2019 Foundations Friday 9: The importance of getting ground-lines right

March 1, 2019 | 5 Comments

One of the most common mistakes I see in urban sketches (in the work of both beginners and more seasoned sketchers) is getting the angle of ground-lines incorrect. By ‘ground-line’ I am referring to the line which is drawn at the base of a building and/or lines indicating roads, kerbs, sidewalks (footpaths). It is very common to draw these ground-lines too steep and to have foreground shapes too big (too tall) and the result is that the whole sketch looks unconvincing.

This week in the Foundations Re-Run we are looking at Composing the View. We are using a view finder (with a 3×3 grid drawn on it) to help frame a view, position a focal point using the rule of thirds and locate a few major edges. One of the things which this viewfinder highlights is the location of the ground-lines and how foreshortened in a vertical axis the foreground elements often are.

You don’t actually need to use a viewfinder to ‘fix your ground-lines’ – just a little careful observation, sight measuring angles (see my video here for more about that) and abstracting shapes will do the trick. Understanding perspective will help as well – but that’s a topic for another article!

Here are a few examples…

A comparison (from Foundations Lesson 9) of a ‘object brain’ sketch with the actual shapes in the view finder.

Thinking carefully about the shape of the paved areas

Using a horizontal axis (the top of my sketchbook) to help see the angle of a steeply sloping street. The result is often rather shocking and not at all what our brain thinks we see.

So do you struggle with getting the ground-lines right in your sketches? Have you realised that this is what often makes your sketches look wonky? Have you picked up any tricks or tips to help you see these lines more accurately?



  • Sydney says:

    Feel so silly that I rarely consider the ground lines unless they are actually what draws my eye to the scene in the first place. I consider the relationships between other shapes..including the sky! So why not the ground? ?

    Thank you for this. I will reread this tonight and make notes in my study book.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Sydney – dont feel silly. Many people overlook the ground lines 🙂 Hope it helps your sketches

  • Camila says:

    Really helpful! Thank you ??

  • Elizabeth Sloan says:

    I like the idea of using the top of your sketchbook to check angles. Thanks for all your helpful posts, Liz!!

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