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.

October 26, 2015

Pen and Ink, tools of the trade.

Filed under: Drawing,How to do,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Rob Adams @ 3:01 pm

I have been experimenting with pen and ink for years. I started with Rotring technical pens doing fine stipple and line drawings. They came in sets from 0.1 mm to 1mm and I had the whole set. The only problems being that if you wanted to change line thickness you had to change pens and the mark was unvarying. Also they were a devil to maintain, constantly blocking or getting their delicate innards damaged. The very opposite of expressive!

Then one day I passed by Philip Poole’s pen shop in Drury lane and he sold me a mixed box of Victorian drawing nibs made by Gillott and a couple of dip pen pen holders. The difference was wonderful. A Gillott 404 can go from 0.1mm to 1.2mm all in the same pen! Suddenly all sorts of new effects and textures were available. The nibs are wonderfully responsive. The disadvantages being they wore out quite quickly and required very careful handling if you didn’t want to drop a blot on to your paper. There is also the constant dipping that interrupts the flow. Also the paper had to be very smooth, ideally Bristol board.

Then for many years I did no pen work at all as I moved from illustrating books to designing and building things. Then a few years ago I started doing sketches out doors using fibre pens which was very convenient. I soon got dissatisfied though. The fibre pens had the same problems as the Rotrings, no feel at all. It is possible to get a grey line by moving the pen quickly so it skips but they have a very dead quality to the line. I had some old Rotring “art” pens which used cartridges but had possibly the nastiest nibs ever made by man!

No problem, I thought in my innocence, I’ll just go back to the dip pens. The experience was not great. The sharp nibs didn’t like the slightly rough high sized paper from Ruscombe Mill and handling ink bottle etc too made the whole process too cumbersome. The rough paper catching the nib and even wind was enough to dump the whole contents of the reservoir on your masterpiece at any moment.

Looking on the web I found that old fountain pens had flexible nibs. Skipping to ebay I immediately bought a 100 year old Waterman 50 which when it arrived had the most wonderful nib. Alas a little more research showed that if I used my nice paper the high size would soon wear away the tip and then the gold in short order. Great on Bristol board but not on my paper of choice. Mind you it is still far and away the best pen nib I have found for responsive feel and variety of line.

Back on line I found a range of fountain pens with the unlikely name of Noodlers. They has a pen called the Nib Creaper that looked just the ticket. It had a steel flexible nib, so tough and no rust. It was also very reasonable so I bought a few to play with. The first impressions were pretty good. The variety of line was there you just had to use a little more pressure than a Gillott. As the nibs are tipped they also could negotiated the rougher paper with no issues. The only difficulty for me was it was too small for my hands. Still I did lots of drawings with them.

Looking again I found Noodlers made some larger pens called Ahabs so I got a couple to try. The pens were very nice when they came but the feeds could not keep up with fast drawing. Here is where the Noodlers pens come into their own, Nathan Tardif who is Noodlers Ink made the pens to be easy to modify. This means they come apart very easily. Also bless him he sells spare parts, nibs etc. It only took a few moments to cut away a couple of ribs on the feed and hey presto my Ahab was delivering ink like a champ.

I still missed the wonderful delicate lines a Gillott 303 could deliver. I actually put a 303 in the Nib Creaper but I knew it would rust even though it worked wonderfully. So I got a Nib Creaper nib and sharpened it up. I just used a diamond stone so very fast and care needed not to over do. I did it withe the pen inked so I could check progress as I went along. I finished and smoothed on an Arkansas stone which is very quick and easy as you just write and scribble on the stone until it feels silky smooth. The result is great with a very fine line but still plenty of flexibility.

My final act was to buy the rather more pricy Neponset which has a three tined “music” nib. It is quite expensive but alas I found too hard and not good to draw with. No matter very nice to write with. The Neponset does have a very large body though which I like as I don’t hold a pen where you would to write when I draw. I hold it halfway up or even at the far end from the nib. I immediately spotted the Ahab nib would fit so a few minutes fiddling and I had done a transplant! I’ll put a few samples below.


fountain pens, noodlers, ahab, neponsit

Here are our dramatis personae, now below what they can do on paper.


pen and ink

One I did not mention is the brush pen which is a Frankenstein creation using a Pentel brush pen with a Pentel waterbrush reservoir grafted on. Once filled with the same ink as the pens it makes solid darks and expressive foreground strokes a breeze. The ink is Noodlers as well Nathan makes a wonderful array of colours but only some are suitable for drawing. For drawing I like an ink to be light fast and also fairly waterproof. Just to be awkward I don’t want it totally waterproof a want a bit of colour to wash out. Noodlers make inks they call bulletproof which pretty much fill all those requirements. Below a set of links to suppliers etc.

Noodlers Ink Nathan Tardif’s site: Lots of interesting info for modifiers!

Pure Pens Noodlers pens and ink supplier in the UK.

Gillott Nibs alas they don’t make dip pen holders with brass tongues that act as reservoirs any more but it is easy enough to make one out of copper or brass sheet.

Ruscombe Mill Lovely paper, the link will take you to the calligraphy papers which I use, but other papers they make might well be good for pen.

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