Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

February 17, 2017

How to Cheat at Perspective pt1

Filed under: Drawing,How to do,Perspective,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Rob Adams @ 3:43 pm

This post and the forthcoming ones are for anyone who has had perspective explained to them, but found that their brain started to close down causing them to feel an irresistible urge to get as far away from the person explaining as possible and have a quiet coffee and read OK magazine because it is certain there will be no article on perspective in it. Every now and again I am in the position of the abandoned explainee when I have to explain some of the finer points of perspective to a fellow painter. It starts off fine when I say, “Hold up your brush as close as you can and as level as you can, right in front of your eyes.” They do this and I pronounce. “You see where it cuts across your vision, that is always the Horizon line.” Over the years I have mastered the skill of saying horizon with a capital ‘H’.

They mostly just accept this, but some say, “What about if you are up a mountain, won’t it be lower?”

Fixing an irritatingly patronising smirk on my features I reply,”No, if you hold up your brush when you are on the very top of mount Everest it will still mark the horizon.”

“What about in space?” The smart-arses come back.

My smirk slightly morphs into a pout at this point…”When exactly are you going to paint in space…?” I enquire.

“So it doesn’t always work! What is the use of that then?”

So there we are, the rules of perspective are rules that don’t always look right on the page when you follow them. In actuality, as I have written in other posts, the whole business of linear perspective is a crude approximation of what and how we actually see. It is convenient I suppose that one point perspective is fairly easy to explain, with railway tracks meeting at the horizon etc. However once you are in the territory of 2 and 3 point perspective and quite wide angles of view your explanations gain an ever increasing degree of complexity which are going to glaze over most painter’s eyes. Also linear perspective assumes you only have one eye and a flat retina. Also it is taken for granted that neither your head or your peepers can swivel. I don’t know about you, but when I paint something I do a fair amount of swivelling and general rubbernecking!

Many artists avoid the whole thing by never doing town or cityscapes at all, or if they do they look way off into the distance which is where linear flattens out into cardboard cutouts. Most of us who don’t avoid such subjects stick to the safe territory of one point perspective and a tight view. Where it all falls apart though is when we take that slightly wider view.

Time for one of those diagrams, but don’t click away, there will be no equations or hyperbolic geometry.

Perspective drawing

Here we are in a town with mostly one point perspective, there are only a few bits of sticky-out shop and rooflines that don’t recede from us. The rest tapers off to meet at the point on the horizon in the middle of the street. I’ve gone quite wide too and all seems well. I have cheated a bit though. If I had stuck to the constructed rules of perspective the shop on the far right would be sort of stretched out; indeed in a photo that is just what happens. So a skinny man standing in the middle of a photograph will look like a fat man if he goes to the far side of the frame. We are so used to this effect in photos we no longer notice the distortion. Just for fun below is an image where those perspective rules that you have never quite understood start falling apart.

perspective drawing

The wide-angleness of this image is not far off a point and click camera or your phone. As you see we have a straight row of perfectly identical computer generated men. Well call me picky, but to my eye the chap on the far right has had a few more iced buns in the last month than his friend in the middle… but they are identical models just duplicated, the distortion is purely caused by using the rules of linear perspective. To make it worse the chap on the right is about twice as far away from you the as chap in the middle… now I always thought the “rules” said things got smaller as they got further away. The blimps in the sky, by the way,  are all perfect spheres… it is a property of spheres that they always have a circular outline wherever they are in your field of view. These appear to break that rule with enthusiasm. To recap, if you got a set of bald grey elevenplets (rarer that triplets I hear) and stood them in a line in front of your point and snap this is how they would look in your photo.

perspective drawing

Here we are back in our city. We have stepped back a bit and widened the view. This is version one. At first glance this looks sort of OK. However the building on the far left has a corner that should be closer to you than the point at which it leaves the picture on the left of the frame. Yet following the rules of linear perspective it causes that face of the building to get taller as it gets more distant. The very opposite of what our eyes see in reality. Below is my guestimate fix.

perspective drawing

Take a moment to compare versions one and two. I have made two simple adjustments one quite obvious, one less so. Firstly can you see that this looks more likely than the first version? If not can I suggest a quick coffee and a copy of OK? Ahem… the big change is on the left. The vanishing point has flipped from right to left so the building goes away from you as it should, you might also notice that the chimney stacks and the zebra crossing make more sense and the corner feels properly square. The other change is to the shop corner to the right of the picture. I have slightly curved and flattened the angle of the perspective as the lines reach the square corner. This helps the building on the left fit in better, though beware if you over do it things start to look bendy!

Linear perspective is fine as a starting point, but you do have to make subtle corrections to make up for its considerable deficiencies. Essentially you need to make some straight lines a bit bendy in order to get things to make better sense. My own take is to not over do it and get into fisheye territory, but to do the least possible to reduce any inconsistencies. I do get asked, “How can straight lines be bendy?” they will often hold their ruler against the offending roofline and go, “See it’s straight.” Instead of telling them the unwelcome fact that they are seeing their ruler bendy too, I usually suggest a coffee…

I am doing these little tutorials in small bites to make them a bit more digestible. If people have perspective questions post them below and I will try and cover them in future posts.

June 25, 2016

Creators and Creations and Hugh Ferriss

Filed under: Art History,Drawing,Perspective,Uncategorized — Tags: , — Rob Adams @ 2:17 pm

By now you all know that I am interested in how art gets to be Art and whether there is anything other than the ordinary human specialness that an artist has. This in turn brings me in opposition to the apparent establishment view that art is imbued by some sort of invisible talismanic property with the artists channeling it.

Part of the confusion is to my mind due to our woeful sense of causality. We happily believe that our homeopathic remedy made us better. Well we took the pill and we got better, what could be simpler? Well of course people who are poorly are a group that has an overall tendency to recover whether they take pills and potions or not. What the potion has done however is modify how we perceive being ill, it has reassured. It has also changed how we remember being ill after the event.

It is similar with creation. Our universe exists therefore it must have a creator. If it has a creator then that creator must be God. Well let me take you to the planet Bolg, where an eminent Bolg scientist has discovered how to collapse matter. You can give it as many limbs, tentacles and eyes as you wish. Bolg is rather careless and accidentally gives its equipment a much larger pulse of energy than was intended. A bubble of space time is created that expands exponentially extinguishing Bolg and its universe in an instant. As this experimental error develops matter coalesces, stars and planets form and on a certain blue world an ape looks up and wonders why.

Now our creator here just certainly not one we would pray to and indeed has predeceased its creation. It would do us little good if we could study the character and emotions of our creator in this case. Just as religion argues for the primacy of a Creator over the creation, current art thinking argues for the primacy of the artist over the art. That something ineffable flows from the artist into their creation changing its nature. More specifically the intent to create something is the real “Art”and the true moment of creation. If that is the case then merely declaring that the intent is there is sufficient the actual act need not be carried out.

I cannot help think this is a regression back to medieval thought, full of portents and hidden meanings rather than a continuation of the march of reason.

I am oddly reminded of how sympathetic magic works. You curse someone and tell them that you are sticking pins into a wax effigy with a few purloined  toenails embedded. The important act here is not the cursing, the snitched toenails or the wax, but the informing of the victim of these acts of malign intent. If you didn’t tell the victim, superstitious or not, nothing would occur. There would be no benefit from a homeopathic pill given secretly. In the same way much art requires for us to be told it is to be considered in that category of objects. We therefore display the object in some context that indicates how we are meant to appreciate it.

So the art here is in the act of informing a viewer of the status of the object. The object itself is largely irrelevant. Artists have always understood this and put fancy gold frames around paintings to separate them from the mundane objects around them. The word for this is of course context. Mr Andre’s bricks would be less worthy of note in a builders yard. I don’t by the way dislike the bricks as they point out rather elegantly the problems of giving primacy to the artist’s deciding act.

So back to causality. That the artist caused the art is not in question. Whether others are caused to appreciate it as such is dependent on information and context. I am, I have to say, only mildly interested in such art, I am more interested in its history and the nature of it coming to be perceived as art than any aesthetic factor. For me art is something that can be appreciated as such without appropriate contextual hints. It all comes back to the skip test. If you put your masterpiece of cutting edge art  in the skip without a frame to plinth would someone rescue it just because it was made by a skilled hand and brought visual pleasure?

Now for some art, not mine this time, but someone who was very influential on me and many others. Hugh Ferriss was an architectural draughtsman working in the 1920’s who’s moody renderings of future cities were both influential upon real buildings and many a dystopian setting for sci-fi films.

 

Hugh Ferriss

There are Futurist influences here and Ferriss worked with architect with connections to the Bauhaus. I always think that despite the moodiness and hints of later Nazi architecture Ferriss’ drawings are optimistic in that “science will conquer all” manner.

 

Hugh Ferriss

If you put modern cars in this no one would feel it was a dated image. It is dated 1930 just as the foundations of the Empire State building were being laid.

 

Hugh Ferriss

He was a master of cheating the perspective to get both ground level and the giddy heights to read convincingly. The dramatic imagined shadows from up-lighting and the base of the building dissolving in the light are wonderful.

 

Hugh Ferriss

Here again the streets glow, but oddly there are no individual lights and the monolithic buildings have no lit windows.

 

Hugh Ferriss

One of his more futuristic imaginings. Odd that the international modernist style lost such ambition and failed to produce any unified vision. This is why our cities are collections of disparate objects that have little connection one to another.

 

Hugh Ferriss

A more restrained drawing of the Hoover dam, I love they lonely figure.

 

Hugh Ferriss

I found this which I hadn’t seen before. It shows how he laid out and resolved his compositions. He is using curved perspective on the crosswise horizontals and linear for the diminishing edges. Also no perspective at all on the verticals.

 

Hugh Ferriss

There was concern at that time in New York as to how tall buildings would reduce the daylight in the streets below so a formula was devised to make the buildings step back as they rose higher. Hugh Ferriss was asked to do drawings to illustrate their effect on the building masses. These were later published with other work in The Metropolis of Tomorrow

I am off to France for what I hope will be an orgy of painting and drawing so next post will show if I was firing on all or any cylinders after my long break!

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