A Matter of Perspective

Oh, my goodness, but do I have a headache! I’ve just been through a grueling lesson on perspective, and while I understand the concepts, I struggle with any sort of architectural drawing. My assignment today was simple enough: draw an open door. With ruler and protractor in hand, I eventually succeeded, but not without a lot of hair-pulling — literally — and pain.

First, of course, I had to measure the angles in my reference photo, and then I had to draw them on the page.  Neither step of the process was easy for me. I don’t handle rulers and protractors well. Even with the proper tools, my lines come out crooked. As my frustration grows, of course, it becomes even harder for me to get angles and measurements precise.

And that is why I can’t draw buildings.

With scenes from nature, I’ve learned, it’s all right to be a little off here and there. I don’t have to draw a mountain to precise proportions. I don’t have to have the bend in a river correct within so many degrees. Nature allows me a little leeway — and believe me, I need it.

Buildings, on the other hand, don’t move much. They stand there, staring at me, taunting me, and daring me to draw them. Always they look so deceptively simple. Buildings are mostly straight lines — or so they seem. But when I sit down to draw, those straight lines turn into angles and even the simplest structure becomes a lopsided mess on my paper. It isn’t long before I lose all patience.

I’d love to draw or paint street scenes. I like cityscapes where the architecture itself comes alive with moods and emotions. I love old barns, too. And covered bridges. Alas, they’re buildings, and I can’t draw buildings.

Old BarnOccasionally I do surprise myself, like the time a friend posted a picture of an old barn on Facebook, and I fell in love with it. I knew I had to sketch it. I grabbed a pencil, sat down, and quickly made this freehand drawing.

Sure, I simplified it a bit, but it’s a fairly accurate representation. I look at it from time to time and shake my head, wondering how I was able to do it. I have no idea.

Most of my buildings are crooked, skewed, and completely out of proportion. Understanding perspective doesn’t mean I can put it to use when drawing. My hand hasn’t learned to translate the angles I see, and digging out all those mechanical drawing instruments makes my head hurt.

I get easily overwhelmed by the details in buildings. Windows! Doors! Architectural embellishments! And then there are all the lights and shadows to think about. It’s too much for my mind to deal with. I see angles going one direction, and I somehow end up making them go the opposite. Before long, I lose all sense of perspective.

VeniceAnd if a single building can be a nightmare for me, imagine what happens when I string a few together. It’s comical. Well, you don’t have to imagine. I can show you in living color. Just take a look at this childish little Venetian scene. Nice colors, eh? Good sky, too. But, oh, those awful buildings.

Of course, I wasn’t trying for perfection or anything even close to it. I was working on seeing basic shapes and colors in pastel drawing, and in that respect, at least, I did what I set out to do.

As I was working on this canal scene, I wondered what it might look like if I gave it my best effort. If I sat down with my ruler and if I started measuring…and no. Don’t even think about it. I wouldn’t want to even attempt it. I wouldn’t enjoy it, and the results would be disastrous.

At least my little Venetian pastel has a certain sort of charm about it. That’s what I tell myself anyway.

I’m not a precise artist, and I wouldn’t want to be. I don’t care much for exactness in art. When a drawing or painting is too perfect, it loses something. To me, it turns cold and emotionless.

In looking back at the street scenes and cityscapes I’ve enjoyed, I find imperfections there. Buildings — even entire cities — have character, and good art should capture not the architectural precision of brick, stone, or wood, but the inner spirit within.

So, maybe I can draw buildings. I just have to see them from a slightly different perspective. I need to just forget about perfection and settle for character.




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