View Full Version : Perspective - Can Someone Help me?

05-28-2005, 05:49 PM
My class was given a project which is due the end of June. We are to do a plein air painting. I started one out in the back yard but am having major problems with perspective of the decking and pool. My painting looks like I'm looking down on the painting, which I'm not. (Sorry, it's too much of a mess to post it at this point) I took a pic of what I see but can seen to get it right. I could do something else but I'm determined to fix this one.

Can anyone help me?


05-28-2005, 05:57 PM
Sorry it came out so small. Don't know why. Will try again.

Piper Ballou
05-28-2005, 06:46 PM
Binkie-I think you are going to have to post your painting too...even if you think it is a mess...I want your backyard, it looks great.

05-28-2005, 07:01 PM
Well, I'd like to see the painting too, but offhand I'd say you ARE looking down on the walkway and pool...down from about your eyeball height! Being rather close to the scene makes it seem higher than it really is, too. The only way you can bring the walk "up" more would be to either sit down and take a pic of it or lie down on the walkway and shoot from there. Not sure I've helped at all, but....

05-28-2005, 07:51 PM
Thanks Piper and Sooz, I think I will go take a pic, although it's supposed to be totally plein air. Sorry, I just can't embarrass myself by posting the mess I've made out of it at this point. And Piper, I do love my backyard. Did it all myself except for digging the holes.

Thanks again!!

Simon Bland
05-28-2005, 10:43 PM

I know that you will probably ignore my advice, but here goes:

If you're having difficulty laying this down then maybe you should consider whether or not this is the right choice of subject matter. That is not to imply that you're not a good artist, but sometimes there's a reason why you subconsiously start to hesitate during the initial stages of a painting.

I've got to be honest, I think the scene you've chosen has a lot of things going against it - essentially it is very complex.

Is there a simpler scene that you could paint ? Is there perhaps one small part of the scene you could extract and focus on ?


05-28-2005, 11:52 PM

Thanks for the advice. I'm not going to ignore your suggestions. I think you have some excellent advice! I definitely will simplify the scene. Luckily, I'm doing this one on Wallis paper, so I can brush the pastel off and start over.


05-29-2005, 12:09 AM
I have to agree with Simon about the complexity of the scene you've chosen and since you're not accustomed to painting plein air, a simpler composition might work better for you.

A few things to consider when choosing the subject plein air.
1. Remember that your eye-level is the horizon line. If you stand and paint...look out and "mark" the horizon mentally. If you sit, do the same. Then decide where on the canvas or paper that line is going to be. (in the middle is not a choice :))

2. Use a viewfinder to frame the scene (I use my fingers for this but a piece of cardboard with a small rectangle cut out will do). Moving the viewfinder back and forth will give you a close-up view on the subject or a wider angle of the subject. You will also be seeing the horizon line...and deciding if you want to include more of what is above it, or more of what is below it.

3. If you want a simple scene...choose something with trees, land, sky. That will give you both a horizontal direction and a vertical direction and most of those things can be abstract shapes. Avoid buildings or manmade things that have to assume a specific line in order to be realistic :)

4. Having said all that...paint the scene as you see it. Don't worry so much about perspective or exactness. Have fun. Smell the flowers. Feel the breeze. If you enjoy the experience, the rest of the stuff will come.


05-29-2005, 09:56 AM
I struggle very much with perspective too- your backyard is a paradise- I would probably leave out the sidewalk since that looks like the most difficult thing to do the correct perspective on

Deborah Secor
05-30-2005, 12:35 AM
Binkie, here's something that helps me handle a complex subject. It works well on location in another way--but this might help you visualize what I mean and how to do it.

I took it into a program and blurred it--well, I favor an effect that crosshatches it, but it works the same. I can only see the large light and dark areas, as well as the colors. It helps me not to get all tied up in the details and see only the big underlying shapes and values. On location I squint until my eyes are almost closed, which does the same thing.

I also cropped this photo a bit to help focus the eye more on the pool. I know you're working outside, so you have to see the composition, but this way the cool, dark areas flank the light and colorful spots more, like stage wings...

I have a sneaking hunch that part of your problem may be the edge of the pool. If you get that out of whack you'll end up with tipped perspective. You have to believe what you see, so trace that edge and make sure it stays flattened. Then go outside and hold your arm out full length from your body, holding a pencil level so that you can clearly see the angles. In this photo it clearly shows not one of them is flat. Then move that long arm in front of your painting and compare the angles. Too steep and it looks uphill, you'll notice.

You don't have to show the painting--I hate putting messes up here to show, too! :o --but when you've fixed things, share with us what you've decided, okay? :)


05-30-2005, 03:44 AM
Well, I have to jump in here, don't I!!! (those of you who have been around a while know why)

Binkie, it is good to get something of a handle on perspective for an outdoor scene, because it will always come back and bite you on the xxx every time!

If you decide upon another scene, unless it is a landscape full of horizontal lines, without anything "running away from you" into the distance, you will have to reckon with the perspective demon.

OK let's think a bit about perspective rules. You have some hints above which are right.

Here is the procedure. First sketch out the scene. Then check perspective this way.

1. FIND YOUR EYE LEVEL. Mark it on your paper. Then, if you have lines running away from you (such as a path, or edge of a construction like the pond), then all the angles BELOW your eye level will run UP to a vanishing point on your eye level. and any lines ABOVE your eye level (like the top of a fence or wall) will run DOWN to a vanishing point on your eye level. this shows the principle:


However, your scene doesnt translate nice and easily, because we only have one proper clue - the side of the path, and even that is covered by foliage:

I have guessed at it; the blue line might be your eye level, and the path MIGHT follow my red line.

However, the other side of the path is not a straight line, unfortunately, the side of the pond seems curved, so it doesnt help at all. No wonder your drawing puzzled you!

So, we have to resort to another idea.

This takes a bit of imagination.

I'd like you to imagine a huge glass window between you and your subject. Now, you have in your hand a big magic marker, and you will draw the scene that you see, with that marker, ON THE GLASS. In this way, you will capture all the shapes you see, in the right proportions.

When working "plein air", however, we cannot carry around a big sheet of glass to make things this simple, so we have to do it in our mind's eye, and this means "measuring" what we see, as Dee suggests. However, there are some really important rules to follow.

You need to "put" that sheet of glass between you and your subject, and press your pencil up against it, WITH A LOCKED ELBOW, so that the point of the pencil is FLAT AGAINST THE GLASS. This is crucial. It cannot point at the subject, like a pointer or wand. http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/29-May-2005/1805-with_stick.jpg
It must be flat against the glass at all times, and you can then twist it around, so that it points in different directions, like the hands of a clock. Above, Ihave twisted my arm so that the pencil is horizontal - but still flat against the glass, I cannot say this often enough.

You close one eye - also important - and line the pencil up against the angles you can see. If the clock hands idea appeals to you, look at the "time" of the angle - is it 10 after 8? Or 10 to 4? Whatever. Then, check the angle you have drawn. (there is no angle in my image, but if it was your path, the angle might read 5 after 7, for example)

Proportions. Also important.

You have to draw shapes the size you can SEE, not the size you THINK you can see. I cannot emphasise this enough. We all draw what we THINK we can see.

You need to compare measurements. Below,see how wide the path is, by comparison with its depth (remember - flat against the glass.....) And see how narrow the back of the path is, by comparison with the depth of the pond.
Measuring is all about comparing one area with another. If you use your pencil as a measuring stick, by taking just one unit of measurement, your pencil being the top and your thumb at the bottom, you can see "how many times" the width of the path "goes into", say, the height of the wall.

This is easy to show on a photo, or in a sketch, but in real life, you HAVE to use the "sheet of glass" idea, which helps to flatten the shapes out in your mind.


Binkie, you are not alone in finding this tough. I just spent two weeks with students in Ithaka, and many of them had no idea how to translate the real word onto paper, particularly one who had previously always worked from photos. You have to try to see the real world as a serious of simple shapes, and that isn't always an easy shift to make.

Do show us your image, no matter how bad it is. We can then help a lot more by showing exactly where you went wrong and how to correct it. Then you will get top marks!!!


05-31-2005, 03:02 PM
Carly, Thanks for the advice and suggestions. I think I'm over my head with this one and will probably put it aside for now.

Purples, Perspective is difficult for me too. For some reason I seem to have a mental block when it comes to getting it right.

Dee, Thanks for your suggestions. The edge of the pool and decking is what's giving me fits.

Jackie, Thanks for the lesson. Your explanation and examples are great; they clear and easy to understand. I'm going to print them out and keep them as a reference.

Again, thanks everyone!

05-31-2005, 03:26 PM
Carly, Thanks for the advice and suggestions. I think I'm over my head with this one and will probably put it aside for now.

Purples, Perspective is difficult for me too. For some reason I seem to have a mental block when it comes to getting it right.

Dee, Thanks for your suggestions. The edge of the pool and decking is what's giving me fits.

Jackie, Thanks for the lesson. Your explanation and examples are great; they clear and easy to understand. I'm going to print them out and keep them as a reference.

Again, thanks everyone!

Binkie I have a suggestion for you, which should help a LOT with understanding a bit more about perspective.

1. Get some magazines, old ones, with lots of pics Find pics with buildings, or interiors.

2. Cut out the pics and paste them down onto a very large sheet of white paper.

3. Take a ruler, and with a pen, or soft pencil, draw over, and extend, some of the angles you can find in the pictures.........edges of walls, paths, window frames, etc. Gradually, you will find that a pattern emerges...those lines will converge. They may converge within the image itself, if it is one-point perspective like my example above, or they may converge outside of the picture, onto the white paper surrounding the picture. Once you have found the point where the lines converge - THIS IS THE PHOTOGRAPHER'S EYE LEVEL. You will then see that the lines above the eye level go down to the eye level, to a common vanishing point, and the lines below the eye level, go UP to the the vp on the eye level.

This exercise is great fun to do, and will help you get over your mental block.


ps I dont think you should put the picture aside. I think you should show us no matter how many fits you are having. I promise you, it will be a simple matter to show you where you are going wrong. If you are embarrassed to show the world, then why not either send it to me in an email, or a pm, and I will help you.

Piper Ballou
05-31-2005, 03:58 PM
binkie- thanks for starting this thread.....I have learned so much by reading everyone's posts....and I am printing them out to...

06-01-2005, 03:49 PM
Jackie, Many thanks for the additional suggestions. Great ideas!

Starjoy, I'm really getting a lot out of this thread too.

Okay Jackie, it is with trepidation I am going to post the painting. I'm taking a deep breath. I worked on the perspective, so I think it is better than the way I originally had it. It is not finished. Going to take it outside at the same time I worked on it this afternoon and work more on the background. Please keep in mind it is still pretty rough.


06-01-2005, 04:40 PM
Excellent lesson on perspective Jackie. Know from experience how difficult this is!


06-02-2005, 03:50 AM
well, after all that worrying ....really, I think you have done a nice job, and I am not very concerned by the perspective problems at all, it looks quite convincing, actually!

Just a couple of suggestions.

Where the deck round the pool meets the bottom of the pic, make it a touch wider on the lefthand side of the decking. This will help with the perspective, it will give the impression that the deck is closest to us, under our feet.

Then, I would look again at the tree trunk on the right. From the photo, it looks like it might not have a "top" full of foliage ... if it doesn't, I would seriously consider giving it some anyway. It looks a little odd as is.

Look again at your photo. The foliage is fuller and lusher than you have made it, great big fan shaped leaves cut across those tall tree trunks. You have nice curves going on in the painting, and it would be good to echo some of those curves in the rest of the image.

See the little birdbath (?) in the distance? Is the line under it really curved? If not, then straightening it, and reducing the gaps between the shadows, will help with distance, tho the change of scale helps a lot right now.

It's looking fine, and I bet your teacher will be pleased with your efforts.


06-02-2005, 04:36 PM

The perspective looks pretty good thanks to you! I made changes according to your instructions. No one will ever see the before scene, although I did take a pic of it. The rest is still very rough, and it needs to be cropped too. I spent my time working on the part around the decking.

Again a BIG THANKS for the suggestions! I have time to work on the rest of it now so it won't look so amateurish by the time it gets to class. And I am going to practice perspective using some magazines.