Perspective. Journeymen and Masters (ages 9-12), whom I teach, have typically been introduced to the concept already, so what can they do next? Fitting with the medieval theme for this fall of Classical Conversations, I chose a castle. Not unique, I know. But I’m aiming to take perspective to the next level with not just the structure of the building but also with the detail of the bricks.
I found the above castle drawing here.
The challenge with teaching perspective is that there are so any possible lessons in this concept! The simple projects for younger kids bely this–the 3D shapes, the lesson to make letters of your name look 3D, vanishing points–that all falls under the category of “perspective lessons.” As usual my aim is to try to hit what I don’t see others doing, especially since I have the oldest on my campus.
Step #1. As I began training my students in lesson 1, we begin by looking at the orignal drawing and locating basic shapes. I have my students trace the basic geometric shapes directly on the original drawing.
Step #2. I hand out blank paper and ask students to copy those basic shapes onto their blank paper. I suggest starting with the cylinder tower in the center.
Tip 1 from lesson 1: keep the drawing light and loose, redefining lines again and again as needed without the pressure to make it perfect and erase a line the moment it doesn’t seem right. As students draw, ask what shape the top and bottom lines are for that tower. Make sure they notice neither is straight across–each is curved, and in opposite directions. THAT is what gives the viewer the impression that something is rounded. If we draw those lines straight, we have a rectangular wall.
Tip 2 from lesson 2: to get your drawing to stay in balance and fit on the page, measure the basic shapes with something at hand, such as parts of your hand or pencil. How tall and wide is that round center tower? As tall as your index finger? As wide as imprinted brand name on your pencil?
Insight: the key to getting perspective right is in the observation and measuring stage. As your students draw, ask them to find the wall coming out of the right side of that center tower. Ask them what shape it is. Many may say it’s square. Ask them to look again, to measure, if necessary. When they measure, they will find that the side of that wall closest the tower is taller than the other end of the wall! Therefore, the top and bottom are not straight across lines–they both slant to meet the top and bottom of the shorter wall. Therefore, the basic geometric shape of that wall is a not a square, but a trapezoid! I plan to draw a few trapezoids on the board for a little math review.
Teaching point: the further away the end of a wall is, the shorter the vertical line will be. And likewise, the degree of slant to the top and bottom lines. That is why this castle has a series of slanted lines depicting walls we know we would see as perfectly horizontal if we were to walk up to them.
Step # 3 Details to make perspective convincing: Look at the orignal drawing’s bricks on the tower. We will now learn how to make a curved tower’s bricks look right. First, notice that the entire tower is made of horizontal lines. But notice, they are not all the same: some are curved, some do go straight across, as straight as a ruler. Ask students to observe and tell you where the curved lines are versus the straight lines.
The correct observation is that the curved ones are at the top and bottom. The center of the tower has straight across lines with no bend. I have my students draw a line straight across the middle of their tower. I explain they now need to start at the bottom with curved lines, but make each line a little more straight until they get to the perfectly straight one at the middle. I draw this on the board to demonstrate. Repeat with the top half, making curved lines that gradually straighten by the time they reach the center straight line.
Step #4. Brick tricks. Just as the shape and distance of things can change the shape of a rectangular wall into what appears to be a trapezoid, similar things are going on with bricks. Look at the original and notice that the bricks in the center are rectangles. But the bricks nearest the edges of the tower sides get skinnier and skinnier! Some become squares, and some can become rectangles that are taller than they are wide. This is what convinces our minds that the bricks form a cylindrical wall.
Now I have my students start at the bottom, in the middle, to draw brick number one. That center brick is their standard size brick they are choosing to build with. As they draw more bricks to the left and right, they need to get gradually skinnier. I draw this on the board too.
Second row of bricks: this has nothing to do with perspective, but just a detail of how bricklayers do their craft: bricklayers stack a new brick of a new row directly over a line that joins two bricks of the previous layer. This makes the building sturdier, so if we want to convince viewers our bricks are real, we need to draw them the same way. Draw the second row of bricks by placing the dividing lines at the exact middle of the bricks of row one. For each row, you will continue to do this. If you did the first row well, the rest are easy! All rows will have wider bricks in the middle, skinnier ones toward the edge, because your first row did.
Putting bricks in the wall to the right of the tower is similar. The horizontal lines to fomr your rows of bricks will be parallel to the top and bottom of the wall when near that top and bottom edge, but be perfectly straight in the center. To draw the bricks, they will ever-so-slightly shrink as you draw them further away from the round tower.
Note: my bricks don’t look perfect. That’s ok. In real buildings, especially of this age, not all were standard size.
Step #5 The last skill of perspective to make the tower pop as 3D comes from shading. I tell students that in every real scene and well-done piece of art, there is a source of light. That is the direction that the sun or lightbulb comes from. Ask students to look at the original drawing and see if they can tell from where the light shines. What parts of the building are lightest? The light comes from the right. All walls and tower portions directly in the path of the sun at the right (off the page) have more white spots than gray.
On the board, I demonstrate going to the left side of my tower and coloring in a good portion of each brick on that side. But I do nothing to the bricks in the middle or right side.
Pause to notice how this really makes the tower pop!
Next, move to the wall to the right of the tower. To help, we need to check the original again. Ask students why the rectangular shape that wall runs into is so dark. (It’s in the shade, not the sun). Realizing that, I will then demonstrate coloring in some of the bricks on the far end of the wall.
Next, I paid some attention to my sheep. They’re just a lesson one review. I refined their shapes and gave them details to make them look wooly.
Theoretically, we’ve covered everything a student needs to know to replicate the rest of the castle, because the picture requires the same principles to be applied over and over. You see from my sample project above that I didn’t finish. Let’s get real: for something this tediously detailed, it’s not realistic for students to finish–unless they take it home and put hours into it. (I will encourage interested studedts to do so–and bring it back in the next week!) For my class, I will set thee goals:
- Draw the entire castle in basic shapes–that teaches the most basic lesson of perspective: the distortion of shapes due to viewpoint.
- Learn how to do the brick details of the tower.
- Learn how to do the bricks details of the flat wall to the right of the tower.
Any work beyond that is simply repetition and bonus practice for them! But if you set your goal to those three things, that may be more than enough to fill class. Aiming to complete the entire castle is unrealistic.
God bless your classes!
Other drawing lessons: