Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Seeing with a New Perspective
How's everybody been? I've got spring allergies and zero energy for anything other than reading. The best I can do right now is say I got out of bed. I could blame some of these ailments for ruining my last outing with Urban Sketchers, but the truth is I had a lousy time because I could not, could not, get a grip on something that has plagued me my entire creative life: I can't draw perspective.
Perspective has always been a difficult subject for me. In theory I understand the concept: horizon lines, vanishing points, objects getting smaller and smaller the farther away they are from the viewer, but I've never been able to get it to work. I've even taken entire classes on the subject, but to no avail. Maybe it's something to do with a lack of hand-eye coordination, or a rogue gene that doesn't allow me to comprehend angles. Whatever it is, it's made me both dread and hate the topic, which is completely contrary to my desire to draw buildings and urban landscapes, especially when I travel.
The situation zoomed into sharp focus when I went to the Albuquerque History Museum with my urban sketching group. No matter how hard I tried, I could not capture the scene I wanted to draw: an early New Mexico pioneer wagon installed in a room full of saddles, vintage clothing, maps and other memorabilia. The wagon attracted me the minute I saw it draped with fur pelts, Navajo blankets, and carrying a load of clay and iron cooking pots. I thought it would make a great picture using graphite and colored pencils--the only mediums we were allowed to bring inside the museum. Except when I sat down to sketch, I couldn't place the wheels, the axle, the sideboards, the seat, the frame or those fuzzy bunny furs anywhere close to where they should be. Over and over again I drew in the lines, erased them when they didn't meet where they were supposed to, and then repeated the process until I gave up and sulked all the way to the coffee bar. In other words, I had a very bad perspective on just about everything.
When I got home I knew I had to get help--anything to finally learn. After some intensive Googling and checking out reviews on YouTube, I bought Matthew Brehm's Drawing Perspective. With any luck, it's going to change my entire perspective about perspective and please, please, make it fun.
So far, I'm impressed with what the book has to offer. If there's such a thing as a good book that will teach me "how to see and how to understand" I think this will be the one. The chapters are arranged in a logical order of 1-point, 2-point, and multiple-point perspective, as well as up, down, curvilinear (didn't even know that one existed) and everything in between. The watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations are gorgeous, the instructions are clear, and there's a series of practice grids and fill-in-the-blank exercises at the back of the book. I'm feeling hopeful.
I plan to start working with the book this weekend, and then try bringing it to work with me to use during lunch. At the same time, I'm following the author's advice that I start looking at the world around me in search of those vanishing points and parallel lines.
I'm excited to begin my foray into the world of straight lines and realistic architecture, but I'm also a little conflicted: a part of me doesn't want to get too perfect. After all, I'm not applying to architectural college; I just don't want my urban landscapes to be overly droopy, or to imply that I'm too lazy to learn a valuable technique and skill. Similar to my approach to writing, I want to know the rules so that I can eventually, and when necessary, break them: if I want wonky buildings and unconventional characters to live in them, I want to paint and write them on purpose! After all, a bit of whimsy can often be just the thing to make any creative work your very own.
Tip of the Day: To go along with my new course of study, I've been collecting my favorite resource: magazine cut-outs. This time I've gone in search of urban landscapes from every viewpoint I can find. I'm building up (no pun intended) a pretty good library of photos, and I think they'll be super helpful as I work my way through Brehm's book. They're also going to serve double-duty as great writing prompts. Whether you're writing, painting, or designing jewelry, nothing beats a good photo-reference file.