How to Draw See Through Things

I’ve received questions from readers who want to know how to draw see-through things. Veils. Smoke. Mist. That sort of thing.

Some time ago, I published a post on drawing a foggy morning, but enough readers are asking related questions to delve into this subject a little more completely.

This is not a tutorial. Instead, I want to share three general principles that apply to all see-through subjects, and that you can start using today.

How to Draw See-Through Things

The secret to drawing translucent or transparent subjects of any type is to stop thinking of your subject as your subject. For a lot of us, we look at the subject as a whole and are stumped. Immediately, our mind is trying to figure out how to draw that bridal veil, sheer curtain, ocean spray or water droplet. The prospect looks so scary, it shuts down all creativity!

Or, our mind tells us “I know what that looks like” and we draw what we think we see instead of what’s really there.

That principle works with every subject, of course. But when it comes to transparent or translucent subjects, it can be especially troublesome.

So lets look at a few ways to get past the hurdles of drawing see-through things.

Think of your subject as an abstract design.

Instead of trying to draw the whole thing, draw the shapes, values and colors you see within your subject. Do that well and the transparent or translucent subject will “appear” in the finished work.

It often helps to think of your composition as an abstract design. That tricks your mind into seeing the abstract shapes and that frees you up to draw those shapes shape-by-shape.

One way to accomplish this is turning your artwork (and reference photo) upside down while you work on it. Or sideways, for that matter.

I routinely turn my work as I draw. Usually to more easily work on one area or another. But that does keep a composition fresh in my mind’s eye and gives me a different perspective.

Look at the difference between this water droplet viewed right side up and upside down.

How to Draw See-Through Things Tip #1: Think of Your Subject as an Abstract Design

The more complex your subject, the more this fresh perspective helps.

Zoom In on Your Subject

Another way to draw see-through items is to zoom in on them so you’re not working on the entire thing at the same time.

How much more easily could you draw this…

How to Draw See-Through Things Tip #2: Zoom in on Your Subject

…than this?

With high resolution digital images, you can enlarge the image enough to focus on a very small part of the photo without losing definition. All you need to do then is mask your drawing to focus on the same spot.

But how do I mask a drawing?

I’m glad you asked!

Cut a small opening in a piece of clean paper. Printer paper will do. Make the opening any size you want, but preferably smaller than a quarter the size of the entire drawing for small pieces.

Lay this piece of paper over your drawing with the opening over the same part of the drawing as the enlarged portion of your reference photo.

You can work on that part of your drawing without being distracted by the rest of the drawing. When you finish, move the mask to the next area. Move the reference photo to the same relative area, too.

When you finish, remove the mask.

Pay Attention to the Edges, Values, and Colors

The appearance of edges, values, and colors differ depending on whatever is in front of them.

With this sheer curtain, for example, everything is subdued. The edges are soft. The values are muted, and the colors are dulled down.

How to Draw See-Through Things Tip #3: Pay Attention to Edges, Colors, and Values

With this water drop, however, the edges are crisp and the colors and values are just as vibrant looking at them through the drop of water as looking at them directly.

Those Three Principles will Help you Draw See-Through Things

And almost everything else you want to draw.

Break your subject down into manageable sections and you’ll be able to draw anything!

One Reply to “How to Draw See Through Things”

  1. Thank you for the article on “see thru” items. I have never tried turning a photo upside down or sidewise to trick my brain into just seeing abstract shapes and colors. I need to try that! That sounds like a great idea. I started just seeing shapes and colors with the water project you helped me do, and that was a brain “break thru” for me. Now I can do that on other similar things in art too. Great article!

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