Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pyramid of Vision

Here is Jeanette Gurney using a homemade viewfinder to frame a composition for her sketch. The red arrows show the lines from the apex of her eye through the corners of the viewfinder to the scene beyond.

The “pyramid of vision” is the sector of the entire field of view that you have selected to represent in your picture.

In perspective class, they used to call it “cone of vision,” but I like “pyramid” better, because most pictures are rectangular, so a pyramid better describes the volume of space reaching out from your eye. "Pyramid" is also used now more frequently in the CGI field.

Even though the overall visual field takes in an angle of about 60 to 90 degrees, the ideal pyramid of vision for figure drawing or landscape painting in my experience is about 20-30 degrees. Any more than that, and the drawing will look distorted, because you have to turn your head to see from top to bottom or side to side. An angle much less than that puts the subject a bit too far away to see clearly.

Here is Jeanette’s watercolor painting from the scene.

To see other views of the motif, visit the Dalleo’s Deli post.


Dorian said...

Sweet! I was plain air sketching yesterday and was wondering about exactly this thing: how close/far away should I be? Does it make sense to start further away to get the big things right and then move in closer to see more details? Why do things look so differently when I take a photograph? Etc.

Can you explain a bit more in-depth how to find the right degree / angle of the pyramid of vision?

On the viewfinder, there seems to be a small black strip close to Jeanette's right index finger - is that sticking out from the pallette behind or is it part of the viewfinder? It also seems to be there in the second picture - or maybe not? If it is, what is it's purpose?
Would you recommend learning to do it without a vewfinder to be more independent or is it an essential tool that you always have with you?
(I don't usually use one but find it hard to imagine exactly where the borders of my image will be when looking at the scene)

loooooove the blog! I'm reading all the older enrtries, about 3-8 a day :) Thank you so much for all the fantastic info!!

James Gurney said...

The thing that looks like a flap is just my easel behind Jeanette. The viewfinder is just a rectangular window cut out of illustration board and painted white on one side and black on another. I don't remember to use it very often, and when I do, it's more to help me decide on a composition than to decide on the angle of view.

The 20-30 degree angle is about what you'd get with a piece of notebook paper held at arm's length. So if you set up your easel with a 9x12 or 8x10 panel at a comfortable painting distance, the ideal pyramid of vision is the section of the real scene that you'd see directly above--and the same relative size as--your panel.

Erik Bongers said...

The Jeanette G. version of Dalleo's is lighter in tone than the more saturated James G. version and that adds a certain freshness to it.

Unknown said...

Awesome watercolor by Jeannette. It looks like a scene from my old home town.

Super Villain said...

very interesting, love the information you provide everyweek, i read your blog like its the morning paper....

but one thing i need to do you shoot arrows out of your eyes like that?...

Bowlin said...

So are you saying the distance the viewfinder is held to your face, and the size of the viewfinder, determines this 20-30 degree angle?

I mean, if you hold the viewfinder closer to your face to get a larger composition, you get a larger degree angle, which wouldn't be ideal, right? And too small of a viewfinder might put the subject too far away?

James Gurney said...

Bowlin: You've got it exactly. Moving the viewfinder in and out from your eye changes the angle of the pyramid of vision. Where Jeanette has it is perfect for a 9x12 painting at arm's length.

Often with city scenes I get interested in details all around me, and I use the viewfinder like a horse uses blinders just to say: "I can't paint it all--I've got to just choose one chunk of all this incredible stuff!"

EL GRANDE said...


Joe y Elio

Daniel Potvin said...

I love Jeannette's watercolour of the motif; I like the way our eye moves between the figures on the sidewalk and the mailbox in front. Very effective.

What type of set-up does she use to paint plein-air with watercolour ?

James Gurney said...

Hi Daniel,Jim and I enjoyed seeing your blog, with wonderful watercolor work.We loved sketching on the street in Old Quebec City, too! In answer to your question, I work standing, with a marine plywood board for my paper, on top of a photo tripod. Jim affixed a camera mount (for the tripod) to the underside of my board. I hang a water container from the tripod, and hold the palette in my left hand. Jim promises to do a blog post with plein air set-ups, sometime soon.

Daniel Potvin said...

Thanks for the info Jeanette; I have a spare piece of plywood somewhere in the studio, I think I might just outfit it with a camera mount ! Looking forward to more details in a plein-air post ;-)

Thanks also for visiting my blog, but most of all, thank you both for your generosity in sharing your work and knowledge with all of us.

Brad Teare said...

George Inness had a view finder with an aperture of about 2 by 3 inches. He would hold this 20 inches from his face. He claimed that to try and paint any more of the landscape than what could be seen through such an aperture would include too much and weaken the painting.

Of course, Inness was a bit of an eccentric but I have tried it (I have a view finder with a string on it so I can maintain an accurate distance) and it works pretty well. Although there are occasions when I want to include more in my landscape. It did give Inness' body of work a signature compositional style.

Incidentally, I love your blog. I visit whenever I have time. Thanks!