How to Draw Anything You See, Part 4: Perspective

We’ve reached the fourth and final part of my little series on drawing:  perspective!  Of the major elements of representational drawing, perspective is the most challenging and is probably the main reason that people give up on drawing.

“Perspective theory” can be pretty complicated.  There’s one-point, two-point, three-point, four-point(!) and even zero-point(!!) perspective!

I recommend completely ignoring this daunting theoretical stuff and instead doing a simplified version of what Vincent Van Gogh did during the years he spent mastering perspective.  Before we get  to that, you should watch this drawing video by Betty Edwards starting at 1 hour, 0 minutes to about 1 hour, 20 minutes:

When I was learning how to draw with correct perspective, I initially tried to use the Betty Edwards method, but I soon ditched those training wheels and started using my pencil, stylus, or some other straight edge to approximate relative sizes and angles while drawing.

The “basic unit” idea, that she discusses in the above video, can be pretty useful.  All it means is using some arbitrarily chosen length in your composition as a reference length to which you compare the rest of the composition.

I’ve found that using several basic units can be much more useful.  This just means that, while drawing, you constantly gauge relative angles and sizes between different elements of your composition.  Instead of relying on a single reference point, everything in the composition becomes a potential reference point.

Remember that you’re drawing some chosen composition in your view, and that your view is, for all intents and purposes, two-dimensional.  Close one eye–and always the same eye during any drawing session–while approximating relative lengths and angles.

If you use a single basic unit as a point of reference, then it is drawn first.  Everything else is drawn relative to it.  As stated above, this is less accurate, in my experience, than just constantly comparing relative angles and lengths between different elements of the composition.

This heuristic generalizes: multifactorial knowledge is most important; life is rarely one-dimensional.

Don’t obsess with getting the perspective perfect:  consideration of negative space is at least as important.

When using your pencil, stylus, or some other straight edge to estimate proportions, distances, and angles, ensure that the straight edge remains parallel to your “two-dimensional” view.  Otherwise, your perspective will be off.

Perspective has a steep learning curve, but, if you keep at it, you’ll soon be able to draw quickly and accurately!  Remember that you’re an artist, not a photographer:  you’re not trying to record every tiny detail (unless, for some reason, you specifically want to do so).

For quick sketches in the field with accurate perspective, consider using boxes or spheres around the major body parts of your figures oriented correctly to one- (e.g., head-on) or two-point (e.g., 3/4 view) perspective.  For example, you can sketch birds quickly with three spheres: head, body, and rump.  You can orient these balls differently to come up with new poses.  When you’re satisfied with your composition drawing, you can transfer it to your final paper without transferring the boxes.  I’ll talk about how to do this in a future lesson.

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