Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Perspective Tip

Here’s a tip that really helps when you’re painting a scene with fairly complex perspective.

The image below is a photo of my pencil drawing on illustration board for “Scholar’s Stairway,” page 138 of Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara. Over that I have superimposed a slice of the final painting in oil, so you can see how the picture ended up.

The perspective is fairly complicated, with three vanishing points, each one a few meters away from the edge of the painting. Rather than worrying about those remote VPs, I established a series of graduating slopes for each VP by means of a set of evenly spaced guide marks alongside the margins of the picture. They’re marked off on a piece of white tape superimposed over the low-tack blue tape at the edge of the painting.

Any intermediate slope for any of the three vanishing points can easily be determined by lining up the mahl stick with the guide marks along the edge. Since the painting is not tied in space to the VPs, it can be moved around or turned upside down while you're working.

Having these guides was important in a painting like this, where the line drawing itself (including the center lines for the domes) was eventually covered up by the opaque paint. When the painting was finished, I stripped off all the tape, leaving a clean white edge around the image. Thanks to Ted Youngkin and Jack Wemp for teaching me this.

Tomorrow: Eye Magnets.


Anonymous said...

HI James....
utmostly strong.....cheers ! thanks :-))
Filippo Brunelleschi or Paolo Uccello ( Ucello ...means bird ! as you've on the head ! :-))

btw if you look for ancient masters pigments secrets, please let me know...

best wishes

Anonymous said...

oh yes Filippo and Paolo would have applauded !

Victor said...

I've always wondered how people created drawings that have vanishing points that are far off the picture plane, but I'm a little unclear on your method.

Did you first have to establish some slopes using the actual vanishing points? Is that what the diagonal tick marks on the tape are, or were these made after the guide marks? If you did have to use the actual vanishing points at the beginning, did you just lay out the vanishing points on the floor and use long string to connect to points on the drawing? Are you basically using your guide marks to allow you to estimate the intermediate slopes by comparing relative distances/slopes within the picture frame and establishing a similar relationship at the guide marks or is it more exact than that?

Sorry if my questions are confusing or too numerous, but this a subject that has befuddled me for years because most perspective drawing books just have you connect every point with the vanishing points, which isn't always practical when the VPs are distant or far off the picture frame. Speaking of perspective drawing books, can you recommend a good one that goes more in depth than the one my illustration instructor recommended (Joseph D'Amelio's Perspective Drawing Handbook)?

Anonymous said...

Victor: these are all great questions.

For this one I worked out the basic design of the piece in advance at about half size (about 6 inches by 9 inches). By drawing a simplified, smaller version of the stairway, I was able to actually carry the ruler out to the three vanishing points.

Once I was satisfied with that half-size diagram, I only had to copy the slopes at the top and bottom of the picture for each VP.

Then I just had to evenly subdivide the slope markings along each margin of the picture so that I had a grid of gradating slopes to use for reference. This way I didn't need to worry about where the actual VPs were.

I hope this doesn't further confuse you; it would be easier to demo it rather than explain it. I have no idea which books to recommend, not having perused the selection. Maybe someone else can suggest some titles?

Michael Dooney said...

Paul Rivoche did some great articles for DRAW magazine explaining such things primarily for animation design. I grabbed this chart he did online somewhere ages ago....I'm not sure how to do links here, so you'll have to copy and paste this url, or one of you guys can make a link for me ;)

Maria Mercado said...

Thank you! I'm struggling with a piece that has a 3 point perspective and this post and the comments that followed are helping me understand it better.

I read your blog everyday. And learn something new!

Victor said...

Thanks for the link Mr. Dooney, that help's a lot. It appears that this is the same technique dealt with in Andrew Loomis's Successful Drawing beginning on page 48. I'd read these pages before but wasn't totally clear on how the theory would be applied. Thanks to you and Mr. Gurney, now I now! I'm definitely going to study that section with more understanding now.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Gurney,

Thank you for posting this. I can't wait to try it out.

To answer Victor's question about resources for perspective drawing, try out Marshall Vandruff's videos at Draw123.com:


I've read several books on the subject, but it really helped me to see the drawing demonstrated.

Anonymous said...

Sweet tip! This would have been helpful on my three point final in my perspective class last year.

Your overlay has sparked a question though; how do you transfer a detailed line drawing like this to the final painting surface?

Anonymous said...

Aha, that's what I get for reading entries from more recent to less. And commenting before I'm done reading. Nevertheless, I find my previous comment already answered!

Schnider said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Schnider said...

I have a question about world building. Do you create a floor plan for your entire world? How is it done?

James Gurney said...

Schnider, no, not really. I only plan what I need to for a given picture or part of the story.

Alvalyn Lundgren said...

I remember Ted Youngkin. I still have my perspective notebook from his class at Art Center.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your posts!Thanks for the link Mr. Dooney!
How do you create drawings that have eye level outside of paper?