NOTE: A SHORTER, SIMPLER VERSION ON PERSPECTIVE DRAWING CAN BE FOUND ON http://www.kidsfuncorner.com
First of all I would like to point out that as Artists, we are free to paint and draw what we wish – so unless you are an architectural artist, please don’t feel that guides in drawing in perspective are RULES! They are simply powerful guides (or tricks) to use if you wish to create a 3 dimensional illusion on your flat surface. The choice is yours!
Hard to believe? Let me show you how this illusion works…
Isn’t that amazing! Just a few perspective lines can create that illusion. After all, we are just looking at a flat surface!
Maybe you would like to use this trick in your own drawing!
You might like to draw your own tree shapes on thicker paper or light cardboard so that they are stronger. First draw one tree and cut it out. Lay it on your card and draw around it. Now carefully cut out your second tree just INSIDE the line that you drew, so that they will be the same size. Hold them one on top of the other to check. Colour them black or a strong colour.
A little blue tack will hold your trees in place and you can move them to see how they look in different places on your drawing.
Now what about this next picture of the 3 men. Which of the two SMALL men is the bigger one do you think?
Can you believe they really are the same height? Let’s check it out!!! It is really amazing isn’t it!
OK now lets get on to the specifics of the Optical Illusion we call “PERSPECTIVE”. How does it work?
I hope to throw in a few hints that might help explain it- although I certainly don’t profess to be an expert in this.
Firstly, let’s take a look at the most commonly known “trick” for the eye – single point perspective. This is when the alignment of objects in the painting or drawing become smaller towards a distant point, to create the illusion of distance…as you can see, the “horizon” line in relation to your viewpoint has a dramatic effect on the end result and appearance of things in those converging perspective lines.
It is helpful to draw a single box in perspective if you are new to this. Here is an example below:
Construction lines (or guidelines) are usually drawn very lightly in pencil and erased later but without them it is very difficult to sketch things in perspective. Naturally there are countless different shapes of buildings, windows & doors so this is just a very basic guide and you can create your own variation.
Handling some other tricky situations:
Below are some examples where I’ve used single point perspective in paintings… the first is called “Bringing them home, Inverell, NSW” painted from a photo taken through the windscreen of our car.
and this one is a semi-abstract cityscape “Spirit of a City”…
It is rarely that you can actually see a flat horizon (except perhaps looking out to sea or in a desert) but most of us have inbuilt in our balance system a feeling for “WHERE THE LEVEL OF THE HORIZON WOULD BE IF WE COULD SEE IT” and it is this “SENSE OF LEVEL” we need, to assess most traditional compositions we might wish to draw or paint.
Here is one painted on our trip to Venice last year. Note the high placement of the “horizon” (where the perspective lines on each side of the canal would meet if they were shown to converge)…
In this country scene, perspective is softly suggested in the dimishing track and fence…
This next example (a tonal rough) is straight-forward where the street perspective is concerned but look at the crazy angles of those rooves! How can we analyse those for drawing them into the finished painting?
Well, this is what I do if lines do not all merge to a vanishing point! I pretend each angle I want to draw is coming from the centre of an old fashioned clockface. I hope you are familiar with clockfaces in this era of digital LED displays? Which number would that angle be pointing to if it were a clock hand in relation to the sides of the paper or canvas? When I decide that, it helps me draw it.
It worked pretty well in this study, although I decided along the way to alter some of the roof lines. Here is the finished painting below. I like the “not-so-precise” roof angles-I feel they look more interesting & less architecturally perfect – after all old houses tend to sag a bit as they age, just like us!
Sometimes in single perspective studies we find that the “vanishing point” where the lines converge is way off the edge of the area we are drawing or painting. Here’s an example…
In some compositions, more than one vanishing point might be in play e.g. a corner of a building. The exaggeration of the perspective becomes less and more gentle the further away each vanishing point is from the other.
Let’s go to using that clock method again….So how to choose the angles when drawing from an actual subject? If you look at the corner of your building through a viewfinder (your camera lens works fine), it helps to ask yourself how the angles of the roof and bottom of the building relate to the angles of a clock…
Notice how lines above the level eyeline converge down to the vanishing points and those below converge upward? By drawing a simple box, you can see that above the eye level we can see underneath the base of the box. Below eye level, we can see into the box looking down.
Here is an example of how 2 point perspective can translate into a semi-abstract painting “Corner Gossip” where I had fun extending all the straight lines to form a semi-abstract design, treating it like a stained glass window with shafts of light…
OK now – so far we have looked at straight lines in perspective – but what about curves? Take a look at this chart…then hold a coin in your hand, flat on to your eyelevel. Slowly turn it away from you and watch what happens to that circle…it becomes more and more elliptical – the side curves becoming more and more pointy… then see how this applies to the ovals in the teacup and saucer.
Thus it happens in nature – where the bend in a road or river, or the curve of a bay becomes more pointy or elliptical, the closer to the ground is your viewpoint…(it is so often we see a painting spoiled by a bay of water that appears to “stand up” and not “lay” properly in the landscape.) Now you will know why! Large rounded curves belong with a bird’s eye view.
Can you see how the curves are more rounded the higher your viewpoint in relation to the horizon? As soon as you establish a horizon in a landscape you establish immediately where you are in viewing the scene..the closer to the ground you are the more elliptical or pointed the ovals become.
There may be only one curve in a picture but it needs to be “right”… here’s an example “North Avoca Beach” which was a painting commissions many years ago…notice I have had to do 2 things: get the overall scallop of the water edge right (each line of waves following suit) and slope the beach down to it (after all that is what is stopping the water from flowing further!) This was easier to assess because I painted it on location right at the scene…
In this next painting the perspective is in a road and some houses and I have had to make allowances for the hilly terrain as the road snakes its way up into the hills. Very often the ground is not level and we have to make adjustments in the drawing through close observation. “Glengariff cottages” was a small study from our visit to Ireland .
As well as making things appearing smaller as they become further away from you, they become less distinct (less visible detail), making things in the distance become lighter in tone – so this is a way you can add to your illustion of perspective in a painting – graduating your darks from the foreground softer and softer into the distance. Here are some demonstrations from my collection, which I pushed a bit to indicate the hazy atmosphere of the day.
The difficulty of painting from photographs is that the camera tends not to give you this tonal softness or details within shadows (it makes them more black/dk grey) so we as artists, need to be aware of this and compensate where needed…
Another thing to realise is that as things become close to you they overlap what lies behind them, covering up part of the shape behind. Here is a landscape to show you what I mean. First the initial sketch…
and now the finished painting…(Gloucester hills). Can you still see the overlapping?
Now if you are need to do more precise architectural drawing, there is a formula for spacing uprights towards a vanishing point. It might be fence posts, poles, tenament buildings or similar. I haven’t had to use it much, but it might be useful for someone to include it here. My chart isn’t exact (my perpendicular lines shouldn’t lean over) but it should be enough to give you the idea. You have to judge or measure the first segment at left, then you can find a midway point and by drawing a diagonal line through it you will find where the next segment upright will be. It can apply to fence posts, telegraph poles, buildings – anything uniform. Of course the result wil vary depending on your first two lines top and bottom which converge to a vanishing point (in this case, outside the area of the drawing).
Without being too architecturally exact, I broadly used the above formula in the following painting of Sydney “Rocks” area in autumn…
Finally, there is the difficulty of placing figures in a landscape and getting them the right size for their positioning. This can be very tricky. To have some sort of “norm” from which to bounce is about the only way I know of to manage it. Since the height and shape of different people varies so much, I find it most helpful to establish first where their feet would be so that they are not ‘floating’ in the painting!
From there I like to put a mark where the top of their head would come to, imagining I were in the painting and how high I would be in relation to other things in the composition. e.g. a doorway of a building or a tree.
Having put down those two marks for the top of the head and the feet, I then place a midway mark for a standing figure which represents the half-way hip mark. I can then more easily sketchin the figure in the right proportions, being careful to avoid the common trap of making the head too big. Once figures are placed correctly, a shadow “anchoring” them to the ground level helps complete the illusion.
Of course, if you were sketching people of much the same height (e.g. soldiers marching etc.) you could use the chart below which puts the “horizon” line through the same part of each person’s body…
For those of you interested in methods the cartoonists use to achieve the illusion of huge towering buildings or massive chasms – there is 3 point perspective at play!
Actually the above example is even beginning to take in a 4th vanishing point below the horizon line from 2 to 3!
Here is is a ‘birdseye’ view looking down with 3 vanishing points:
Now here’s a hard one – supposing you need to draw a pile of boxes all thrown higgled-piggly in a pile! Because they would not be flat a level surface, each would have its own different angles … therefore there could be multiple vanishing points & most of them out of the composition! What could you do then to draw such a subject?
Well, we can always fall back on the “clock hand” method shown earlier to assess each line as coming from the centre of a clock in relation to the sides of your paper. If complex and confusing, try segmenting the area into a grid of 4 and deal with each quarter on its own.
Whatever your need to use this illusion called perspective, I hope something in this Post has helped you.
One last tip:
In response to a request, here is an example of drawing a Lolly Jar from 3 angles. Because it isn’t a huge object (like a high rise building) there is no need for 3 point perspective but because curves are involved as well as straight lines, it is a good exercise:
If you would really like to see the illusion of perspective in action, check out the miraculous 3D chalk art by Pavement Artists such as Julian Beever and Edgar Mueller.
I hope this Post has been helpful to you.