drawings.

    Plate from the Charles Bargue Drawing Course


    Students will be able to identify what enve-lopes are, and what makes good envelopes Students will practice making envelopes Students will apply envelopes to observation drawings. Students will be able to identify the use of envelopes in the work of other artists


    This lesson meets National Arts Standards 1.a, 1.b, 2.a, 2.b, 2.c, 4.a


    Paper, Pencils, DaVinci Worksheet (attached), Prints of Paintings (attached) Pint of Mush-rooms


    There are many advantages to understanding the concept of envelopes. Envelopes allow artists to view the shapes of subjects abstractly. They help artists set proportions for subjects at an early stage in drawing, and focus attention on dominant angles in the composition. In a drawing with several objects, envelopes enable the artist to consider the group of objects as a whole before considering the constituents of the group. This practice respects the principle of working from general to specific, which is very important when learning how to draw.

    Equally important are mistakes that are avoided by using envelopes. They prevent artists from using preconceived ideas of what objects look like. For example, many people would draw an apple by first making a circle and adding a line for a stem instead of drawing what they really see. An envelope forces the artist to find angles in the apple and draw a more accurate version of its overall shape instead of what the artist believes an apple to look like. An envelope also stops artists from focusing on tiny details at the beginning stages of a drawing, which is a very difficult habit for drawing students to overcome.

    Classically trained artists often use envelopes and it is helpful to study how and why they do so.

    In the image to the right, Charles Bargue simplifies a foot by using a triangular envelope. In this series of drawings, it is easy to identify how this envelope helped



    Artists sometimes begin by choosing an envelope that has a specific shape and then develop a composition with it in mind. This type of envelope often has a symbolic purpose that allows artists to imbue their compositions with meaning. In the painting below, Raphael uses a three-sided envelope and by placing all of his figures within this triangle, he invokes the symbolism of the trinity. Used in this way, the envelope adds a layer of meaning to the painting.

    the artist view the foot as a whole. It also helped him to decide on proportions and to find smaller shapes within bigger, more obvious shapes.


    Other times an envelope is chosen by the artist for design purposes before deciding on a subject. In the drawing below, Andrea Schiavone starts with a triangular envelope in order to create designs for an architectural element.

    The following exercises are designed to teach students what makes envelopes effective. They will also teach students how to make good envelopes, how to apply knowledge of envelopes in simple still life drawings, and how to synthesize this information into more complex works.

    Before attempting to make envelopes, it is important to understand thoroughly what makes an envelope effective. A good envelope uses the smallest number of lines possible to describe the subject. A good envelope uses only the biggest or most obvious lines. An artist who uses envelopes effectively thinks about subjects as flat shapes instead of three-dimensional objects.

    It is also very important to understand what an envelope should not look like. It should not have interior lines nor have many small lines. A good envelope does not include insignificant lines or extra lines. It almost never has curved lines.

    When making envelopes, experienced artists frequently cut off portions of their subjects in order to conserve lines. Drawing lines through portions of subjects is often unnerving to students at first, but becomes second nature with practice.


    Show class the images of Raphael and Charles Bargue. Lead a discussion about what an envelope is, and how and why each artist uses an envelope (Refer to background information page in this lesson plan).

    STEP 2: Look at examples

    Distribute DaVinci worksheet, and have each student practice making envelopes using the worksheet as a guide.

    STEP 3: Practice

    Have students return to looking at their mushrooms. Give each student a new piece of paper, and have them draw their mushrooms by starting with an envelope.

    STEP 4: Application

    Have students combine their mushroom with their neighbors mushroom, so that each student is looking at a grouping of two mush-rooms. The mushrooms should be touching. Ask students to start their drawings with an envelope that encompasses BOTH mush-rooms, and then draw the mushrooms inside the envelope.

    STEP 5: Build on the Skill

    Have each set of partners join their mush-rooms with another set of partners, so that every student is now looking at a grouping of four mushrooms. The mushrooms should all be touching each other and grouped closely. Have students draw this pile of mushrooms by starting with an envelope.

    STEP 6: Skill Building Cont.


    Ask students to compare their final drawings with the first drawing they did. Sample Ques-tions: Did you use a different thought process with the last drawing than you did with the first? What are advantages of using envelopes?What are disadvantages of using envelopes? What types of drawing problems can be solved with envelopes?

    STEP 8: Compare & Contrast

    This time, have each group of students move one of the mushrooms from the pile so that it is not touching the other mushrooms. Have students start a drawing of this grouping of mushrooms with an envelope.

    STEP 7: Final Skill Building

    Give each student a mushroom, piece of paper, and pencil. Ask students to draw their mush-room to the best of their ability.

    STEP 1: What do you know now?

    Display the artwork. Students do their best work when they know that others will see and respond to it.

    STEP 10: Display Artwork

    Please see assessment page in the lesson plan.

    STEP 9: Complete Assessment


    Assessments are one of the most important tools educators have at their disposal when teaching skill-based learning. Students need specific feedback in order to learn and understand advanced drawing skills. Use this rubric, or write one of your own, to evaluate how well students understand the concept of envelopes.

    3 points 4 points 5 pointsStraight Lines Envelope includes

    curved lines.Envelope mostly uses straight lines.

    Envelope uses only straight lines.

    Small # of Lines Envelope uses many unnecessary lines.

    Envelope uses almost the smallest possible number of lines.

    Envelope uses the smallest possible number of lines.

    Cropping Envelope does not crop tightly and/or include some major parts of the grouping.

    Envelope crops some-what tightly, and/or includes some of the major parts of the grouping.

    Envelope crops tightly to the grouping, with-out unnecessary white space. The envelope includes all major parts of the grouping.

    Craftsmanship Student needs to more carefully consider craftsmanship.

    Student mostly dis-plays good craftsman-ship.

    Drawing displays high level of craftsman-ship.


    This envelop is well done because it tightly crops the mushrooms without cutting out too much information. It does not have extra white space inside the envelope.

    If one mushroom is not touching the others, it should be included in the enve-lope. This envelope is well done because it tightly crops the mushrooms without cutting out too much information. It is acceptable to have some white space because the envelope should include non-touching mushrooms.

    is envelope is not well done because it crops out too much from the pile of mush-rooms, and the envelope does not accurately describe the overall shape of the mushroom pile.

    is is a poor envelope because it leaves too much white space. It does not crop tightly enough.




    Art Renewal Center

    Online Image Museumwww.artrenewal.org

    Charles Bargue Drawing Course

    Charles Bargue drawing course: with the col-laboration of Jean-Leon GeromeCharles Bargue - Jean LeonGerome - Ger-ald M.Ackerman - Graydon Parrish - ACR Edition - 2003

    Classical Drawing Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice

    Juliette Aristides - Watson-Guptill Publica-tions - 2006

    Lessons in Classical Drawing: Essential Techniques from Inside the Atelier

    Juliette Aristides - Watson-Guptill Publica-tions - 2011

  • Directions: Make an envelope around each of these DaVinci drawings using the designated number of lines. Pick only the most significant lines to use for your envelope. Remember that it is okay to crop minor parts of an image, such as hair or tips of feet, in order to simplify an envelope. Good envelopes should not use curved lines, should not have interior lines, and should not include insignificant lines. Before starting, study Example 1. Notice that the envelope emphasizes the most important aspects of the drawing and that it crops out some of the fe