Messing with perspective

Disclaimer: The point of this post is not to say that you shouldn’t understand, use or study perspective. (Some of my favorite urban sketchers to learn from at the bottom of this post)

But I drew this quick little sketch at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco last week and I think it captures my experience of being  there even though the perspective is far from technically correct.

There’s no way I could have seen this whole arch without stepping way back, which I couldn’t, the church just isn’t broad enough, side-to-side. And even if I could, I couldn’t have viewed the ceiling beams and the people at the bottom all in one view.

So what am I doing here? My first lines on the page reflect my very first impressions: this is a soaring space. To see the whole arch, I scan it from top to bottom (sketch below shows my upward-sweeping gaze on right) And to reflect that feeling, I draw a thin tall arch that frames my view, one  that narrows at the top.

And then I simply scan , top to bottom this time, and “fill in” what I see within this arch. Right off the bat, you can see I’m combining multiple views here but not doing any sort of curved distortion on my lines.
Here’s what I like about the sketch: I like that it isn’t an obviously distorted view of the space. To me, doing that would call too much attention to the distortion and take away from my focus on the gorgeous stained glass work in this sweeping view, which was my first response to the space and one I wanted to remain as the focus of the sketch.
Here’s the bit that didn’t work so well: I would have liked the feeling of the upward sweeping space to be more dramatic. Is there a way to do that without the distortion stealing the attention from the story I want to tell? I don’t know.

Everytime you ask a sketcher how to get better, you’ll hear about practice, practice and more practice. I agree that’s first. The other thing that goes hand-in-hand with it and is rarely mentioned is having great teachers. Luckily, the urban sketching community has loads of those: they share on their blogs, they teach, they write books, and have online classes. Here’s just a few of my favorite sketchers whose teaching, writing and sketches have particularly helped me in understanding and using perspective.

Liz Steel : If you think you’re going to be overwhelmed by thinking vanishing points and 2 and 3 point perspective then learn from Liz who will show you many, many other ways to approach perspective and drawing architecture. Her blog and her online classes are both fantastic places to learn.

Stephanie Bower: Think you can handle a wee bit of technical talk? It’s not overwhelming, I promise and Stephanie explains it so well. Stephanie blog here and her fabulous talk on perspective that I was lucky to go to at an Urban Sketchers Symposium really explained so much to me. She covers that same content and more in her online classes.

Matthew Brehm’s book Sketching on Location is a book I often go back to. You can see that and other books by him here.

James Richard’s blog and book are both places I find myself going back to again and again.

And Fred Lynch‘s  sketches and writing teach so much. His use of arches in his sketches and how he uses them to walk you through his stories is fascinating. And though I didn’t use it here, his work reminds me of the power of atmospheric perspective, something I often forget to use. Here’s a piece he wrote about it.

And some sketchers whose work I look at so one day I will (maybe?) understand how they do what they do: Gérard MichelLapin, Paul Heaston.

I better stop here.There’s so many more people I can think of but this post is so wordy already! So add your thoughts on perspective and your favorite teachers, books and inspiration on the subject to the comments section.

Update: Just before I published this post, I ran it by Liz to see if it made sense. Besides sending me notes and thoughts on my post, she did a really simple-looking sketch on a train that actually dealt with far more complex perspective than my cathedral sketch does: she looked side-to-side and up and down , all in one little sketch, with no visible distortion. Check out her explanation here.


About Suhita Shirodkar

obsessive-sketcher. graphic designer.
This entry was posted in How to, san franciso, teaching, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Messing with perspective

  1. naboudreau says:

    To make the upward sweeping space more dramatic, turn the arch upside down – the point of the arch being at ground level, the legs sweeping upwards and outwards.


    • Not sure I understand what you mean: are you saying draw it upside down for dramatic effect and surprise? I’m looking to capture the sense of being in that space without using an obvious device that steals the show…


  2. John Hofman says:

    Hi Suhita
    Very useful information and reference blog sites
    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post. Love that diagram of the tilting heads. Superb visualization of what’s going on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Marc, now for input: any ideas? I want more drama. I don’t want to warp my lines in a way that you notice… it’s not that I’m unhappy with this but it’s missing something of the experience of standing up close to something so colossal.


      • Hmm.Good question. My natural instinct is that things don’t look huge/vast unless there are some tiny tiny details to show you the scale… Which is tricky in such a bold sketch. So perhaps you can mix some ultra fine with this bold line? drawing around the upper window with a tiny pen. And then, my old trick of reducing details as you move out and down, so that they eye is pulled upward by following the breadcrumbs of detail.

        Another thing I might do is silhouette the head and shoulders of a person looking up in the foreground, then add some tiny full sized people in the distance give you another scale reference. I don’t have an example of this – it’s all theory. Maybe this is the closest I can lay my hands on :

        Liked by 1 person

      • thanks Marc, you packed so many good ideas in here. I might have to add that fine-nibbed pen back into my kit to add in small detail: it’s not like it wold take that much longer. And yes, varying the amount of detail, silhouetting the figures, g adding more for scale-all great. exactly what I was looking for: little bit that can make a difference. Plus, Liz gave me some pointers on how I could do a bit more exaggeration without being too obvious. So I just might try a variation on this with all your hints. Not on site, though, from my home studio. Thanks much!


  4. Wow, thank you Suhita for this amazing shout out! Honored to be in this company. I love how you analyze your view too, and you know I feel your sketches are always amazing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am so happy you posted this! I’ve been wondering how I might tackle Grace Cathedral at the Meet Up on Dec 17 Will you be there? Your sketch is divine.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. D. Abreu says:

    Well Suhita, you forgot to mention one of my favorite teachers, YOU! I love your work and the way you use the lines. The freedom in which you share your experience is fabulous and it helps me so much in the process of accepting my own style. Thanks so much for sharing!


  7. Mona says:

    Thanks for the tip! When I am faced w ith tasks like this, I give up usually and look for something simpler because I get too overwhelmed with space,details etc. I’ll give this a try.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Wide angle perspective views and relying on relationships : Liz Steel

  9. Liz Steel says:

    wonderful post Suhita and I really love the sketch. Just written an article relating to our discussions. Thanks as always for the inspiration.


    • Thanks Liz, I am going to add on a link to your blogpost at the end of this post now, it take this whole ‘moving your head’ thing to another level… never thought I could get that view in without curved perspective!


  10. Elizabeth says:

    I wholeheartedly agree about lots of practice being the most important way to improve. Having great instructors is not only inspirational, but can help speed up the learning processes. I also find I learn from sketching with others, seeing and discussing different approaches. I’d add looking at works of the masters, even copying them.

    I get a lot out of reading blogs like yours where the artists explains the thought processes, what they were trying to achieve, what worked and what didn’t. Thank you very much for your insightful blog.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s