Perspective 101

I haven’t given much thought to the actual theory of perspective in many years. As with most professional graphic artists I spent a lifetime following the rules learned eons ago in art school. Perspective sort of came naturally, and I was quite surprised to find many of my adult students knew nothing of a set of rules I has taken for granted.

We set about remedying this and the confusion was quite interesting. During the last four years of teaching adults watercolours I have often had to correct errors in perspective and show an example of vanishing points and horizon lines, but many of my students wanted to start at the beginning, and so we did.

We’re using an excellent little book called “Perspective” by William F. Powell (Walter Foster Publishing) 1989. I started them off with drawing a simple still life of white boxes and a cylinder, which proved to be difficult as we sit in a square and each student has a different viewpoint. To help out I photographed the set-up with my iPad from each student’s view-point and converted the image to black and white as we were using pencil only. I showed these on our large flat-screen TV so they could see the vanishing points I was describing.


The comments were interesting. Some students just couldn’t overcome their brain insisting a particular box was oblong and therefore had to stretch out just so. Once we established the vanishing point it became obvious the box had to be foreshortened. I had sneakily arranged the boxes to sit at different angles, thus complicating the task and the cylinder really took on a life of its own.

Working one-on-one we sorted out how to do this task and there were many good-humoured cries of anguish as erasers came out and mistakes were corrected. Our next session will include a still life set-up incorporating some of our learning material.

Part of my job as an art teacher is to teach my students how to “see”, as opposed to just looking. I posted this photograph for them as an example of “seeing” something that applied to what we had been learning. This laundry room counter was almost at my eye level, and I was struck by the way the lines all went to invisible vanishing points. The floor tiles in particular are a classic example of two-point perspective.

Laundry room


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