"Observation and study are necessary to achieve mastery of light and form." Andrew Loomis

Basic Perspective
© 2001 Nita Leland

Perspective helps to create the illusion of reality by locating forms in space according to certain conventions. In most painting perspective doesn't have to be precisely correct, as long as it looks right. Your understanding of nature and correct observation make the difference between an awkward drawing and one that is convincing. Here are some tips and basic definitions to get you started:

    Linear perspective
  • horizon line: the artist's eye level
  • station point: where the artist is standing
  • picture plane: imaginary vertical surface through which artist views the scene, parallel to the art support (like looking through a window)
  • cone of vision: limits of vision beyond which distortion occurs (90 degrees--45 degrees to each side of the artist); similar to wide-angle distortion with a camera lens
  • vanishing point: a point at which parallel lines appear to converge.

    Aerial perspective
  • also called atmospheric perspective
  • suggests distance through soft edges, light values, cool color
  • suggests nearness through darker values, warm color, texture, crisp edges
  • utilizes sharper detail in the foreground

    Other means of suggesting distance
  • overlapping objects
  • converging lines
  • diminishing sizes
  • gradation of values and colors
  • light and shadow (also important to showing 3-dimensional form)

    Perspective hints
  • Use a good reference for artists, not a technical book. You don't have to know everything about perspective. You just have to know where to find what you need. You'll find some simple diagrams to get you started on p. 76 of The New Creative Artist.
    1. Perspective Made Easy by Ernest Norling is one of the best books for artists on basic perspective.
    2. Perspective Drawing Handbook by Joseph d'Amelio helped me to learn perspective and I still use it as a reference.
  • Learn the basics and look up the rest when you need it.
  • Measure and compare to achieve correct proportions.
  • Stick to one light source and one point-of-view in the picture, unless you are deliberately creating ambiguous space.
  • Learn how the subject is built so you can represent it correctly.
  • Learn how figures obey the rules of perspective.
  • Be aware of distortion in photographs and projection images.

Good luck with your adventures in perspective.

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