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Lesson 8, Part 1:Learning to Control Perspective and Proportion


Congratulations! If you've done all the exercises and studied the information in the previous lessons, you'll have acquired 2 of the 5 skills of drawing! That's a major accomplishment. And I applaud you.

Since the fifth skill, the "gestalt" skill, the "pull-it-all-together" skill is one you acquire as you go, you're really half way there! The forth skill is recognizing light and shadow. That comes a little later, after the next section.

To get a quick overview of this entire lesson click on:
Lesson 8 Master Link Page

What comes next?...Faces and Caricatures!

So stick with me folks, because after long lesson 8, we'll be entering the world of caricatures. After you complete this section you'll have the skills to approach drawing anything! And you and I will start doing what you came here for. And I think that's pretty exciting. Don't you?

Review Often

You can go and review any of the lessons any time you want - and I recommend it - because you'll want to have access through memory to all of the skills. It will come! And like driving a car or riding a bike, once you've learned and mastered the smaller parts that make up the greater skill, you'll enter an arena of fluency that only those who "keep chipping away" come to know. So let that help pull you forward: a little bit every day will advance you to your destination. No "ifs, ands, or buts" about it.

You've gone this far, the rest is easily within your grasp!

You've learned the previous skills - so there's no reason you can't learn the next skill: rectifying angles, perspective and relationships. You'll learn, in a word, how to control the space you work with.


A Challenging Skill


Now brace yourself a little here. Learning perspective and proportion will be the toughest of skills you've learned so far. In fact, They're the toughest you'll need to learn. But once you're familiar with them, your drawing confidence and skill will take a quantum leap. So I'm going to break it down for you into small bite size chunks, give you oodles of examples and exercises for you to work through. It might even get redundant, but you'll know when you're getting it, and you'll be able to decide for yourself when you're ready to move on.

Give this Section more Time

Expect to spend more time in this section than in the others. If you cruised through the other lessons in a week each, expect double, or even triple that for this lesson. And that's OK - because this is a skill you'll have for life.

If you don't take the time to learn perspective, your drawings will appear distorted or you'll look at them and never quite be able to nail down why they look the way they do. You'll feel handicapped in your drawing. So please take the extra time to learn this skill: all your drawings will benefit from it.

Realism and exaggeration

You might be saying "Jeff, but isn't caricature about distorting things? Making them look goofy?" To an extent, yes. And I would have to add that there's a whole range of ways to distort. The best way to know how much to distort and exaggerate is knowing how something looks in nature to begin with: you need to see what you draw as it is first. Then you can take off in any direction you want.

Whole New Doorways Opening

That's how I learned, that's how many of the masters learned. (Both in fine art and in caricature.) You don't have to do it this way, but I think if you do you'll gain skills that will allow you to take off in so many other directions besides caricature. You'll feel the desire to draw other things bubble up all by itself. Your efforts may even tap into whole new rooms of adventure and exploration - that have nothing to do with drawing!

So here we go...


Outline of Lesson 8


I'm going to break lesson 8 down into parts. Those parts are as follows.

Part I: The Challenge of Perspective


Part II: A little Background on Perspective (clicking on these links will bring you to the next page)


New Terms


  1. Foreshortening: (Definition form Webster's) "to shorten some lines of an object to give the illusion of proper relative size."

  2. Picture plane: The two dimensional surface you envision your subject to exist in, or the two dimensional surface you draw your subject on. Examples. The computer screen you're viewing this on is two dimensional. It acts as a picture plane. The paper you draw on is a two dimensional surface on which you "collapse" the three dimensional world you're drawing. It too is a picture plane. When you stick your arm out in front of you to gauge and perform "sighting", you're relating everything "out there" in the world on to an imaginary picture plane at the end of your arm.

  3. Sighting: the terms artist use when they visually compare angles, size proportions, ratios, angles and relationships in space.


Part One: Why is Perspective So Challenging?


Remark #1 students make about perspective is that it' so complicated - there are many parts to it. The next observation is that it seems very Left-brained - and in certain respects it is: all this comparing and ratio stuff, the analyzing, etc.. You must also deal with conflict again - with paradox. Remember in lesson 7 where you saw the table illustration? (It was the technical drawing. Click on lesson 7 to refresh your memory - there will be a "return to lesson 8" at the end.)

The "Riddle" inherent in Perspective

In the same way, when you knew the table had "square corners", exactly 90 degrees when measured with a protractor, you also saw that if you looked at the table obliquely, from other than directly above it, the corners were no longer square. One side of your brain, the Left, told you it was square, the direct access of your senses, R-mode, told you it was different. Which ever side of your brain had more influence at the moment you drew the corner dictated how accurately you drew it.

Am I confusing you? Let me put it like this: your Left brain, your memory, knows the corner is square: a square corner is a square corner is a square corner. Your right brain accurately senses "angle", your retina perceives "angle" and between those two "you" vacillate.

Another amazing Psychological Phenomenon that works against You when You Draw.

There's also a more subtle psychological function at work here: it's called the "Scale Adjustment Faculty" and it's just what it sounds like. It's a magical function of the brain that zooms you in or out of anything you're paying close visual attention to. For instance, if you're watching a baseball game from the highest seats in a large stadium (the "nose bleed section"), you know how far away the batter and catcher are - a long way!

Baseball players viewed at a distance

So there you are 90 feet up and 440 feet away from home plate. Now in your mind, picture yourself looking at the players and the umpire at home base 440 feet away through the space between your right index finger and right thumb - (fully extend your arm i.e. with elbow straight). How tall are they? An inch or less, right? Still you know they're full size adults: six foot one, six foot two and bigger. The thought that they might be only an inch tall seems absurd. You interpret the whole scene taking place in front of you on the same size scale as you - not as Lilliputians. Your brain automatically adjusts for distance.


Strange Facts from the Amazon


Here's a fascinating aside. This mental facility is culturally and environmentally influenced. When explorers to the Amazon jungles first brought the jungle dwellers out of the jungle they (the jungle dwellers) really thought the people they saw in the distance - a mile or two away - were only a quarter inch tall!

In the jungle environment they never dealt with distances greater than a few dozen feet. Their "Scale Adjustment Faculty" worked only in the very narrow range they grew up with. Charles Darwin made the same observation about the Galapagos Island natives having the same difficulty when first encountering sailing ships .

Colin Turnbull made the same observation about Pygmies in Africa: since they lived their whole life in the jungle had never set foot on an open Savannah, they literally could not fathom distances. They weren't just disoriented when presented with such a view the first time - they were horrified and retreated back into the forest as fast as they could. They'd developed no way of reckoning distances beyond the 10 to 15 foot perimeter they had built their entire world - and mythology - around.


Applying this to Drawing


Why do I bring this up? Because in drawing, this "Scale Adjustment Faculty" can work against you. Recall the pure contour drawing you did in Lesson 3, (pure contour drawing). Do you remember the more you stared at your hand the deeper you saw into it? First you saw the larger overall shape of your hand, then the larger skin folds, then the smaller folds, then you started seeing into the fingerprints, and then microscope-like, you saw even deeper than that. (Some people say they see down into the graininess of the actual tissue in their fingerprint whorls - especially near-sighted people.)

At the same time you were doing this heavy observation, you were drawing, i.e. your drawing hand, equipped with pencil, recorded what you saw on the taped-down paper.

And what you saw was what fell on your retina - true to life detail. And as you slipped pleasantly deeper and deeper into its trance-like state, R-mode turned up the zoom power. Simultaneously your R-mode directed drawing hand maintained the scale of what you drew as it appeared larger and larger in your minds eye - you drew it bigger and bigger.

See the "Scale Adjustment Faculty" at work in Your Drawings

If you look at your drawing, you might see evidence of the "the Scale Adjustment Faculty" (SAF), at work: the scale of your drawing enlarged as the zooming power of observation magnified what you investigated. That is, as the detail of what you were seeing became clearer to you, larger to you, and your mind made it bigger - you drew it bigger.

Look at your pure contour drawings and see if maybe there isn't some evidence of this. (You might see the parallel lines and curves of fingerprints or skin folds drawn as the same size as your thumb.) As you've experienced while drawing, time can distort too. Race car drivers reacting to a dangerous situation report how "time slows down to a crawl". You've had similar experiences I'm sure. (In drawing the opposite happens - time whips by so fast you're flabbergasted.) Our brain's interpretation of what the senses tell us are very subjective.


"It's a Wonder some People can ever Learn to Draw"- though everybody CAN!


So you've got all those things going when you deal with perspective and proportion. You're concerned with ratios, with comparisons; you have to deal with the intrusive left-brain aspects of drawing (the conflict between what what L-mode"knows" to be true with what the visual senses true-to-life-observations reveal.); and topping it off, you got to deal with the Scale Adjustment Faculty. Whew! that's a lot of stuff to contend with.

And you have conflicting information: your sense of sight is pitted against your over-thinking, domineering, authoritarian, all-knowing, cruelly critical Wizard of "Ozian" Left-brain.

But, believe it or not, it doesn't have to be that tough. there's a way to cut through all the static. And it's this: your senses present you with accurate information. And it's the task of these lessons to teach you to see what the senses, what your visual apparatus presents to your brain. That's all there is to it!

Continue with Part Two of Lesson 8


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