Part 4, project 2, exercise 2: Perspective – aerial perspective

Updated on 21 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and some contents).

7 November 2016. The project on aerial perspective (for an overview see The Editors of Encylopaedia Britannica (2015) and Tang (n.d.)) is going to be a challenge for me, since it requires paying controlled attention to several aspects, i.e. loss of focus, colour saturation and change in colour temperature. The required simple landscape would need to make do without the elements of linear perspective and in order to put myself in colour-only mood I made an excursion to Egon Schiele’s aerial perspective paintings (1890-1918, Austria), as e.g. in Fig. 1 below:

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Figure 1. Egon Schiele: “Four Trees”, 1917, oil on canvas. Source: Egon Schiele (1890-1918) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
The above work contains hardly any elements of linear perspective, apart from, maybe, the narrowing of spaces between the horizontal layers of clouds. The tiny mountain range at the centre (had to stop myself writing “at the back”, because of course on the canvas they are not) show all elements of aerial perspective, though: colder colours, loss of contrast and (comparatively) fading outline as well as a loss of colour saturation. And these, no matter how small the difference, are sufficient to allow the correct sorting of foreground and background and allocation of a roughly measurable distance between viewer and trees as well as trees and mountains. It is the viewer’s experience of the characteristics of the visible world and the associated workings of the mind, which do the trick.

The above is easy to interpret due to its known representative elements of a landscape, but when comparing e.g. Nik Harron’s (*1981, Ireland) completely abstract aerial perspective  “Untitled” (Harron, 2009) the system still works. There are colder colours, less saturation as well as loss of contrast and focus of nothing in particular and it becomes a believable landscape. It works due to the mind connecting with whatever knowledge I have of the world and it works, because it makes sense. Which makes me want to explore it the wrong way round (but for once I will resist the temptation!). In order to be able answer to the question in the study guide (“Is it necessary to combine all three to achieve the desired effect?”), I decided that it would be necessary to adopt a stepwise approach.

8 November 2016. Since the weather outside turned nasty within hours (sleet in masses), I chose a photo of a wonderfully dark volvcanic landscape from our 2014 visit to Iceland. It is absolutely reduced and appears very suitable for exploring aerial perspective.

So, what I did was, in steps:

1. Make a black brush drawing avoiding linear perspective, but using increasingly narrower lines towards the back
2. Reduce line colour contrast by painting over with increasingly lighter greys towards the back
3. Introduce colour, warmer in front, colder at back
4. Modulate colour saturation (enhance/fade) and colour contrast (enhance/reduce)

Here is the sequence (Fig. 2-5):

1. Brush drawing with black paint, increasingly narrower lines

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Figure 2. Line drawing, narrowing

This on its own already provides an impression of space, helped by the standing rock cutting off the view of the gentle slope to the back of it.

2. Brush drawing changed to have increasingly less dark lines towards the back

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Figure 3. Line drawing, less dark at back

The difference is not large, probably also because it was not easy to have very narrow lines painted with the brushes I have.

3. Introducing colour and contrast

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Figure 4. Adding colour and contrast

10 November 2016. Volcanic sand and rocks look a very dark warm grey closeby, but increasingly cooler towards the horizon. This first layer of colour helped the painting to increase in depth, but it is clearly visible that any small mistake in choice of colour has a profound effect on the perception of perspective. This is particularly evident in the wide darkish horizontal strip behind the large stone in the bottom lefthand corner. It makes the rocky outcrop in the middle ground hover rather than sit on its hill. So it is clearly not enough to simply reduce contrast and colour saturation on a rigid recipe basis. It is essential to pay attention to the respective properties of all parts of the painting and balance the effects around each change.

4. Correcting saturation and contrast

By introducing a selection of purer warm hues used in mixing the above greys and adjusting tonal values, including some light and shade in the foreground and middle ground, as well as covering the sky with a dilute layer of greyish blue I intensified the differences between the different parts of the painting. Although linear perspective is present at no point in the painting, the space created by techniques relating to aerial perspective looks believable. I find that I make many of these adaptations subconsciously without referring to an external set of instructions.

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Figure 5. Correcting colour and contrast

Overall I think that even the first line drawing using nothing but decreasing line width creates a working spatial composition. The same would apply to using staggered warm and cold coloured areas alone (similar to the third step), even if a landscape were inexistent. In order to be recognized as something derived from the real physical world, however, the above rules must not be broken. The human eye and brain are tuned into detecting the slightest discrepancy in information, a probably life-saving ability in our complex and not always welcoming universe.

References:

Harron, N. (2009) An Aerial Perspective [acrylic on canvas] [online]. Private Collection, [n.k.]. Available at: http://nikharron.com/aerial-view/ [Accessed 7 November 2016]

Schiele, E. (1917) Four Trees  [oil on canvas] [online]. Belvedere, Vienna. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egon_Schiele#/media/File:Egon_Schiele_094.jpg [Accessed 7 November 2016]

The Editors of Encylopaedia Britannica (2015) Aerial Perspective. Encyclopaedia Britannica, London. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/art/aerial-perspective [Accessed 7 November 2016]

Tang, I. (n.d.) Linear and Aerial Perspective: The Techniques of Linear and Aerial Perspective [online]. Inge Tang, [n.k.]. Available at: https://sites.google.com/site/ingetang/ [Accessed 20 March 2017]

Part4, project 2, exercise 1: Perspective – linear (or scientific) perspective

Updated on 20 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

1 November 2016. In Renaissance Filippo Brunelleschi’s (1377-1446, Italy) linear perspective experiment from 1420 and reference to Leon Baptista Alberti’s (1404-1472, Italy) first-time instructions (1435, probably rediscovering the idea after it had been lost after the Greeks and Romans) on using linear perspective in painting (Harris and Zucker, n.d.) ). Here is a very interesting interactive view on one-point perspective from the same site (Fulks, n.d.).

An ideal contruction making the most of the basic type of one-point perspective is Leonardo da Vinci’s (1452-1519, Italy) “Last Supper” (da Vinci, 1490) (Fig. 1). By using the vanishing point not only as a way of constructing a believable three-dimensional space, but by creating a dialogue with the subject of the painting da Vinci draws the attention to the divine:

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Figure 1. Leonardo da Vinci: “Last Supper”, 1490, mural (tempera on gesso, pitch and mastic), Milan. Source: Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
And, moving somewhat closer to the present, here a selection of Andrew Wyeth’s work and his own use of linear perspective (Kantrowitz, 2014).

I have always had the impression that my intuitive use of linear perspective is not bad, but from time to time there are views, which are quite tricky. From Drawing 1 I remember one particular sketch I was trying to make in our shower room. There I probably understood for the first time how the mind works to distort what you see in order to make up the impression of space around you. I never even came close to finding a solution for drawing how that small room “wrapped” itself around my body. Reminds me of gravitational waves and gives me a headache.
Thoroughly warned I decided to try and pay particular attention to this fact when choosing my subject for this exercise, and by referring to the really helpful introduction to perspective (Tang, n.d.).

There is a relatively new university building not far from where we live. It offers a great variety of good views for drawing perspective with paint and I hoped that this would be safe ground. Since is has quite an impressive open hall and staircase, I went for that and with the suggestion in the study guide to use a stick and fluid paint to draw. This is the result on 42 x 56 cm acrylic paper (Fig. 2):

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Figure 2. Painting linear perspective with acrylic paint and a bamboo stick

Although this drawing is not without tonal variation, I tried to make line the primary indicator of perspective and I think that it did work well despite the very rough quality of the marks produced with my 1 cm diameter bamboo stick. At this stage I was not so sure whether the drawing needed more helping lines, but then left it as it was. I think that the horizontal and converging “vertical” criss-cross is sufficient to create a believable sense of space (Fig. 3):

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Figure 3. Creating perspective using line

There are some points at the far back, to the left, where perspective is distorted somehow, because of the width of my stick, which would not allow continuous and/or narrow lines to be produced, but in combination with the rest of the hall there should be a harmonious whole.

References:

da Vinci, L. (1490) Last Supper [mural, tempera on gesso, pitch and mastic]. Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%C3%9Altima_Cena_-_Da_Vinci_5.jpg [Accessed 1 November 2016]

Fulks, P. (n.d.) Linear Perspective Interactive [interactive animation] [online]. Khan Academy. Available at: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/early-renaissance1/beginners-renaissance-florence/a/linear-perspective-interactive [Accessed 1 November 2016]

Harris, B. and Zucker, S. (n.d.) How One-point Linear Perspective Works [online]. Khan Academy. Available at: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/early-renaissance1/beginners-renaissance-florence/v/linear-perspective-brunelleschi-s-experiement [Accessed 1 November 2016]

Kantrowitz, J. (2014) Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In [blog] [online]. Art History News, [n.k.], 17 April. Available at: http://arthistorynewsreport.blogspot.co.at/2014/04/andrew-wyeth-looking-out-looking-in.html [Accessed 1 November 2016]

Tang, I. (n.d.) Linear and Aerial Perspective: The Techniques of Linear and Aerial Perspective [online]. Inge Tang, [n.k.]. Available at: https://sites.google.com/site/ingetang/ [Accessed 20 March 2017]

Research point: The basics of linear perspective

Updated on 3 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

9 June 2016. I have had to write about linear perspective on several occasions before and this time I decided will take the risk and not repeat the usual “receding lines – vanishing point – horizon” triad, but report my own very private discovery of the “secrets” of 3D drawing when I was a kid.

I come from a family of artists and when I was very little, kindergarten age at the most, I received my first practical drawing lessons by my dad, who is a sculptor. These included drawing fiercely into my own work (causing many tears) and merciless comments on the artistic abilities of our preschool teacher, who doubtlessly did mean well. Being so small, I decided I did not want any more judgmental lessons on perspective (and wet-in-wet technique, and the respective virtues of the master builders of the churches in Salzburg, and countless others), and obstinate as I used to be, I decided to teach myself my own way.

It did not take me long to discover that there is no secret behind perspective whatsoever. You just pretend that the three-dimensional space unrolling before your eyes is there already in two dimensions and then you do nothing but follow the outlines of objects, or whatever method you choose to catch them on paper, as you see them. You do not need any construction lines and vanishing points, because it all falls into place by itself, effortlessly and beautifully. The only thing you do have to think about is choosing an interesting view.

It is so incredibly simple that I cannot understand why so much technical fuss is made over the subject. I admit that changing one’s method so radically means some mental effort and, what is probably the most important aspect of them all, you MUST draw what you see. There is no “But I know that the roof of a house slopes in identical ways to the left and right, so both the roof gutters must be in the same position heightwise, on the paper”. This does not work. It is so much easier: do not switch on your analytical brain, but let your eyes guide your pencil along the outlines, or if you prefer that, tonally different shapes.

I hope that this does not get me into trouble with OCA, but I wanted to share my technique, so that maybe fellow students can try it out and see whether it works for them as well as it does for me. By the way, our older son, now 23, made the same discovery completely on his own, when he was about six years old. Maybe there is a natural inclination for seeing the world in particular ways.

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