The very word perspective makes most art students shudder – all that ‘technical drawing’, precision and formulaic planning – yikes! Well, it’s easier than you think and let’s face it, you need to get to grips with at least the very basic principles of perspective to see real improvements in your art.
Regardless of your subject, good perspective is the foundation on which a good painting is based. Even the simplest compositions are stronger when artists show evidence of good perspective skills.
Assess your subject
The most obvious subjects that require perspective are buildings and cityscapes. In the next issue we will look at this more closely but let’s not overlook landscape. The ‘big landscape’ can appear daunting at first – especially to beginners and artists just starting to paint the subject but some pre-planning will help you as you work. Firstly, ask yourself why you want to paint the scene.
Take your time – look, think and assess the scene (through a viewfinder if that helps); rushing headlong into drawing and painting your scene before you’ve really planned what you want to do will get you into all sorts of trouble – especially with scale.
When looking for perspective within a flat open expanse of moorland, sparse of any redeeming features, it’s hard to find anything at first to use as a guide to lead the eye through your painting and to discover the true characteristics of the perspective within the scene.
By following the contours of the land, the undulating shapes and shadows, then plotting those shapes, the angle of the deep gullies and carefully observing the angle of boulders, pathways and tracks, all is revealed.
By analysing your chosen composition into a series of shapes, forms, tones and, of course, the ‘feel ‘ for your subject, you can begin to apply the basic principles of perspective to those elements to bind them all together. In Sun and Shadow over the Old Moors – South Pennines (below) the underlying perspective forms a strong framework on which all the above principles are intertwined.
Everything on the level
The most important thing to establish before you begin is your eye level in relation to what you are looking at. If it is difficult to ascertain this, try drawing a series of lines at the correct angle from objects you can see – where they cross over or correspond with one another will establish their vanishing points.
Be prepared for the vanishing points to be outside your composition; don’t force a vanishing point back into a composition just to make it easy for yourself because it will be wrong and throw everything out. Tonal values also help with perspective.
Working from light to dark (stronger colours in the foreground and lighter colours towards the back) helps to give the impression of aerial perspective. In watercolour the lightest light is the white of the paper – adding white during the process or at the end will never be a substitute for the pure white of the paper as the same brightness or lightness of tone cannot be achieved.
The distances between each and every element in the composition, and their scale in relation to one another is really important as it will unify everything in the painting.
Pay close attention to the actual solid volume, tone and colour of the shapes, the negative spaces and distances between each creates the framework too.
As a painting develops don’t just paint with a brush, draw with it too. Creating some sort of added drama, point of focus or contrast gives a painting the edge.
Equal amounts of dark and light within a painting can stifle it, despite your best efforts. Try to think about different proportions or relationships between light and dark in your compositions – more light in ratio to dark or, more dramatic still, more dark in relationship to ‘spotlight’ light.