Sep 8, 2008

Keeping It In Perspective

This post is going to teach you the basics of drawing perspective. Perspective is a technique that makes your buildings and drawings look real, since they converge on an invisible vanishing point, the way things do in real life. If the perspective of a drawing is incorrect, it is noticeable right away, and robs your drawing of its credibility. You don't want that.

The Vanishing Point

Everything you see has a vanishing point, a point where everything comes together. At the vanishing point is the horizon line, the horizon of the earth from your point of view. This is the way things look to your eyes, from where you're standing. Normally you can't see this point, because there is too much stuff in the way: buildings, trees, cars, etc. But if you stand on a set of railroad tracks, you can see the vanishing point perfectly.

The tracks just seem to "merge" together. The tracks don't really meet, of course; it just looks that way, from your perspective.

The horizon line and the vanishing point are the first things you need to establish when setting up your drawing. Everything will converge on the vanishing point, because if it doesn't, it just won't look right. You can see examples of vanishing points and perspective everywhere you look, as in the following examples.

On these street photos you can see perspective in real life, along with the vanishing point. In the picture on the right, you can't see the vanishing point, because it's hidden by the building at the end of the street.

Wrong Perspective

When the perspective is wrong on a drawing, you immeadiately notice it. You may not know exactly why the picture looks wrong, but your brain isn't fooled. It can tell. Look at the comic book panel below, and see if you can figure out why the drawing looks wrong. Scroll down for the answer.

Need a clue? Check out this close-up...

Now look at these perspective guidelines. See the mistakes in perspective?This drawing is a mess. The castle doesn't line up with the vanishing point at all, giving it an odd, weirdly-angled look. All the angles on the front side of the castle should meet at the same vanishing point, or else it will look wrong, like this one.

How To Draw Proper Perspective

Now that you know what proper perspective is supposed to look like, let's create a perspective drawing, step-by step. Don't worry; it's not as hard as it looks. Ready? Here we go!

STEP ONE: Horizon and Vanishing Point

draw the horizon line with a ruler on your paper. Do not press down hard, because you will need to erase a lot of this line later. Your pencil should be barely touching the paper. This is your horizon line, as if you were standing on a flat, featureless desert plain. Somewhere on that line, pick a spot; that will be your vanishing point (or VP, from now on).

STEP TWO: Create Your Guidelines

Line your ruler up with the VP, choose an angle, and draw some guidelines, LIGHTLY. It will look like a road on the desert. These guidelines will help keep everything correct as you construct your drawing. Everything must converge on the VP or your drawing will not look right.

Draw another set of guidelines, going up from the VP. Again, line your ruler up with the VP, choose your angle, and draw some light lines. This will be the tops of your buildings. You can obviously draw several guidelines for buildings of different heights, but for now, let's keep it simple. Notice you can still see the horizon line. You won't be able to in a few steps, as you'll see.

Onto the next step!!

Draw the Edges Of Your Buildings

Now it's time to draw the near and far edges of your buildings. Where you put them is up to you, but they will always be perpendicular, or at a right angle, to the HL (horizon line). If your building edges are at an angle, your building will look odd, as if it was built with a slanted face. Some buildings are, obviously, but for the sake of this exercise, let's keep it simple, shall we?

Erase the HL behind your new building face. We don't need to see it anymore, because it's hidden now. This is why I urged you to keep your lines very light.

Now let's draw the sides of the buildings that face us, from our point of view, from where were are standing. There is no perspective here, because we're looking head-on at the sides of these buildings. They do not recede toward the vanishing point. So, these lines should be parallel to the HL, perfectly horizontal. They should not be angled at all, otherwise they will look strange. I have colored the face of the building just for the sake of clarity; you may want to lightly shade your buildings, just to keep them straight in your mind while you're working.

Now, let's take it up a notch, and draw some more buildings, whaddya say? You've come this far, right?

Draw some more guidelines, again, lightly. Line your ruler up with the VP, choose another angle, and draw a line. Do the same thing for the other side of the street. Erase the excess lines you don't need to see (like the ones leading to the VP; you don't need those anymore).

Then draw the straight up-and-down edges of the buildings, then, lastly, the roofs, which will be horizontal. See? You're starting to get the hang of it now. Wasn't as bad as you thought it would be, huh?

The only problem is our buildings have no windows or doors. They look like huge cement blocks. Well, let's make fixing that our next step!

STEP FOUR: Drawing Windows and Doors

Yes, more guidelines. Hey, you need 'em when your doing perspective drawings. OK, ruler on the VP, and draw some narrow guidelines this time. You may want to lightly shade between your guidelines, just to make it easier for yourself. You can draw as many rows of windows as you want. Do the same thing for the other side of the street.

The edges of your windows should be straight up-and-down. This is important. Check to make sure the lines are straight by comparing your ruler to the edge of your paper. If the ruler is not at the same angle as the edge of your paper, it won't look right. Make sure your windows get thinner the farther away they are, the way the do in real life.

Use the same technique for the doors as well.

And that is perspective in a nutshell! Make sure your lines join at the VP, and you'll be fine. Hope you enjoyed this lesson. As you practice with perspective, you'll see how changing the angles of your guidelines give you very different results. Most important of all, your drawings will look accurate.