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Tutorial: The Art of Perspective Drawing

Backstreet by Edward Evans

Drawing in proper perspective is one the biggest problems that beginning drawing students have to overcome. It is one of the most important issues for an artist to master in order for his or her work to have the look and feel of authenticity. If a drawing's perspective is incorrect, the overall work looks abnormal. An exception to this would be surrealistic and abstract works.

This post will attempt to explain issues of perspective in drawing. I will impart several tips and pointers to help the understanding of perspective as it applies to drawing, and I will attempt to provide a basis for the beginner to start from so he or she has a practical starting point from which to tackle and master perspective drawing.

To define perspective drawing, it is the systematic method of rendering objects and subjects represented in the artwork relative to their closeness or distance from one another from the perspective of the viewer. Simply, learning to draw in perspective gives your work a three-dimensional reality.

City Street Perspective

To illustrate, imagine you are standing in the middle of a street looking straight down the thoroughfare as far as you can see. All the buildings, houses, trees, electrical utility poles, cars and people all gradually grow smaller as they retreat in the distance to the point where you cannot see any further. This point is called the vanishing point, and it is located on the horizon line, which is the distant point beyond which that you can see. When you look out from a beach at the expanse of the sea, the horizon line is where the sea meets the sky--it forms a horizontal line (horizon line) from the left to the right of your sight, or perspective. This known as one-point perspective. In future posts, we will deal two-point and three-point perspective.

If this all sounds confusing, don't worry! I will provide ample illustrations to facilitate understanding of this.

Three terms to be remembered:

1. Horizon line;
2. Vanishing point; and,
3. Eye level.

Many people picking up the pencil for the first time will arrive with some confusion; when rendering railroad tracks in a drawing, logic will tell them to draw two parallel lines, like this (or similar):

Wrong Perspective

Railroad tracks run parallel to one another, but when you stand between them and with your eyes follow their direction to the point where you cannot, the tracks seem to gradually converge.

When learning perspective as it relates to drawing, it is important to learn to draw what you see, not what you know. What I mean to say by this, is that we know that railroad tracks are equidistantly parallel to one another. What we need to learn when drawing is how it appears from the artist's (or more generally, the viewer's) perspective, that is, what we see. When you go outside, look down the sidewalk. You know that the sidewalk is pretty much the same width at the point of where you are standing as it is 50 or 100 feet down. But when you look that far down, you see that the sidewalk gradually tapers as it goes farther into the distance. That is what is meant by drawing what you see, not what you know.

Also note that the farther the objects are in the distance, as in the sketch below (tracks, hills, etcetera) the lighter in tone and fuzzier in detail they become.

Railroad Tracks Proper Perspective

In the sketch above, take note of the tracks and how they gradually recede into the distance of the surrounding hills: the point where the tracks disappear from sight is called the vanishing point (marked with an 'x'). The hills which run from the left to right of the illustration in the distance is the horizon line. In this example sketch, the horizon is also the eye level, but this arrangement would not be applied to all drawings; there many differing perspectives in any given subject the artist wishes to render. The eye level (or standing view) is one of the most common points of view, but there is also the bird's eye view (perspective from above) and the worm's eye view (view from low to the ground), which are only two of many examples.

Bird's Eye View

The above sketch is an example of the "bird's eye" perspective. In this instance, the body of the man tapers as the view goes from his head, to chest, and finally to legs and feet. This is another drawing technique called foreshortening. We will cover this in a future post.

Worm's Eye View

This sketch takes the perspective from the ground level, called the worm's eye view. Note that the man's body tapers as it goes upward; the foreshortening technique plays a role in this instance as well.

In closing, I must add that perspective is such a major part of drawing that it is certain that I will be covering this issue in future posts. Let this be an introductory to the basic principles; in the next few weeks and months we will indeed go over drawing perspective in greater detail.


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