Creative Perspective for Artists and Illustrators

Creative Perspective for Artists and Illustrators

by Ernest W. Watson


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In this thought-provoking practical guide, a noted artist and educator demonstrates that learning to violate the rules of perspective (profitably) is as important for the practicing artist as learning the principles of perspective themselves. Only in this way can students free themselves from the constraints of tradition and find their own imaginative paths. However, it is vital that students first have a solid grasp of classical perspective before they can think about adapting it creatively.
In presenting the principles of perspective drawing, Mr. Watson devotes a chapter each to step-by-step discussions of such topics as the picture plane, foreshortening and convergence, the circle, the cone, three-point perspective, universal perspective, figures in perspective, and much more. To illustrate his points he offers expert analysis of the works of such leading illustrators as John Atherton, V. Bobri, R. M. Chapin, Jr., Albert Dorne, Robert Fawcett, Constantin Guys, W. N. Hudson, Carl Roberts, Ben Stahl, and Aldren A. Watson, as well as drawings by Pieter de Hooch and Paul Cézanne. The result is a ground-breaking study that artists, illustrators, and draftsmen will find invaluable in learning to create works with convincing perspective.
Ernest W. Watson taught at Pratt Institute for over 20 years, co-founded and served as editor-in-chief of the magazine American Artist, and co-founded the prestigious art publishing house of Watson-Guptill.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486273372
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 01/14/1993
Series: Dover Art Instruction Series
Edition description: Unabridged
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 325,515
Product dimensions: 8.25(w) x 11.00(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

Creative Perspective for Artists and Illustrators


Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1992 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13773-5



Although we are dealing with freehand perspective in this book, it will be necessary—as explained in the introduction—to use some of the procedures of instrumental perspective in the development of our experiments. Hence, the student should be supplied with the following minimum items of equipment.

A drawing board about 16 by 24 inches is recommended. A piece of illustration board the same size, tacked to one side, will give a pleasanter surface on which to work; and when drawing on tracing paper, the white illustration board underneath will be especially appreciated.

Drawing paper 16 by 12 inches or thereabouts is recommended for many drawing exercises. Larger sheets will sometimes be necessary, as smaller drawings—particularly when instrumental work is involved —will not be so accurate. The smaller the drawing, the greater the probability of inaccuracy.

A T-square of good quality, and 45 and 30-60 degree triangles-all of the transparent type—are essential. Two brass-edged rulers, one 24 inches long, a draftsman's compass and a pair of dividers will suffice as a minimum instrumental outfit.

When making instrumental diagrams, pencils with leads of hard degree are needed—H or 2H grades. These should be sharpened with a knife to points much longer than are produced by mechanical sharpeners. The leads should be kept well-pointed during all instrumental work, in order to avoid inaccuracies that would invalidate the whole procedure. For free sketching the softer leads will be preferred.

A large pad of tracing paper (about 19 by 24) is indispensable. Get samples from your dealer and select the most transparent sheet. There is a wide range of transparency in tracing papers. The student often will want to lay the transparent sheets over photographs and reproductions of artists' work, in order to analyze them by tracing the converging lines and extending them until they find their vanishing points. In this way much will be learned, not only of natural appearances as recorded by the camera but of illustrators' strategy in changing the rules to meet the needs of special situations. More about this later.

Many times, in making these analyses, it will be found necessary to fasten several sheets of paper together with scotch tape in order to secure a large enough area for the location of vanishing points which may be some distance away from the picture on either side. In this event, a yardstick may be substituted for the ruler in drawing the converging lines. When the vanishing points are found to be even beyond the edges of the drawing table, the drawing can be laid on the floor and the lines projected by means of strings or threads extending from pins stuck in the picture, as shown in fig. 7.

In such a case we might assume that the illustrator who made the original drawing established his far-flung points by the same method. However, the chances are that once he had established his vanishing points with strings from two converging lines on each side, he resorted to the following device to get directions of all other converging lines without actually carrying them out to the far-flung points.

Extending a very thin wire—string is unsuited because it stretches—from pins stuck in at the vanishing points (already located, as in fig. 7) and attaching the other end to pencil points, arcs are inscribed on the drawing board as shown in fig. 8. (Good wire, as fine as thread, comes on spools.)

Templates are then cut with a sharp knife or razor blade, after having traced the arcs made on the drawing board and transferred them to thick cardboard. These templates are tacked firmly to the drawing board so that the arcs of their curved sides coincide with the arcs drawn by the wire compass demonstrated in fig. 8. Now the blade of a T-square placed against the curved side of a template (fig. 9) will always radiate from the vanishing point as it is moved along the arc; that is, its center line will. All one needs to do is to remove the blade—by removing the screws—and reset it on the stock so that one edge will be centered on the stock, as seen in fig. 10. Of course the blade must be set at exact right angles to the stock. By moving the T-square back and forth along the arcs, the direction of any line in the perspective drawing can be quickly and accurately drawn.

When a vanishing point is on the drawing board, a pin stuck upright at the vanishing point (as in fig. 11) will facilitate the drawing of converging lines. The straightedge can be placed against the pin and swung at any desired angle.

Fig. 12 demonstrates how strips of heavy cardboard, cut as shown, can be attached by pins to the vanishing points and used in place of the straightedge. Note that the pinhole in the strip must be in line with its drawing edge.

In fig. 13 we see another device for finding correct line directions when one or both of the vanishing points is beyond the edge of the drawing board. The right VP (vanishing point) is within range; the left VP is far out of bounds since the front lines of the cabinet are nearly horizontal.

We extend the vertical line of the nearest corner (1-3) upward to the eye-level (4). At any distance beyond the object at the left (the further the better) we drop a vertical from the eye-level to converging line (A)—whose direction has been determined freehand. This vertical (1A-4A) is shorter than the nearer vertical 1-4, but if it is divided proportionately into the same divisions as 1-4 we have points through which converging lines would pass on their way to their vanishing points far to the left. Thus the top of the cabinet (3) is half the height of 1-4. On the 1A-4A line we mark off a point (3A) halfway up that line. Point 2 on the cabinet is one-quarter the height; on 1A-4A we give 2A its corresponding position. Any number of measurements on 1-4 can be duplicated proportionately on 1A-4A.

A camera and a projection machine are indispensable tools in the contemporary illustrator's equipment. Still more indispensable is such an inventive faculty as Frank J. Reilly brings to the solution of many of his illustration problems, of which the subject of this demonstration is an example—a picture of a marshalling yard, which Reilly painted for a Pennsylvania Railroad advertisement.

The picture illustrated the catch line, "An aircraft carrier goes by rail, before it goes to sea." It dramatized the part the railroads play in transporting material for the building and outfitting of a "flattop."

It was specified that a certain number of freight cars should appear in the picture—not as simple a result to achieve as one would imagine, says Reilly.

After futile experiments with pencil sketches in an effort to include the required number of cars, Reilly went to the lumber yard and brought back to his studio an armful of wood strips approximately one inch square in section. Upon these he marked off car lengths, carefully proportioning the lengths to the widths in order that his models would be in correct scale. Then he laid the strips on the floor in parallel rows to represent freight trains in a marshalling yard (fig. 15).

Reilly mounted a stepladder with his camera, and counted the number of "cars" that appeared upon the ground glass within a vertical mask that he had carefully cut to the proportion of the advertisement. Experimenting with the distance of his camera from the models, he soon discovered the position from which to take a photograph that would include exactly the specified number of cars, and allow for a few locomotives and some empty track.

He pasted the 3¼ × 4¼-inch print that resulted from this process upon a large sheet of paper, tacked to his drawing board, and—projecting the converging lines of the print- located the three vanishing points. The photo print was so small that all three points fell within the area of the drawing board (fig. 16).

From each vanishing point he then swung an arc on the paper, near the edge of the photographic print, as illustrated (fig. 16).

The next step was to enlarge the picture to the size of the intended painting. He did this in the following way. He made a photograph of the photo print also the paper with the arcs upon which the print was mounted; and, from the film, projected all onto the surface of his paper (fig. 17). He then traced the main lines of the car models on the projected enlargement with his pencil, tracing the arcs as well.

On the enlarged drawing (thumbtacked to a large drawing table), templates cut of thick cardboard were tacked, their curved edges identical with the arcs of the projected enlargement (fig. 18). The T-square, traveling along the curved arcs of the templates as shown, served for all converging lines, many of which, in addition to those of the photographic print, were needed for the detailed drawing. Note, however, the necessity of resetting the blade of the T-square so that one edge of it bisects the stock and becomes what otherwise would be the center line of the blade.

The lower vanishing point (fig. 19) is located in a vertical that passes through the vertical lines of the picture—quite near its left edge. Study the chapter on three-point perspective in connection with this, pages 114-127.

The advisability—indeed the necessity—of drawing from models cannot be overemphasized. For flat models (21 to 28) use a heavy cardboard that will not warp. The heavy cardboard will not do for three-dimensional models that have to be scored, folded and assembled. For these, select a reasonably heavy bristol board that is rigid enough not to buckle and warp, yet is easy to work. A little experimenting with papers will reveal the most suitable one.

Advertising painting, for the Pennsylvania Railroad by Frank J. Reilly.

If the flat, geometric models are used constantly by the student the correct drawing of these basic forms will soon become second nature. Take the triangle, for example. This figure, as demonstrated on later pages, can be drawn quite easily by semi-mechanical procedure; but mechanical means can often be dispensed with by the student who with sufficient practice has acquired an authentic visual concept through practice drawing from the model (fig. 24). It is safe to say that one who makes 50 careful drawings from this model, turned in all possible angles and placed at different heights in relation to the eye, will have acquired a knowledge of this figure's appearance that will serve him well in years to come.

The same can be said for models 25, 26 and 27; especially fig. 26. The reason for this will be apparent later on when it will be seen how important it is to know how to relate correctly the right angle (ABC) to the circle seen in perspective (an ellipse).

The illustrator often has the problem of drawing several circular objects that are lying on the ground. A splendid exercise as training for this kind of assignment is drawing from dinner plates or phonograph records arranged on the table or floor. For some drawings use plates of the same size, for others select plates of different sizes.

If drawing these models seems to be tedious exercise—comparable perhaps to the pianist's five-finger exercises—the student who really wants to learn how to draw will attack them eagerly since they assure greater facility and authority in all subsequent work for the rest of his life.

A four-inch model of a cube is easily made from stiff paper (see diagram on next page). After the flat pattern has been cut out—a razor blade and brass-edged ruler will do this best—the parts marked for folding should be scored. Scoring can be done with a letter- opener or similar instrument. Fold so that the scoring is on the outside of the model. Transparent scotch tape is ideal for securing free edges. Before folding, inscribe a circle on at least one side and blacken it with india ink. It is not necessary to make a paper model of a cylinder—though that is relatively simple—because cylindrical cans and boxes of all shapes and sizes are available in the kitchen.

The cone can be easily constructed as indicated on the next page. After the base has been trimmed level (at right angles to the altitude) a circular piece of heavy cardboard can be fitted to it and secured with scotch tape.

Fig. 31 illustrates a model that is very important; a rectangle—preferably a square—attached to a cylinder. This is another model that ought to be drawn many, many times, turning it in all positions. The importance of practice with the model will be evident in numerous problems encountered in this book.

Sometimes special models like that pictured in fig. 33 are of great help. The aim of such models is a geometric analysis of the object rather than its facsimile. An analytical model is one which represents the simplest geometric forms from which the object can be developed. Oftentimes the most successful model is one which least resembles the object, thus model 33 gives no hint whatever of the object for which it was made—the wagon wheels (fig. 36).

Another word about tracing paper. Illustrators make extensive use of it. They often correct a first drawing on a sheet of overlaid tracing paper. A third or fourth correction is frequently made in this way. The final drawing is then transferred to illustration board for rendering in any required medium.

Good transfers can be made by blackening the back of the tracing paper with a 6B pencil and rubbing the tone smooth with the fingers or a wad of tissue paper. Carbon paper is not practical because the carbon line is hard to erase. A sharply pointed hard lead is used to go over the lines of the drawing in making the transfer. If such a transfer is carefully made, with sufficient pressure, transferred lines will be so black and definite that it may not be necessary to go over them with pencil or ink in order to strengthen them. Albert Dorne paints colored inks, which are transparent, right on top of such a tracing without touching the transferred lines. In the reproduction they appear to have been made with india ink. Another advantage of working on tracing paper is the possibility of studying the drawing in reverse. Errors are often detected—and corrected-in this way. Studying the drawing in a mirror gives the same result, although without the same ease of correction.

It goes without saying that those who draw a great deal from objects, indoors and out, will make the most progress. A certain amount of drawing from photographs is recommended too. These will involve subjects presenting structural problems that otherwise may not be brought to one's attention. But, it must be realized, photographs are often distorted impressions, quite unlike the images the same scenes would produce upon the retina of the human eye. Thus all photographs should be questioned in the light of what is demonstrated on the following pages, as well as from one's own observation of things seen and experienced. Comparisons of photographic effects with illustrators' drawings will prove interesting.

It is suggested that the student make a file of pictorial scrap illustrating the points covered in the various chapters. For example, when working in the cylinder chapter, collect as many pictures of cylindrical objects as possible. Analyze them on tracing paper overlays. This is equivalent to enlarging the scope of the book and extending the opportunity it offers for study. Some may prefer to paste such scrap in a loose-leaf notebook, along with analytical studies of the pictures.

The making of such picture collections will do more than anything else to make one "perspective conscious," to cause one always to be on the lookout for interesting applications of the principles being studied, to observe and understand, not merely to see.



It will help the drawing student if he thinks of himself as a builder or a structural engineer. While he does not handle wood, steel, or concrete, with his pencil he does construct on paper the forms created by these materials. The more he can develop his engineering sense, the surer and speedier will be the growth of his power as an illustrator.

Illustrative skill involves considerably more than the training of the eye and hand to see and record the correct appearance of things observed, essential as that is. There are those who can make reasonably good drawings of things they are looking at, but who are lost when they try to construct objects "out of their heads." They have a photographic eye, but they lack imagination.


Excerpted from Creative Perspective for Artists and Illustrators by ERNEST W. WATSON. Copyright © 1992 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

viii. THE CONE

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