Putting it into Perspective

Have you ever tried to explain 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5-point perspective to someone?

Well, I’m going to attempt something like that next Tuesday evening in the Figure Drawing session I moderate. I want it to make sense, be helpful and do away with a mystery or two. This blog post will hopefully help me identify the crux of the matter and help me keep it either very simple on Tuesday or give me the knowledge I need if someone has a really tricky question. The quintessence of this post is that parallel lines must converge.

When you start learning perspective you hear a lot about vanishing points and the horizon line. I’ve always been troubled with that one horizon line which is always mentioned, and now I’m pretty sure, every set of parallel planes has its own horizon line. The one you always hear of is the one defined by the flat surface you are standing on when looking at your subject, or the flat plain you want your constructed object to stand on. I’ll come to the vanishing points in a second.

Then you have all those different types of perspective (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), which can be a bit overwhelming.

So here goes: Perspective is just a constructional help for us artists to emulate on a flat piece of paper the data our spherical(!) eyes collect when observing the real world. If you get the construction lines correct, the eye cannot tell the difference between our flat piece of paper and what I’m calling “the real world”. Great, right?

Now, the whole thing is just a mathematical problem which has been solved masterfully by many scientifically interested artist/researchers, e.g. in the renaissance by a few well-known characters.

For 1, 2, 3 and 4-point perspective, I’m going to put the main rule in a succinct sentence of my own and then try to make sense of it:

“Parallel lines always converge at the same point on their horizon line.”

Before I go into explaining that, let me mention that 1, 2, 3, and probably even 4-point perspective are only approximations of the real mathematical solution and therefore only work in a limited cone of sight. That means, if we were looking at the subject of interest through a cone (just a rolled up newspaper will do), then this approximation only works well for an opening angle of 60 degrees. That’s really ok, if you’re far enough from your model and are not tempted to draw all types of other stuff going on around you. (Ok, glad I’ve got that one out of the way for now … notice I haven’t even started talking about 5 point perspective yet.)

OK, so the sentence above contains the following words:

  • parallel
  • line
  • converge
  • point
  • horizon line

Let’s start with “line”, sounds simple. A line is constructed from two points. E.g. the two corners of a square, or any adjacent corners of a cube. So let’s imagine a cube around the torso and let’s look at the two top-most, frontal (anterior) points (the head of the humerus bone). By connecting those two points we construct a line along the top of the torso (thorax and abdomen). There are more such lines on the torso, we’ll probably get to one or two of them in a second.

OK, next word: “parallel”. Two lines are parallel to each other if they lie on the same plain and(!) the distance between both lines does not change. So, let’s look at our constructed cube around the torso again. Every line you construct on the front of the cube (across the thorax or abdomen area) sits on the same plain. But not every line there is parallel to the one we identified first (the connection between the two humerus protuberances). That line defines the edge of the very plain we’re looking at (or is at least very close to it). Another line, parallel to this first one could for example be a line that connects the two nipples. There you have it, we now have two parallel lines (you can probably find many more). On to the next point.

Before we get to “point” though, let’s talk about “converge”. The trouble is actually that we can only draw those two lines parallel on our sheet of paper if we are looking at our model straight in the face. If by fortune we have a seat slightly off-centre to the model, then we can use our newly budding perspective skills and draw those parallel lines converging to some point on or even off the paper. Now, let’s not get carried away and start bending those lines, they stay as straight as they ever were, we are still approximating the torso as a cube. (By converging, we mean that the lines are getting closer to each other as they extend across our sheet of paper.) The end of the lines which lie on the part of the cube which is to be seen closest to us must be further apart than the opposite ends. This is an important point, and you should always notice whether the lines in real life are approaching you or receding from you.

When the (possibly imaginary) extension of the two lines eventually meet (either on or off the paper), then we have a “point”. Now this point will be shared by every single line which is parallel to the first two. This is the vanishing point.

Wow, let’s relax, we have now learnt 1-point perspective. But 1-point perspective can be used multiple times in one drawing. If you keep on finding new sets of parallel lines on the same plain, ones which actually cross other parallel lines on that plane (e.g. imagine a chessboard), then you will eventually end up with so many vanishing points that you will see a line: the “horizon line”. (If you select a plain which is parallel to the ground you are sitting on, then the horizon line is at the level of your own eye.)

The “horizon line” is where every line on a plain parallel to this “horizon” will end. Take a moment to imagine a few parallel plains, we have been looking at parallel lines up until now. The front and back of the torso cube are parallel planes, so they will share the same “horizon”. And the top and bottom of the torso cube are also parallel plains and therefore also share a “horizon”, even if it is not the same horizon as the other two plains.

And there you have 2-point perspective, it just creeped up on you without us noticing. When people talk of 2-point perspective, they are simplifying the above, but thereby hiding information. A cube can be cut into horizontal slices and therefore every line joining two new corners are not only on a side plain but also on a plain parallel to the ground. You end up with 2 vanishing points on one horizon line. Voila: 2-point perspective.

Similar simplification will give you a perspective model which is described as 3-point perspective. If you are close to your model and are peaking up at her, this model will help you abstract and construct one vanishing point far above the model. In reality, based on my sentence above, all we have here is a side plain with an orientation which leads to a new horizon line which is oblique to the vertical.

4-point perspective is also a simplified perspective model to help you construct lines which are converging to a vanishing point below the model. But now we know for sure, all we have here is a new plain with another horizon line, negatively oblique to the line we found earlier while looking up at the model.

All of this is, as mentioned before, only an approximation and if you really want to realistically construct the world our eyes report to our brain you need to fall back on 5-point perspective. The construction lines here are curves, and believe me, if you risk going down that path, you will start seeing curves and will begin drawing curves too. As soon as you want to step out of the “60 degrees cone of vision”-prison, this is one way you can go (it is not the only one, you can stretch the “rules” or just disregard them. There are more ways to represent real life than the way the construction of our eyes believe to be correct).

I know, I should and could add drawings to this post, but believe me, there are so many drawings out there on this topic. Don’t go and look. Try and construct it yourself (perhaps take a peek at 5-point perspective, as I only scratched that topic).

If you got this far, you can add n-point perspective to your CV.

 

 

 

Going in circles … and ellipses

Tomorrow night I’ll be introducing “circling” to the life drawing course participants.

The goal is to practice the “airplane line” and break out of habits and/or introduce new, well-balanced line making skills. The “airplane line” is when you land slowly and gently on the paper with your pencil/crayon, start making a thicker line in a controlled fashion (as if the plane is leaving skid marks) and then decide to take off gently again. Always consciously picking the point of landing and take-off.

By deciding consciously to only draw in circles and ellipses, you need to watch yourself carefully first to make sure you’re not drawing potatoes, bananas and sausages, I found this to be a very hard exercise actually, I had to remain fully concentrated to keep my line from going off in all directions. Once you have reached a kind of flow or zone, the ellipses and circles start coming naturally and more and more can be found by just opening up to all possibilities.

You can stick to the contour or you can find circles which are much larger than the entire pose, but define the pose nevertheless. Some circles can go through the figure, some just sit on top of the planes of the figure. Additionally, while searching for the best fit, you are continuously testing, measuring and comparing sizes, form and orientation. The whole process should be non-stop, the thinking process occurs during the skating of the page and searching for the correct fit. This is like an eagle circling over its prey. Once you have your “prey” (i.e. size, form and orientation) you can press down harder and commit to the line. Then, without leaving contact with the page, go on search for your next prey.

The evening will begin with us identifying the 16 major groups of the figure as circles and ellipses and we will then move on to a sequence of 5 and 3 minute poses where we will attempt to draw the figure only using circles and ellipses.

As tools we will be using a medium soft graphite if available. I am currently in love with the Faber-Castel PITT oil based pencil (medium).

Here are a few of the poses I drew last week while testing this circling method. I believe this short practice has already helped make my line more controlled and has increased my attention to the value of the “airplane line”.

A new chapter begins

Well, 3 years and 7 months ago, to the day, I started going to life drawing classes.

It was February 11th, 2014. I remember the model, the atmosphere, my sheepishness and the first drawing I made on that evening. Tomorrow night, the same model will come to class, but this time, I won’t be drawing, I’ll be teaching (or attempting to, at least).

If you’d told me this back then, I’d thought you were crazy, but perhaps I’m the crazy one now. But … no … actually, I’m really looking forward to it. Not too worried even … as I know at least 10 of the 18 students and have been drawing and exhibiting with them over the past 3 and a half years.

I’ve been working up a small plan to work through over the 10 sessions we will have together. But most of the time, we’ll just be drawing (or in my case, watching the others draw … I’m sure I’ll get a few drawings done too). Everyone will be getting a little hand-out, so they know what they can expect over the duration of the course. There are a few additional topics I’ll be touching on, which are not mentioned in the handouts: measuring, tangents, negative space, cross contour. I’ll be bringing 2 or 3 books on sketching the human figure which will hopefully inspire one or the other and there will be biscuits and beverages.

The courage or craziness for this operation was probably spawned by my experiences in SketchbookSkool. One thing I learned was that everything is possible. 19 months ago I would never had guessed I’d be traveling around Europe, meeting other sketchers. Now I’m already packing for my fourth sketching workshop offered by Pushing Your Sketching Boundaries, this time in Berlin.

Good night and let’s see what tomorrow brings.

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The biggest mistake you mustn’t make

In August, I was on Tenerife with my wife, L.

It was quite hot, I didn’t take many art tools with me and for me being on holiday for 10 days I hardly made any art at all.

What was the problem? I was listening to a voice in my head telling me that even if I tried to do something here and now, it wouldn’t look anything like what I would want it to look like … the paint brush I use all the time has past its prime … the watercolour sketchbook (300gr) is too precious … I don’t have the right colours to paint skin tones … there aren’t enough contrasts … it’s too hot. I was giving in to these nagging voices.

In the end, I managed to save myself to a certain degree, I jumped in the deep end and painted the sea (using sea water) and also made a quick and dirty sketch of the beach at sun set (which I didn’t like for a few days and now I really love and think I should delve into more often).

The biggest mistake(s) you mustn’t make:

  • listen to the nagging voices
  • tell yourself the art tools are the problem
  • convince yourself you’re not as good as you (think you) used to be
  • stop playing/fooling around

3 weeks, and then there was Life Drawing

Well, we managed to order two models today, and I kept the one company while the first one posed for 30 minutes.

Then I got the chance to do some drawing too (four 10 minute poses, one 15 minute pose and five 2 minute poses).

And this is after 10 days of Tenerife (our annual holiday on the Canary Islands) and 5 days of Rotterdam (Sketching workshop in The Netherlands). I’ll post something about those two events later.

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Tomorrow I sign my new contract as a Life Drawing tutor, I’ll post what I’m going to be up to in a later blog post.

Fünfundneunzig Minuten

Gerade wieder nach Hause gekommen, nach einem langen Tag auf Dienstreise und mehr als zwei Stunden beim Aktzeichnen.

Insgesamt 95 Minuten haben wir heute Abend gemeinsam das Modell gezeichnet.

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Beim Vorzeichnen habe ich mit einem stumpfen Bleistiftstummel den Rythmus der Kräfte in der jeweiligen Pose gesucht. Danach habe ich ziemlich locker die Konturen mit einem “S” oder “XS” PITT Fineliner gezeichnet. Wobei ich besonders auf die kleinen “Unebenheiten” die durch prominente Muskelgruppen oder durch das Skelett direkt verursacht werden. Als letzter Verarbeitungsschritt verbringe ich noch einige Minuten damit, die Form, bzw. das Volumen des Modells mit Buntstiften herauszuarbeiten. Dabei achte ich darauf, mich (so gut es geht) bewusst auf eine Lichtquelle zu reduzieren.

Acht 10-Minuten-Posen und fünf 3-Minuten-Posen = 95 Minuten. Danach war mein A3 Blatt ziemlich voll gezeichnet.

And on the fifth day …

Who would have believed it? I didn’t draw for four days. No gesture practice, self portraits, nothing … not even any hatching exercises.

… then I went to Tuesday’s Life Drawing Session, for which no model arrived …

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I began the evening on the stage … three 10 minute poses for my fellow life drawers. The next hour of drawing, I attempted to use my meagre FORCE knowledge to make those poses more believable. What I’m really surprised about is the true to life likeness of the faces I drew tonight and I can only guess it’s coming from all the quickly sketched self portraits I’ve been doing in front of the mirror. Of course, I’ve also fed my brain with loads of information over the last 3 years (perspective, anatomy, mnemonics, tone, volume) and it was sure to pay off one of the days, wasn’t it?