Practical drawings are mental tools.
— Henning Nelms
When Henning Nelms wrote Thinking with a Pencil in 1957, he wrote it for two groups of people:
- People who wanted to use drawing “as a tool for thought and communication” but who did not know how to draw.
- People who knew how to draw, but who wanted to apply their skills in more than one discipline.
To emphasize the fact that drawing has a place in all disciplines, Nelms includes 692 illustrations that are more about how to use drawings instead of how to make them.
Nelms advocates practical drawing across all disciplines and encourages readers to use drawing as a learning tool in all areas of their lives. Throughout his 347-page guide to drawing and thinking, he shares tips and techniques that make accuracy easy to achieve.
After establishing foundation principles inherent in all drawings, he begins an insightful overview of drawing tips and techniques, never once straying from his primary objective — how to use drawing in everyday life.
The topics discussed by Nelms include:
- Drawing for practical use
- Drawings requiring no skills – Charts, diagrams, webs and grids
- Making easy drawings out of hard ones – How to lower the accuracy requirements of a drawing.
- Tracing Techniques – How to use tracing paper and tracing techniques as a learning tool to aid in the translation of an image.
- Creative Tracing – How to rearrange old material to create something new.
- Proportions – How to think about proportions, take measurements, and sight with a pencil.
- Fixed-line Construction – How to use parallel and perpendicular lines to create dimensions of space upon which freehand drawings are based. Of particular interest to botanical illustrators is Nelms’ discussion about ellipses and logarithmic spirals.
- Constructions for Free-line Drawings – How to create constructions for even the most irregular natural forms.
- Data Management – How to visualize numerical data.
- More Data Management – How to turn numerical data into graphic forms.
- Mechanical Aids – Tools to help you construct the parallel and perpendicular lines present in nearly every drawing.
- Seeing in 3-D – How to see the third dimension and how to “draw as you go.”
- Distortion – How to control distortion, create oblique drawings and manage ellipses.
- 3-D Form – How to project form in three-dimensions.
- Drawing People & Animals – How to draw figures, joints, muscles, hands, etc.
- Rendering – How to render an object (shading, scumbling, stipple, folds).
- Presentation – How to improve the appearance of a drawing through your choices in lettering and layout.
Included in this book is a glossary of equipment and material. When you read this section, remember that this book was written in 1957 and that some of the materials in this section may no longer be available.
The same needs to be said about the books Nelms includes in his bibliography. Nelms states he spent eleven years reviewing every book that had anything to do with drawing. In his bibliography, he only includes books he deemed of value when it comes to the practical aspects of drawing.
Thinking with a Pencil is a gem. It was reprinted in 1964 and again in 1981. Fortunately, this book is still available as a used book. Search for this book and other drawing books at independent bookstores on Biblio.com.
Nelms, Henning. 1981. Thinking with a Pencil (With 692 illustrations of easy ways to make and use drawings in your work and in your hobbies). Ten Speed Press.