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 Michel, Lapin, 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.