Understanding Perspective

Artist's Sketchbook

Perspective is the perception of objects farther away as smaller than objects that are closer to us. Trompe I'oeil is French for "trick of the eye." Trompe I'oeil techniques involve making the eye "see" something that is painted seem so three-dimensional you can't quite believe it isn't really there.

We are used to seeing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional piece of paper because of the development of photography, but photography was only an idea during the Renaissance and almost until van Gogh's time.

The development of photography, as a means of completely accurately representing three-dimensional space, changed a lot of things for artists. For example, they couldn't compete with a camera when it came to reproducing reality, so they began to experiment with their own ways of "seeing" things, which led into all the modern schools of painting that we now know, such as cubism, impressionism, and abstract expressionism.

But while modern schools of painting may have altered reality, the fact of perspective remains a given in the way we perceive the world around us. Perspective is a kind of trompe l'oeil, in which we know an object's actual size, even though it seems very small. The moon, for example, looks as if it would fit between your fingertips, but you "know" that it is actually much bigger.

How to render perspective on the page has long been a problem and a fascination for artists. When it's handled well, the eye of the beholder will accept it as naturally as it accepts a " real" scene in space. A chair that's smaller than another, for example, will " feel" farther away.

Back to the Drawing Board

We think it's important to think of perspective as a useful tool rather than a problem. After all, perspective is everywhere, so you should use it to your advantage rather than hide from it.

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