Edwards’ third basic drawing skill is seeing relationships between objects, enabling the artist to accurately depict perspective and proportion. So fundamental is this skill, Edwards likens it to grammar, and I can see why – without a grasp of these relationships, a picture cannot hang together, regardless of the artist’s skill in rendering.
Edwards opts to skip teaching the reader about vanishing points and the mechanics of perspective in favour of sighting.
Sighting is a multi-part skill, comprising firstly of sighting angles relative to vertical and horizontal markers, and secondly of sighting relative proportions. Each measurement is made relative to a constant so that the brain is comparing ‘thing’ to ‘thing’, instead of naming objects or measuring absolute distances. The use of ratios enables the student to overcome their known reality to accurately recreate the illusion of reality on the paper.
Linear perspective is a relatively recent invention, originating from Renaissance Europe. Other cultures developed their own approach to spacial relationships, notably the stepped perspective of Egyptian and East Asian art, where depth is represented vertically and objects higher up the page are understood to be further in distance from the viewer. Distant objects are often rendered the same size and with the same level of detail as near objects.
Albrecht Dürer’s perspective machine (illustrated by Dürer’s own Artist Drawing a Nude with Perspective Device and Man Drawing a Lute) was a simple frame, strung with a grid of thread or wire, and held at a fixed position. A marker on the frame ensured that the artist was always viewing the sitter or scene from the same point (something I have struggled with while doing the exercises in this book). By recreating what is visible through the grid in the manner that it is visible the artist is able to create accurate drawings, using foreshortening to create the illusion of objects receding into space.
Something that I struggled with throughout this chapter is sighting angles. I’m far more comfortable sighting the ends of a diagonal, or points of a diagonal, and joining them up, and need to practice sighting angles, at least so I can compare the two methods.
Notes on sighting angles
- angles are sighted against vertical and horizons constants
- angles are sighted on the picture plane. Care must be taken to maintain the integrity of the plane
- creating the illusion of reality will always involve close observation of perceived forms and the rejection of known forms (symbol language).
- use the triangular negative shape created between the constant and the diagonal to accurately describe the angle.
- do not determine an angle to be at 45°, 30°, etc. I do this currently, but Edwards explicitly counsels against it.
- when deciding between a vertical or horizontal constant, Edwards recommends whichever will make the smaller angle.
Advice for perspective drawing
- work from part to adjacent part
- keep checking relationships
- use negative spaces – focusing only on positive shapes weakens a drawing
- areas of light and shadow are signed in exactly the same way as the shapes
“If in your drawing you habitually disregard proportions, you become accustomed to the sight of distortion and lose critical ability. A person living in squalor eventually gets used to it.”(Robert Henri, The Art Spirit