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Basic Perspective

In a world of infinite depth, there is one simple way to achieve a true feeling of depth in your artwork: sculpt.

Assuming that you are still determined to create an illusion of depth in two dimensional drawings and paintings, then you will need a good dose of perspective. The principles of linear perspective were formalized in the early 15th century. After centuries of refinement, I offer this basic advice. Learn the specifics of how to manipulate the way we perceive depth. Then use that knowledge and constantly fake it.

Fake it? But you came here for the secrets of the universe of depth. All that and more will be explained, and you should feel free to use every bit of that information. The point is that once you know the basic principles, you can do a lot of approximation by deciding what looks right to you. Unless you plan to do specifically scaled architectural renderings, your own good judgment can often save a lot of time. This should become more apparent as you see how simple perspective can be, and how complicated it can become.

The first thing you need to know...

is something of which you should already be aware. The problem is that sometimes knowing and realizing are two entirely seperate events. The brain is a wonderous instrument, but the mind often plays tricks. By exploiting what we know of how we think and perceive, and even by playing on some of the physiological limitations of the perceptual process, we can achieve some great things in flat artwork.

And so, the first thing you need to know is that flat artwork is indeed flat. It is not the real world, and never will be. Occasionally we may refer to parts of a picture as if they were real by saying thnings like, "... and I'll put the chair over here." But, just as soon as we consider how the picture will remind us of our imagined reality, we must also immediately realize that the image is a flat representation of what we wish to portray. If it helps, go ahead and touch your paper, remind yourself that the picture plane has no actual depth. As artists, it is our job to help others to forget that our artwork has no actual depth, but as soon as we lose sight of this fact ourselves, we cannot be an effective guide.

Visual Perception is All Illusion

The greatest misconception of our own perception is created by the fact that the way we perceive our visual world happens in our head in a manner which is basically invisible to us. We seem to share some collective impression that what we "see" is the actual object before us, rather than our own brain's reconstruction and interpretation of that object. Breaking down the visual process into its component parts can make it more obvious that what we see is all in our minds.

First, there must be some source of visible light for us to see. The light we can actually use for sight is only a minute fration of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Among the non visible x-rays, gama rays, microwaves, etc. is a thin band nestled between what we call infrared and ultraviolet known to us as the visible spectrum. Without this range of electromagnetic radiation present, we perceive only darkness. Luckily for us, there are many sources of this band of light ranging from the sun, to light bulbs, to open flames.

Visible light has many properties, but the key one that we need to focus on is its propensity to bounce. When light bounces off of something we call that process reflection. When it fails to bounce, we call it absorbtion, and when it passes through - that is refraction. Though, before we get to heavily into light, dark, and shadow, let us begin with some conceptualization of depth.

  1. Eight Basic Tricks of Perspective
  2. The Linear Basics
  3. Where the World Ends (a Plane View)
  4. Seeing From a Single Point
  5. Turning Your World on End
  6. Adding a Twist
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