Thursday, August 6

Add Volume and Expression to Your Painting - Weight, Modeling, Thickness, and Contrast

Today’s Image
From the Deck of the Ocean Liner
Watercolor on Paper
18 x 15 in (45.7 x 38 cm)
Copyright 2009

“It needs more volume,” the artist kept telling me. “More volume!”

Maybe it’s the linguistic difference between eastern and western cultures, I thought, although I was pretty sure “volume” was a universal art concept. I just wasn’t getting it. It was the second week I was being told, “it needs more volume,” and I was afraid of looking totally ignorant.

I asked innocently, “what do you mean?” To me, my painting looked pretty good. There were light and shadows in the motif, and I thought it looked pretty good.

Somewhat exasperated, she walked over to my painting and with her accusing finger pointed—here, here, and here, “More volume. It’s flat.”

“Oh, Okay,” I said, still not exactly sure what she meant, but finally something a little more concrete that I could go on, at least. Maybe.

During the week I thought I’d better figure this out. I first did Google research, but, you know, sometimes that just won’t cut it. It sent me off on tangents and mostly gave me references to volume numbers of a book, such as Drawing, Volume I.

So, I looked in my ‘art library’ that I’ve mentioned before in this blog—not vast, but it has the basics. Well, maybe not all the basics, but I did find three references that, I think, gave me the answer.

I have referenced all three of these books in previous blogs on different art subjects, and I keep coming back to them, so I must think they’re helpful.

First, in Kimon Nicolaides’ classic, The Natural Way to Draw, he may have used different terminology to describe volume. He uses the terms weight and modeling, but I’m pretty sure he’s talking about volume. He does, however, say weight, is more than just volume and gives an example of a paper cup and a silver cup as having the same volume, but the silver one has more weight, of course. He says weight (and form) are dependent on the three dimensions, length, width, and thickness. Thickness. I think that’s part of it.

Nicolaides adds more understanding in a section on modeling, which is the physical act of drawing weight, volume, and/or thickness. While modeling the subject, he says. “press hard where the form goes back--press more lightly where it comes toward you.” So, it also has to do with light and shadow. Thank you, Kimon.

In a Barron’s book titled Light and Color by Parramon’s Editorial Team, the term volume never appears, but I gleaned some meaning in their discussion of contrast. It says basically that in the laws of nature, light defines the images we see, and the artistic image we interpret must also follow these laws, which they sum up as contrast. They may somewhat oversimplify it by saying that without contrast there's no perception or expression. So, I’m understanding that what the artist was telling me is that without volume or contrast, my painting lacked expression. Okay.

Finally, in Betty Edwards’ book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which I also referred to in my last blog, which was on observation, she simply says volume is the three-dimensional thickness you see on the (focal) plane.

Today’s Image is my watercolor painting about which I was twice told “needs more volume.” The funnels on the ship were lacking the needed volume, and which I was finally able to add.

Alrighty now! I think I’ve got it, and I hope you do, too.



  1. Who knew?? Hahaha! That's confusing!

  2. Thanks for leaving your comment. Tell your art friends!