Sighting can be used to determine the relationship of lengths and widths of forms. When drawing a table viewed from an oblique angle, for example, an artist first determines angles ofthe edges relative to horizontal and vertical by sighting, as in Figure 8-4.
’Point of view is worth eighty points of IQ.”
— Alan Kay, computer scientist and Disney Fellow
Graham Collier, professor of art, states that in the early days of the inception and development of Renaissance perspective it was used creatively and imaginatively to impart what must have been a thrilling sense of space to art. “Effective as perspective is, however, it becomes a deadening influence on an artist’s natural way of seeing things once it is accepted as a system—as a mechanical formula.”
— Graham Collier
Form, Space, and Vision, 1963
Note that vertical lines remain vertical; horizontal edges converge at a vanishing point (or points) on the horizon line (which is always at the artist’s eye level). That’s one-point perspective in a nutshell. Two-point and three-point perspective are complex systems, involving multiple vanishing points that often extend far beyond the edges of the drawing paper and requiring a large drawing table, T-squares, straight-edges, etc., to draw. Informal sighting is much easier and is sufficiently accurate for most drawing.
- Relationships in a New Mode, Putting Sighting in Perspective
- On dealing with the two-part skill of sighting angles and proportions
- Perspective and proportion
- Defining perspective
- Formal perspective versus “informal” perspective
- A brief practice in sighting before you do a “real” perspective drawing
- A “real” perspective drawing
- The Use of Sighting in Figure Drawing
- Looking ahead
Relationships in a New Mode, Putting Sighting in Perspective
Source: The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards
In this chapter, you will learn the third basic skill of drawing, how to see and draw relationships. You will learn how to draw “in perspective” and “in proportion.” Another term for acquiring this skill is “learning how to sight.”
Learning this skill is perhaps comparable to learning the rules of grammar in reading and writing. Just as good grammar causes words and phrases to hang together logically and to communicate ideas clearly, skillful sighting of proportions and perspective causes edges, spaces, relationships, lights and shadows to come together with visual logic. Clear perception of relationships enables us to depict on a flat surface the world we see around us. Moreover, just as learning how to use grammar skillfully gives us power with words, learning how to draw in perspective and in proportion will give your drawings power through the illusion of space.
In speaking of grammar, I am referring to the mechanics of language, not the tedious naming of the parts of speech. By mechanics, I mean getting the subject and verb to agree, using the rules of word order and sentence structure, and so on. I couldn’t parse a complicated sentence today if I tried my best (which probably indicates its usefulness or lack thereof), but I’ve learned and practiced the mechanics of language for so long they are on automatic. This is what we are aiming for in this chapter: You will learn to use perspective and proportion in your drawing. You will not learn tedious and cumbersome terminology of vanishing points, converging parallel lines, and perspective of ellipses. You will learn the mechanics of sighting, which is what most artists use.
Some of my students, nevertheless, still complain that learning to sight seems so “left-brained” after the R-mode joy of drawing edges and negative spaces. Indeed, there are lots of little steps and instructions in the beginning. But almost every skill requires a component similar to sighting in drawing. For example, learning to drive a car requires that at some point you learn the rules of the road. Tedious? Yes, but without them, you are very likely to be arrested or to have an accident. Significantly, once these rules are learned and “on automatic,” you drive a car by the rules without even thinking of them.
It is the same with drawing. Once you have worked your way through the next exercise, you will have learned the “rules of the road” of drawing. With a bit of practice, sighting goes on automatic and you will hardly be aware of taking sights and comparing proportions. Best of all, you will have achieved the power to depict three-dimensional space in your drawings.
Students of drawing who learn everything except how to sight relationships greatly handicap their drawing and find themselves constantly making baffling mistakes in proportion and perspective. This problem plagues students new to drawing and, I might add, some rather advanced students as well.
Why does this skill seem so difficult? First, it is a two-part skill. The first part is sighting angles relative to vertical and horizontal, and the second part is sighting proportions relative to each other. In addition, the skill requires that one deal with ratios and comparisons that seem quite “left-brained.” And, finally, it requires that one confronts and deals with paradoxes. For example, we can know that a ceiling is flat and the corner is a right angle. But on the picture plane, the edges of the ceiling are not horizontal and the corner angles are not right angles at all. They are oblique angles. As you can imagine, we’ll have to carefully outmaneuver your L-mode, which will soon be saying, “This doesn’t make sense!” Or, “This is too complicated! I’ll never get it!” Or, “This stuff is stupid!”
On my word, learning how to sight relationships is not boring; it is powerful—it unlocks space. I agree, the skill is complicated, but you’ve learned other complicated things before this—how to read and write, for example. And sighting is definitely not stupid; it is intellectually fascinating—witness the many great thinkers of the Renaissance who grappled with the problem of how to depict space on a flat surface.
Once L-mode complaints are set aside, I believe you will actually enjoy learning this skill. I’m sure you can see the connection between learning to see and draw what is right there in front of your eyes and learning to be a more “clear-sighted” person, able to deal with contradictory information and the many paradoxes of our world. Be prepared for all of the objections. Your L-mode will have a field day, but stay with me! I’ll try to be as clear as possible.
The next perception required is how wide the table is (from this viewpoint) in relation to its length. This apparent width relative to length will vary from viewpoint to viewpoint, depending on where the viewer’s eye level happens to be.
1. Holding the pencil on a plane parallel to your eyes and at arm’s length, with the elbow locked to keep the scale constant, measure the width of the table. Place the eraser of the pencil so it coincides with one corner of the table and place your thumb at the other corner. This is your Basic Unit (Figure 8-5).
2. Still keeping your elbow locked and with the pencil still parallel to your eyes, carry that measurement to the long side of the table (Figure 8-5). How long is the table, relative to its width? In this instance, the ratio is one to one and a half (1:1 1/2) (Figure 8-6).
3. Next, you will take a sight on the table legs by holding your pencil vertically, taking note of the angle of one leg relative to vertical. Are the table legs perfectly vertical or are they at an angle? Draw the leg closest to you. You can take a sight on the length of the leg relative (again) to the width, your Basic Unit (Figure 8-7).
On dealing with the two-part skill of sighting angles and proportions
The term sighting really means seeing, but seeing in the artist’s special way—seeing relationships on the picture plane (See Figures 8-1 and 8-2). All of sighting is comparison: What is this angle compared to vertical? How big is the apple compared to the melon? How wide is the table compared to its length? All comparisons are made relative to constants: Angles are compared to the constants vertical and horizontal. Sizes (proportions) are also compared to a constant—our Basic Unit.
On dealing with ratios: The root of the word “relationship” is ratio. In mathematics, ratios are expressed as numbers—1:2 means one of this to two of that. Ratios seem like a left-brained concept because they are strongly connected in our minds with mathematics. But we use ratios in many ordinary activities. In cooking, for example, candy is one part liquid to two parts sugar—that is, 1:2. In map reading, city X is three times as far as city Y—the ratio is 3:1. In drawing, ratios become handy tags to assess proportional relationships among the parts of a composition. The artist chooses something to be “One,” our Basic Unit, and that unit is rationalized or proportionalized with all other parts.
To illustrate, the width of a window can be called “One,” the Basic Unit. In comparison, let’s say that the window is twice as long as it is wide. The ratio is 1:2. The artist draws the width, calls it “One,” measures it as “One” and then measures off two Basic Units, counting “One to one, two.” The ratio is 1:2. It’s an easy way to tag and remember a proportion long enough to transfer it into your drawing.
On dealing with paradox: Seen flattened on the plane, a table may appear (by taking a sight) to be narrower than you know it to be (see Figure 8-3). The sighted ratio might be 1:8, for example. You must learn to “swallow” this visual paradox and draw what you have seen on the plane. Only then will the table in your drawing appear, paradoxically, to be the size and shape you know it to be. Moreover, the angles of the tabletop may appear to be different from what you know to be right angles. You must “swallow” this paradox as well.
Perspective and proportion
Learning to draw in perspective requires that we see things as they are out there in the external world. We must put aside our prejudgments, our stored and memorized stereotypes and habits of thinking. We must overcome false interpretations, which are often based on what we think must be out there even though we may never have taken a really clear look at what is right in front of our eyes.
I’m sure you can see the connection to problem solving. One of the first steps in solving problems is to scan the relevant factors and to put things “into perspective” and “into proportion.” This process requires the capacity to see the various parts of a problem in their true relationship.
The term “perspective” comes from the Latin word “prospectus,” meaning “to look forward.” Linear perspective, the system most familiar to us, was perfected during the Renaissance by European artists. Linear perspective enabled artists to reproduce visual changes of lines and forms as they appear in three-dimensional space.
Various cultures have developed different conventions or perspective systems. Egyptian and Oriental artists, for example, developed a kind of stair-step or tiered perspective, in which placement from bottom to top of the format indicated position in space. In this system, which is often used intuitively by children, the forms at the very top of the page—regardless of size—are considered to be the farthest away. More recently, artists have rebelled against rigid conventions of perspective and have invented new systems employing abstract spatial qualities of colors, textures, lines, and shapes.
Traditional Renaissance perspective conforms most closely to the way people in our Western culture perceive objects in space. In our perceptions, parallel lines appear to converge at vanishing points on a horizon line (the viewer’s eye level) and forms appear to become smaller as distance from the viewer increases. For this reason, realistic drawing depends heavily on these principles. The Durer etching (Figure 8-8) illustrates this perceptual system.
The great sixteenth-century Renaissance artist, Albrecht Durer, invented a device to help him draw in proportion and in perspective. Your plastic Picture Plane is a simplified version of Durer’s device. Let’s look at the artist’s depiction of his device in Figure
8-8. Durer’s draughtsman, holding his head in a stationary position (note the vertical marker for his viewpoint), looks through an upright wire grid. The artist peers at his model from a viewpoint that foreshortens his visual image of the model—that is, a viewpoint in which the main axis of the woman’s figure from head to foot coincides with the artist’s line of sight. This view causes the more distant parts of the figure (the head and shoulders) to appear to be smaller than they actually are, and the nearby parts (the knees and lower legs) to appear to be larger.
In front of Durer’s draughtsman on his drawing table is a paper the same size as the wire grid, marked off with an identical grid of lines. The artist draws on the paper what he perceives through the grid, matching in his drawing the exact angles and curves and lengths of lines compared to the verticals and horizontals of the grid. In effect, he is copying what he sees flattened on the picture plane. If he copies just what he sees, he will produce on the paper a foreshortened view of the model. The proportions, shapes, and sizes will be contrary to what the artist knows about the actual proportions, shapes, and sizes of the human body; but only if he draws the untrue proportions he perceives will the drawing look true to life.
What did Durer see through his grid? (See Figure 8-9.) Durer sights point one, the top of the left knee, and marks that point on his gridded paper. Next, he sights point two, the top of the left hand, and then point three, the top of the left knee. Beyond these points he sights the torso and the head. He connects all the points and ends with a foreshortened drawing of the entire figure.
The problem with foreshortening in drawing is that what we know about the subject of a drawing somehow intrudes into the drawing, and we draw what we know rather than what we see. The purpose of Durer’s device, using the grid and the fixed viewpoint, was to force himself to draw the form exactly as he saw it, with all of its “wrong” proportions. Then, paradoxically, the drawing “looked right.” A viewer of the drawing, then, might wonder how the draughtsman was able to make the drawing look “so real.”
The achievement, therefore, of Renaissance perspective was to codify and systematize a method of bypassing artists’ knowledge about shapes and forms. The science of “formal” perspective provided a means by which they could draw forms just as they appeared to the eye—including distortions created optically by a form’s position in space relative to the viewer’s eye.
The system worked beautifully and solved the problem of how to create an illusion of deep space on a flat surface, of re-creating the visible world. Durer’s simple device evolved into a complicated mathematical system, enabling artists from the Renaissance onward to overcome their mental resistance to optical distortions of the true shapes of things and to draw realistically.
Formal perspective versus “informal” perspective
But the system of formal perspective is not without problems. Followed to the letter, strictly applied perspective rules can result in rather dry and rigid drawings. Perhaps the most serious problem with the formal perspective system is that it is so “leftbrained.” It employs the style of left-hemisphere processing: analysis, sequential logical cogitation, and mental calculations within a pre-prescribed system. There are vanishing points, horizon lines, perspective of circles and ellipses, and so on. The system is detailed and cumbersome, the antithesis of R-mode style with its antic/serious, pleasurable quality. For example, in anything but the simplest one-point perspective setup (Figure 8-10), vanishing points may be several feet beyond the edge of the drawing paper, requiring pins and strings to mark them.
Fortunately, once you understand “informal” perspective (sighting), you don’t really need to know formal perspective at all. That’s not to say the study of perspective is not useful and interesting. In my view, knowledge never hurts! But sighting is sufficient for basic drawing skills.
A brief practice in sighting before you do a “real” perspective drawing
What you’ll need
• Your drawing board
• Several sheets of scratch paper
• Your drawing pencils, sharpened, and your eraser
• Your plastic Picture Plane and your felt-tip marker
• Your larger Viewfinder
What you’ll do
First, you will practice sighting proportions and angles, using your pencil as a sighting device. Once you’ve practiced a bit, then you’ll do your “real” sighting drawing. Begin by seating yourself in front of a doorway, at about ten feet away.
Hold up your Viewfinder/Picture Plane and compose your drawing so that you can see the whole doorway. Hold the Picture Plane very still and use your felt-tip marker to draw the top of the doorway on the plastic plane. See Figure 8-11. (The line will be somewhat shaky.) This is your Basic Unit. Transfer this unit to a piece of paper, estimating the size and position so that it is the same as on your Picture Plane. Set the Picture Plane aside. See Figure 8-12.
Now, pick up your pencil. Hold it at arm’s length toward the top of the doorway with the flat (eraser) end out and with your elbow locked. Close one eye and move the pencil so that the end coincides with one side of the top of the doorway. (Choose either the outside of the molding or the inside edge.) Then, with one eye still closed, move your thumb along the pencil until your thumbnail coincides with the other side of the doorway. Hold that measure. You have “taken a sight” on the width of the doorway.
A test: What happens if you open both eyes or if you relax your elbow?
Keep your thumb at the same position and try bending your elbow just slightly, just barely pulling the pencil toward you.
What happens? The “measurement” has changed, hasn’t it? Therefore, the reason you must lock your elbow when sighting proportions is to maintain the same scale. When your elbow is locked, you are always taking sights using the same position.
Then, relock your elbow, and resight the width of the doorway on your pencil (Figure 8-13). We’ll call this your Basic Unit, or your “One.” Now, keeping your thumb in the same position, turn your pencil vertically and find the relationship (the ratio or proportion) of width to length.
Still holding the pencil at arm’s length, and still with one eye closed and your elbow locked, measure from the top corner: “One (width), to one (height)” (Figure 8-14), then drop down, measure “One to two” (Figure 8-15), drop it again and measure the remainder, “One to two and two-thirds” (Figure 8-16). You have now “taken a sight” on the proportion of the width relative to the height of the doorway. This proportion is expressed as a ratio: 1:22/3, or, in words, “One to two and two-thirds.”
Now, turn back to your sketch
By sighting the doorway, you determined that the width-to-height proportion of the doorway was 1:2 2/3. That is the proportion of the doorway “out there” in the real world. Your job is to transfer that proportion from “out there” into your drawing.
Obviously, the door in your drawing will be smaller—much smaller—than the real doorway. But it must be proportionally the same, width to length.
Now, therefore, use your pencil and thumb to take a new measure: the width you have drawn on your paper (Figure 8-17). Then turn the pencil to vertical on your paper and measure off “One to one, two, and two-thirds” (Figures 8-18, 8-19, and 8-20). Make a mark and draw in the two sides of the doorway. The doorway you have just drawn has the same proportion—width to height—as the real doorway you were looking at.
To set this idea, draw a new “One,” smaller than the first one. Now, measure that width with your pencil and again mark off the proportional height. This doorway will be smaller, but it will be proportionally the same as your first drawing and the real doorway.
Summing up: In sighting proportions, you find out what the proportions are “out there” in the real world and then, holding the proportion in your mind as a ratio (your Basic Unit or “One”—in relation to something else), remeasure in the drawing to transfer the proportion to the drawing. Obviously, in drawings, sizes are almost always on a different scale (smaller or larger) than what we see “out there,” but the proportions are the same. As a clever student of mine put it: “You use your pencil to find the ratio ‘out there.’ You remember it, wipe the measure off the pencil, and remeasure with your pencil in the drawing.”
Verticals in human-built structures remain vertical. Horizontals—that is, edges parallel to the face of the earth—appear to change and converge and must be sighted. But you can pretty much count on verticals remaining vertical. In your drawing, they will be parallel to the edges of your paper. There are exceptions, of course. If you stand at street level, looking up, to draw a tall building, those vertical edges will converge and must be sighted. This situation, however, is fairly rare in drawing.
I realize that sighting sounds very “left-brained” at this point. But remember we are searching out relationships. The right hemisphere is specialized for the perception of relationships—how things compare. As I said before, the “counting up” of sighting is just a simple way of “tagging” our perceptions. The Basic Unit is always “One,” because it is the first part of a comparison. After you practice sighting a bit, you are hardly aware of the process and it is very rapid. Also, with practice in drawing, you will be doing a lot of “eyeballing,” meaning estimating rather than needing to sight everything. But for any difficult perception, as in foreshortening, an experienced artist gladly uses sighting. Like negative space, sighting helps to make drawing easy.
The next step: Sighting angles
Remember, sighting is a two-part skill. You have just learned the first part: sighting proportions. Your pencil, used as a sighting device, enables you to see “How big is this compared to that?” “How wide is that compared to my Basic Unit?” And so on. Proportions are sighted relative to each other and to your Basic Unit.
Sighting angles is different. Angles are sighted relative to vertical and horizontal. Remember, both angles and proportions must be sighted on the plane.
Take up your Viewfinder/Picture Plane and your felt-tip marker again and seat yourself in front of another corner of a room. Hold up the Picture Plane and look at the angle formed where the ceiling meets the two walls. Be sure to keep the Picture Plane vertical in front of your face, on the same plane as the plane of your two eyes. Don’t tilt the plane in any direction.
Again, compose your view, and use your marker on the Picture Plane to draw the corner (a vertical line). Then, on the plane, draw the edges where the ceiling meets the two walls, and, if possible, the edges where the floor meets the walls.
Then, put your Picture Plane down on a piece of paper so you can see the drawing and transfer those lines to a piece of drawing paper.
You have just drawn a corner in perspective. Now, let’s do that without the aid of the Picture Plane.
Move to a different corner or a different position. Tape a piece of paper to your drawing board. Now, take a sight on the vertical corner. Close one eye and hold your pencil perfectly vertically at the corner. Having checked, you can now draw a vertical line for the corner.
Next, hold up your pencil perfectly horizontally, staying on the plane, to see what the angles of the ceiling are relative to horizontal (Figure 8-21). You will see them as angles between the pencil and the edges of the ceiling. Remember these angles as shapes. Then, again estimating, draw the angles into your drawing. Use the same procedure for the floor angles (Figure 8-22).
These fundamental sighting movements or measuring gestures in drawing are not difficult to master, once you have a real understanding of the purpose of the movements.
• The purpose of closing one eye, as I explained earlier, is to see a 2-D image only, not a 3-D binocular image.
• The purpose of locking the elbow is to ensure using a single scale in sighting proportions. Relaxing the elbow even slightly can cause errors by changing the scale of the sights.
In sighting angles, it is not necessary to take the sights at arm’s length, but you must stay on the plane.
• The purpose of comparing angles to vertical or horizontal is obvious. Angles can vary infinitely around 360 degrees. Only true vertical and true horizontal are constant and reliable. And since the edges of the paper (and the edges of the format you have drawn) also represent vertical and horizontal, any angle can be assessed on the plane and transferred into the drawing in relation to those constants.
Some important points about sighting angles
• All angles are sighted relative to the two constants: vertical and horizontal.
• In your drawing, the edges of your format represent the constants vertical and horizontal. Once you have determined an angle “out there” in the real world, you will draw it into the drawing relative to the edges of your format.
• All angles are sighted on the picture-plane. This is a solid plane. You cannot “poke through” it to align your pencil with an edge as it moves through space. You determine the angle as it appears on the plane (Figure 8-23).
• You can sight angles by holding your pencil either vertically or horizontally and comparing the angle with the edge of the pencil. You can also use the crosshairs on your clear plastic Picture Plane or even the edge of one of the Viewfinders. You just need some edge that you can hold up in a vertical or horizontal position on the plane to compare the angle you intend to draw. The pencil is simply the easiest to use and doesn’t interrupt your drawing.
• Visual information seen on the plane is nearly always different from what you know about things. Say you are facing a corner of a room. You know that the ceiling is flat—that is, horizontal—and that it meets the wall at right angles. But if you hold up your pencil perfectly horizontally, close one eye, and, staying on the plane, line up the corner so that it touches the center of your horizontal pencil, you will find that the edges of the ceiling go off at odd angles. Perhaps one angle is steeper than the other. See Figure 8-22.
• You must draw these angles just as you see them. Only then will the ceiling look flat and the right angles of the walls appear to be correct in your finished drawing. This is one of the great paradoxes of drawing.
• You must put these paradoxical angles into your drawing just as you perceive them. To do this, you remember the shape of one of the triangles made by the edge of the ceiling and your horizontal pencil. Then, imagining a horizontal line in your drawing (parallel to the top and bottom edges of your format), draw the same triangle. Use the same process to draw the other angled edge of the ceiling. See Figure 8-21, page 149, for an illustration of this.
I usually recommend that students not try to designate an angle by degrees: a 45-degree angle; a 30-degree angle; etc. It really is best to simply remember the shape the angle makes when compared to vertical and horizontal and carry that visual shape in your mind to draw it. You may have to double-check angles a few times at first, but my students learn this skill very quickly.
The decision whether to use vertical or horizontal as the constant against which to see a particular angle occasionally puzzles students. I recommend that you choose whichever will produce the smaller angle.
Try to remember that drawing always produces an approximate version of the subject, even for a person highly skilled in drawing. Drawing is not photography. The person who is drawing consciously or subconsciously edits, emphasizes (or minimizes), or otherwise slightly changes various aspects of the subject. Students are often very critical of their work because it is not an exact rendition, but the subconscious choices made during drawing are part of the expressiveness of drawings.
Please note that in public places you will attract an audience of viewers who will very likely want to talk with you—not a good situation for maintaining an R-mode, wordless state of mind. On the other hand, if you would like to make some new friends, drawing in a public spot will work every time. For some reason, people who ordinarily would not approach a stranger do not hesitate to talk with someone who is drawing.
After you have drawn your Basic Unit on the plastic Picture Plane, you may also wish to draw one or two of the more important edges on the plastic Picture Plane, but be aware that the line will be very shaky and uncertain. The essential piece of information is your Basic Unit, and that is really all you need.
Artist/teacher Robert Henri sends a stern warning to his students:
“If in your drawing you habitually disregard proportions you become accustomed to the sight of distortion and lose critical ability. A person living in squalor eventually gets used to it.”
— The Art Spirit, 1923.
A “real” perspective drawing
What you’ll need
• Your drawing board
• Several sheets of drawing paper, in a stack for padding
• Your masking tape
• Your drawing pencils, sharpened, and your eraser
• Your graphite stick and several paper towels or paper napkins
• Your plastic Picture Plane and your felt-tip marker
• Your larger Viewfinder
Before you start
Tape a stack of several sheets of drawing paper to your drawing board. Draw a format on your drawing paper and tone the paper within the format to a medium gray tone. Draw the crosshairs on the toned paper,
1. Choose your subject. Learning how to draw “in proportion” and “in perspective” are the two great challenges—the Waterloo, even—of most drawing students in art schools. You will want to prove to yourself that you can achieve this skill. Therefore, pick your subject with that objective in mind: Choose a view or a site that you think would be really hard to draw—one with lots of angles or a complicated ceiling or a long view down a hall. See the student drawing on page 153. The best way to choose a site is to walk around, using your Viewfinder to find a composition that pleases you—much in the same way as composing with a camera’s viewfinder.
• A kitchen corner
• A hallway
• A view through an open doorway
• A corner of any room in your house
• A porch or balcony
• Any street corner where you can sit in your car or on a bench and draw
• An entrance to any public building, inside or out
Set yourself up to draw at your chosen site. You will need two chairs, one for sitting on and one on which to lean your drawing board. If you are drawing outside, folding chairs are convenient. Make sure that you are directly facing your chosen view.
2. Clip your larger Viewfinder and the plastic Picture Plane together. Draw a format edge on the plastic plane by running the felt-tip marker around the inside edge of the Viewfinder opening. Closing one eye, move the Viewfinder/plastic Picture Plane backward and forward to find the best composi-tion—the one you like best.
3. Having found a composition you like, choose your Basic Unit. Your Basic Unit should be of medium size and of a shape that is not too complicated. It might be a window or a picture on the wall or a doorway. It can be a positive form or a negative space. It can be a single line or a shape. Draw your Basic Unit directly on the plastic with your felt-tip marker.
4. Set aside your Viewfinder/plastic Picture Plane on a piece of white paper so that you can see what you have drawn on it. You will next draw your Basic Unit on your paper. It will be the same shape but larger, just as your toned format is larger than the Viewfinder opening.
5. Transfer your Basic Unit onto the toned paper using your crosshairs as a guide. On both the Picture Plane and on your toned paper, the crosshairs divide the drawing area into four quadrants. Refer to Figures 8-11 and 8-12 on page 146 for how to transfer your Basic Unit from your Picture Plane to your toned paper by using these quadrants.
How to re-find your composition: Sometimes it is useful to go back to the Picture Plane to check on an angle or proportion. To re-find your composition, simply hold up your Viewfinder/plastic Picture Plane, close one eye and move the plane forward or backward until your Basic Unit “out there” lines up with the felt-tip drawing of Basic Unit on the plastic plane. Then check out any angle or proportion that may be puzzling you.
For most people just learning to draw, the hardest part of drawing is believing their own sights of both angles and proportions. Many times I have watched students take a sight, shake their heads, take the sight again, again shake their heads, even say out loud, “It [an angle] can’t be that steep,” or, “It [a proportion] can’t be that small.”
With a little more experience in drawing, students are able to accept the information they obtain by sighting. You just have to swallow it whole, so to speak, and make a decision not to second-guess your sights. I say to my students, “If you see it so, you draw it so. Don’t argue with yourself about it.”
Of course, the sights have to be taken as correctly and carefully as possible. When I demonstrate drawing in a workshop, students see me making a very careful, deliberate movement to extend my arm, lock my elbow, and close one eye in order to carefully check a proportion or an angle on the plane. But these movements become quite automatic very quickly, just as one quickly learns to brake a car to a smooth stop.
To complete your perspective drawing
1. Again, you will fit the pieces of your drawing together like a fascinating puzzle. Work from part to adjacent part, always checking the relationships of each new part to the parts already drawn. Also, remember the concept of edges as shared edges, with the positive forms and negative spaces fitted into the format to create a composition. Remember that all the information you need for this drawing is right there before your eyes. You now know the strategies artists use to “unlock” that visual information and you have the correct devices to help you.
2. Be sure to use negative spaces as an important part of your drawing as in Figure 8-24. You will add strength to your drawing if you use negative space to see and draw small items such as lamps, tables, signs with lettering, and so on. If you do not, and focus only on the positive shapes, they will tend to weaken your drawing. If you are drawing a landscape, trees and foliage in particular are much stronger when their negative spaces are emphasized.
3. Once you have completed the main parts of the drawing, you can focus on the lights and shadows. “Squinting” your eyes a bit will blur the details and allow you to see large shapes of lighted areas and shadowed areas. Again using your new sighting skills, you can erase out the shapes of lights and use your pencil to darken in the shapes of shadows. These shapes are sighted in exactly the same way as you have sighted the other parts of the drawing: “What is the angle of that shadow relative to horizontal? How wide is that streak of light relative to the width of the window?”
4. If any part of the drawing seems “off” or “out of drawing,” as such errors are called, check out the troublesome area with your clear plastic Picture Plane. Look at the image on the plane (with one eye closed, of course) and alternately glance down at your drawing to double-check angles and proportions. Make any corrections that seem reasonably easy to make.
After you have finished
Congratulations! You have just accomplished a task that many university art students would find daunting if not impossible.
Sighting is an aptly named skill. You take a sight and you see things as they really appear on the picture-plane. This skill will enable you to draw anything you can see with your own eyes. You need not search for “easy” subjects. You will be able to draw anything at all.
The skill of sighting takes some practice to master, but very soon you will find yourself “just drawing,” taking sights automatically, at times even without needing to measure proportions or assess angles. I think it’s significant that this is called “eyeballing.” Also, when you come to the difficult foreshortened parts, you will have just the skills needed to make the drawing seem easy.
This drawing by Charles White demonstrates a foreshortened view. Study it. Copy it, turning the drawing upside down if necessary. You might use the length of the man’s left hand from the wrist to the tip of the pointing finger as your Basic Unit. Perhaps you’ll be surprised to find that the ratio of the head to the model’s left hand is 1:1 2/3.
Each time you experience the fact that drawing just what you see works the wonder of creating the illusion of space and volume on the flat surface of the paper, the methods will become more securely integrated as your way of seeing— the artist’s way of seeing. The visible world is replete with foreshortened views of people, streets, trees, and flowers. Beginning students sometimes avoid these “difficult” views and search instead for “easy” views. With the skills you now have, this limiting of subject matter for your drawing is unnecessary. Edges, negative spaces, and sightings of relationships work together to make drawing foreshortened forms not just possible—they become downright enjoyable. As in learning any skill, learning the “hard parts” is challenging and exhilarating.
The Use of Sighting in Figure Drawing
This technique of using the constants, vertical and horizontal, against which to gauge angles is an important basic skill in drawing figures as well as objects. Many artists’ sketches still show traces of sight lines drawn in by the artist, as in the Edgar Degas drawing entitled Dancer Adjusting Her Slipper (Figure 8-26). Degas was probably sighting such points as the location of the left toe in relation to the ear and the angle of the arm compared to vertical. Note that Degas’s Basic Unit was from the topmost edge of the hair to the neckband. The artist used the same Basic Unit in Figure 11-6, shown in the chapter on color.
The technique I have just taught you, “informal perspective,” relies only on sights taken on the plane. Most artists use informal perspective, even though they may have complete knowledge of formal perspective. One of the advantages of learning informal sighting is that it can be used for any subject matter, as you will see in the next exercise. You will be drawing a profile portrait, putting to use your skills of perceiving edges, spaces, and proportional relationships in drawing the human head.
Remember that realistic drawings of perceived subjects always require the same basic perceptual skills—the skills you are learning right now. Of course, this is true of other R-mode global skills. For example, once you have learned to drive, you can very likely drive any make of automobile.
In your next drawing, you will enjoy drawing the human head, a most intriguing and challenging subject.