Lesson #2: Using Reference Materials

Part of the unit: Painting a Cityscape |


How do artists use prior sketches and reference materials when planning a painting?
Students will be able to:
Combine the best elements of their preliminary sketches and photographs to create a final sketch
Students will understand that:
Artists use observational sketches and other reference materials.

15"x18" drawing paper (cut from "18"x24" paper), pencils, erasers


Homework drawings and photographs


Explain that students will be creating a large sketch for their painting based on their homework sketches and photographs. 

  • What is the advantage of having sketches and phototographs from which to work?

The teacher should show the photographs and sketches he/she made of a city scene.  Invite students to select the sketch that shows the most depth and has the most interest.  The teacher can discuss how he/she might revise the preliminary sketch to include images from the other sketch and the photographs.

Ask students to place their two homework sketches on their table and to think about which sketch best incorporates an interesting composition and the illusion of depth.

  • What compositional devices have you used to create the illusion of depth?  What can be changed to increase the illusion?
  • How can you use your photos to enhance the sketch?
  • What might be challenging about taking a 6"x9" sketch and enlarging it to 15"x18"
  • How can we keep the image in proportion as we enlarge it?

The teacher should demonstrate how to make a grid by dividing both the sketch and the large drawing paper into 9 sections (3 boxes across and 3 boxes down).  He/She should then demonstrate how to copy one small area from the sketch into the appropriate area on the drawing paper. 

Students will work in pairs to help each other select the best sketch of their city scene and to discuss using parts of their other sketch and digital photos for enhancement.   Suggestions for improvement should include adding details, changing the composition, and increasing the feeling of depth.
The remainder of the period should be used to revise and enlarge the sketch on 15"x18" paper.

The teacher should distribute or post a list of indicators to aid in self-assessment of their sketch:  use of foreground, middle ground, and background;  use of receding lines;  objects decreasing in size;  addition of details to create a sense of place.

Gather additional reference material by:

  • Taking photos of the cityscape from different angles
  • Sketching different views
  • Printing a photo of the site from Google Maps
  • Finding photos on-line of the same site