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Finding Your Artists Eyes: Perspective

Updated on July 30, 2010

 

I have been drawing and painting since I was a child and so, naturally have become pretty good at it. Don’t get me wrong I don’t claim to be the best artist around because I feel there’s always something new to be learnt, but I am good enough that people often ask me how exactly I do it! Now these kind of questions always get me thinking, and when you’re self taught like me and your skills have just gradually developed over time it is quite difficult to actually explain the processes involved! Nowadays when I sit down to draw something, I just draw it! My mind has become so used to turning the physical angles of reality into the implied angles on paper, I just do it automatically! I suppose it’s the same as if someone asks you how to walk? Well you just somehow put one foot in front of the other and, walk! We don’t have to think about each step anymore because our brain works it out for us and just gets on with it.

After all this thought however I have thankfully found a way of explaining what I think is the most difficult part of drawing, which is understanding angles and perspective. It also spurred me on to write a complete e-book about learning to draw as a beginners guide! It can be a little tricky to grasp at first but luckily it’s not quite rocket science, so pretty soon (after a little practice of course) you should be able to automatically translate those angles and understand the illusion of perspective. So do read on, and hopefully I’ll be able to dispel any confusion you have and send you in the right direction!

The illusion of perspective
The illusion of perspective
Measuring the angles
Measuring the angles

Understanding the illusion of perspective is all about understanding how an object SEEMS to change size as it goes into the distance. If you look up at a tall building it seems much narrower at the top! A long bridge or a road can almost disappear into a speck! So how do you personally tell if something is small but close or large and far away? You probably do so through your natural perception of perspective! See I told you it wasn’t rocket science! The angles come into play as you learn how to apply that optical illusion onto paper, and the size of the angle depends on how far away the edge of the object is meant to be.

The number one problem with people who are learning to draw and struggling with perspectives, is that they’re still listening to the part of their brain that says, ‘that shouldn’t be an angle and should be the same size!’ You must learn to trust that all is not as it seems…no wonder some artists have been held in a kind of mystic reverence for centuries!

Take a cube (or just a square box if you’re short of cubes!) as an example. If you were to place it on a desk in front of you, with one of its faces level with yourself, you will see that its sides seem to go off at an angle to the desk even though they are still in perfect contact because the desk is also ruled by perspective. You know that all four sides are exactly the same size (it wouldn’t be a cube otherwise!) but the sides again SEEM smaller or narrower.

I still remember when perspectives finally clicked into place in my own head, I was only around 6 or 7 years old and getting frustrated because my picture of a house just didn’t look right! That shows you how particular I have always been about getting things right! My father, who was quite good at drawing though never practiced it as a hobby, sat down with me and got me to look at a box. I looked back and forth between the box and my picture, and finally realised that it looked wrong because I had drawn the sides of the house on the same ground level line as the front of the house! I discovered then that I had to ignore that logical part of my brain, because even though a house is still on the ground it does SEEM like its sides rise away at an angle due to the illusion of perspective. That day paved the way for me and my journey into the realm of 3D drawing.

If you are still struggling with the concept I would suggest that you sit down in the same way that I did and look at a box. Really look at it, for as long as you need to, and use your pencil held in the air in front of you to ‘measure’ the angles as this helps. Consider it the Zen enlightenment of the art world! With a good understanding of angles you will have gained a little more sight through your ‘artists eyes’.

If you are still struggling with the concept I would suggest that you sit down in the same way that I did and look at a box. Really look at it, for as long as you need to, and use your pencil held in the air in front of you to ‘measure’ the angles as this helps. Consider it the Zen enlightenment of the art world! With a good understanding of angles you will have gained a little more sight through your ‘artists eyes’.

There are other techniques for drawing accurate angles and lines, like the ‘2 point perspective’ technique used by graphic designers which uses guidelines to help you. While this is a handy to technique to learn at some point, I still think it better that people learn how to look for and ‘see’ the angles for themselves before using drawing aids. I do cover the technique in my fore mentioned e-book ‘Learn to Draw’ which is really a beginners step by step guide for learning to draw from scratch.

If you are new to the hobby, I would suggest you visit www.learntodraw.weebly.com.

Hopefully I have been of some use to you today, feel free to leave me any comments or questions about the topic!

 

2 point perspective of a cube
2 point perspective of a cube

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