For some reason perspective drawing is looked on as a complicated intrusion into the fun side of painting. In this article we will take a very simple approach to remove the complication from an indispensable drawing tool.
Perspective drawing is a technique to create the linear illusion of depth. As objects get further away from the viewer they appear to decrease in size at a constant rate. The box in the sketch below appears solid and three dimensional due to the use of perspective.
The closest part of the box to us is the front vertical edge. The two other visible vertical edges, being further away, appear shorter. To find the length of these lines we need to know where our eye level is in relation to the box and where the two vanishing points along the eye level line will be for all our horizontal lines to recede to.
Because the box is square and our angle of view to the box is forty five degrees, the vanishing points will each be the same distance from the box.
Finding the Eye Level or Horizon Line for Perspective
The horizontal line through the box indicates our eye level and will vary according to our vantage point in relation to the box.
In the box above, our eye level is about a quarter the way up the front edge. Horizontal lines below the Eye Level will appear to slope up to the vanishing point and those above the Eye Level will appear to slope down.
In the sketch above, our eye level is below this box so all horizontal lines will appear to slope down.
Here our Eye Level is above this box, so all horizontal lines will appear to slope up.
By looking carefully at the horizontal lines in whatever it is we want to draw we can work out the direction to the vanishing points and the location of the Horizon Line or Eye Level.
If all the horizontal lines in the subject appear to slope up (as above), the Eye Level will be above the subject.
If all the horizontal lines in the subject appear to slope down (as below) the subject will be above the Eye Level.
If some of the horizontal lines in our subject slope up and some slope down (as below), our Horizon or Eye Level Line will be within the subject.
In all three examples, where these converging lines cross will be the vanishing points and they will always cross on the Horizon or Eye Level Line.
Finding Perspective Vanishing Points
The two things that determine how far from our object the vanishing points will be are our distance from the object and our angle of view to the object. The closer we are to the object, the closer the vanishing points will be and the more extreme the perspective (sketch below).
As we move away from the object the effect of perspective diminishes and the vanishing points move outwards, away from the object (sketch below).
Changing our angle of view to the object will cause one vanishing point to move closer to the object and one to move further away. In the sketch below, moving around the object to the right causes the vanishing points to move to the right. One gets closer and one, further away.
If we move around the box to the left the vanishing points move to the left. The left hand point moves further away, the right hand point moves closer.
If you can read through these notes and understand what is happening, you should then, with some practice, be able to draw a variety of little boxes like the ones above. Draw them from below, above, turned at various angles, from close up, further back - Once you become comfortable with a single box and how the changes in Eye Level and Vanishing Points effect perspective, building more complicated structures is just a matter of stacking, rearranging and modifying more boxes.
Understanding perspective drawing is an important part of your ability to draw but, no matter how accurate, it can also be the undoing of an otherwise good painting. Don’t let your work become over drawn and mechanical.
I rarely use a straight edge when perspective is involved, preferring to sketch the lines in by hand without running everything accurately back to a vanishing point. The slight inaccuracy's add a looseness to the work and get away from that tight, clinical look.
This painting of London uses a simple, single vanishing point perspective. You can see where the vanishing point would be by following the converging lines on the right. The lines are approximate (as accurate as I can judge by eye), but if a straight edge was placed along them they would be less than perfect, taking away that mechanical appearance and giving the painting a looseness that reinforces the ancient patina of the city. In drawing these lines it is not my intention to make them inaccurate, but, thankfully, the unassisted eye does not have the precision of a ruler.
The vanishing points in this painting of Venice are scattered all along the horizon line due to the fact that very few of the buildings are built parallel to one another. They are all individual little boxes turned at slightly different angles.
It may seem a chore and something you can work around but it really is not that difficult. Spending a few hours with a pencil and paper is all it takes to become familiar with what is happening.
Perspective drawing problems are some of the most common problems I see with students. Once you get started it’s a lot of fun and does more to improve your work than all the best art materials will ever do.
Author: John Lovett