Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Eye Level, Part 1

The eye level is the height of the viewer’s eye above the ground, usually represented by a horizontal line running across the picture, even if the horizon itself is not visible in the scene.

The drawing to the above is a compositional sketch for a scene in Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara. I drew grid lines on it so that it could be enlarged to the 24x30 inch final painting.

“Eye level” is basically synonymous with “horizon.” They’re one and the same thing in the preliminary line drawing above, where the ocean is in view. But in most scenes, you don’t have such a far vista. Either you’re in a forest, or inside a room, or the view is hemmed in with buildings. But you still have to draw the imaginary line in the same place it would have been if you could see all the way to infinity.

The eye level is the very first line you put into your drawing—even a figure drawing at a sketch group. I mark it with the letters “EL” to remind me what it is. If your scene is more of an upshot, the EL is toward the bottom of the scene. Everything that you draw above the line is something you’re looking up at. In a view that’s more of a downshot, the EL is high in the composition because almost everything in the scene is below your level gaze.


Paolo Rivera said...

If I had students (which I don't) this would be the first thing I taught them. It's such an important concept for making believable compositions.

On a side note, I've always been bothered by ads, post-Photoshop, that are stitched together from photos with different eye-levels. It seems glaring to me, but I guess it's good enough to do the job.

Andrew said...

This is one of those things that you would think get top priority in teaching, but sometimes gets overlooked or neglected because the teacher assumes the students are familiar with it. I was shocked at how even in my senior year at college, some of my peers still had a weak grasp on perspective and the concept of a horizon line/eye level.

Coincidentally, I was fooling around with this idea the other day in thumbnails, doing a bunch of tiny compositions and making sure the eye level was in a different spot or angle each time. Makes for some interesting practice.

David Still said...

So when you begin a picture, do you consciously decide whether it's going to be upshot or downshot, and draw the EL accordingly? Do you ever have to change the position of your EL when your further along in your process, and find that all the elements of your picture disagrees with it?

If you're doing a life drawing, how do you find the EL, just by holding your pencil horizontally at arm's length?

Unknown said...

Yes, good to know but not always taught. My teacher has not mentioned it one in a my figure drawing classes. I am going to start marking this in first and see how it affects my drawings. Thanks!

James Gurney said...

Paolo, good points, and I love the way you use really accurate and exciting perspective in your painted comics.

David, placing the EL on a figure drawing is a little less intuitive than a landscape. One way to establish the EL is to roughly place the overall figure shape first——top of head, bottom of feet, etc——and then sight down a horizontal pencil or mahl stick at the level of your eye, and it will point to the place on the figure where the EL intersects it. Draw the line at that point, and everything above that line is seen as an upshot.

Good points, thanks, Drew and Jeremy.