A first principle approach to drawing.

polycounter lvl 9
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Muzzoid polycounter lvl 9
EDIT: I rewrote this first part for clarity.

If you are a beginner and you are watching a skilled artist draw, you will probably notice that they are skilled at creating depth, yet they are not using complex perspective construction to do this. They are just freehanding and drawing as if they are almost 3d modelling. Sculpting form with lines or tone.

I think that this is a key point that isn't usually stressed, but from talking to a lot of artists, there is a certain sort of illusion that the artist is immersed in while drawing. The effect is somewhat similar to putting on 3d glasses, where you pen feels like it doesn't just have an x and a y axis but also a Z.

When you look at a terrible artist, one who obviously has put in a lot of time and their drawings just look wrong, chances are that they have problems drawing form and it can likley be taken back to the lack of this sensation, and their drawings as a result look really bizarre.

Now it's one thing to explain the experience, and why it is important but i think it is possible to evoke it in an artist through exercises. Below is my attempt at writing one and it seems to be effective on the artists i have tried it on.


You are to draw a perspective scene with a cube, and this is to set up the illusion. Then you are tasked with drawing primitives floating in the illusion. Some should be really close to the camera, others should be far away. Most should be rotated at arbitrary angles. These primitives are to be eyeballed, without planning, as we are testing to see if you can draw within the illusion.


Pay attention to the original cube as that is defining the perspective for your primitives.


Start out with cubes. Once you feel that you can draw them in the space perfectly move up to cylinders, cones, triangular prisms, pyramids.


The next step up in difficulty is to drop the cube construction which you used to define the perspective, and instead use an axis drawing to define it. So you are dropping out information to make sure you can picture the perspective with the minimum amount of information.


Once you can comfortably do this with primitive objects, start moving up the complexity of the objects, depending on the level of drawing skill you possess.


This will be very difficult if you are a beginner artist, but i think it's something that everyone can tackle if you put your mind to it.

So this exercise is also designed to do a few things other than get you into that illusion. It is designed to ramp up difficulty in a very deliberate way so that you can identify where you begin to have problems with form, so that you can stay at that level until you beat it.

Think of it like weight training. If you keep trying to pick up weights you can't comfortably get off the ground you won't get anywhere, and the same with weights that are too light, you need to find weights just above where is comfortable and push the edges so that you can still use clean technique.

Let me know if this is helpful and please post up your results if you try this. If it's helpful i might make this a series of posts on fundamental skills.


  • [Deleted User]
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    [Deleted User] insane polycounter
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  • BagelHero
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    BagelHero polycounter lvl 4
    I might need to finally crack and buy that book, TeriyakiStyle. :/ From the excerpts I've read it seems like something I'd have trouble reading and digesting but it's probably a worth while investment.

    By the way, Muzz, shapes in space. I struggled. Kinda interesting though
  • nilknarf815
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    nilknarf815 polycounter lvl 6
    If you guys are interested into getting more of the nitty gritty of perspective there's a really great website that covers all of the aspect of perspective. The stuff maybe dry, but I can guarantee that it was worth it to learn more about the cone of vision, measuring points, etc.

  • Avanthera
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    Avanthera polycounter lvl 8
    I'm a big fan of Paul Richards, one of his latest lectures goes over this in a way:

  • Muzzoid
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    Muzzoid polycounter lvl 9
    Ok guys i feel like you actually missed the point.

    I'm not trying to talk about perspective construction. Instead it is all about invoking a sense of spacial awareness via an exercise that isn't possible to do unless you have it. That feeling that you can actually feel the depth in your drawing like you pen is going into the page.

    Nilk, uuugh Handprint. It's not wrong but it is written in the most verbose way that I literally can't imagine making harder to explain. The best resource currently imo for perspective is this. http://designstudiopress.com/product/how-to-draw/

    I'm going to completely rewrite my original post as people obviously don't get it.

    That is actually a pretty good resource :).

    BagelHero! Awesome! seems like you managed to nail most of the primitives! Just wondering what were your thoughts as you were doing the exercise?

    I'd say that having difficulty but managing to do it is a sign that it's about the right level of challenge to push your skills. You want it to difficult but you also need to be able to produce the results.
  • BagelHero
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    BagelHero polycounter lvl 4
    Well, it kept me checking that things lined up with the actual perspective of the scene. I think, and I noticed after doing this, that I have a bit of a tendency to (sometimes even with basic perspective lines) just draw stuff in without paying attention to the spacial awareness factor. This leads to a lot of floaty, off kilter (at least until like the third revision) characters in scenes, and scenes that are either poorly done perspective-wise or flat. Like I just forget that the actual scene is taking place in 3D space, not just the characters in it. Like I feel like I know the sense you're referring to, but for whatever reason I don't experience it consistently, and when I do it's only with characters. And lets be honest that's probably because that's all I draw.

    But with the exercise I had an object to consistently look back at and make sure I was keeping the bigger picture in line and also... not drawing everything on the same angle/rotation all the time? Honestly while I was doing it I felt like something clicked for me regarding perspective and I'm looking forward to really testing that out over a few drawings. Part of this is just remembering to actually look back at the lines and think about what I'm drawing and where it is in space, but hey, as simple as that is I wasn't thinking about it very much before I did this.

    My only other thought is that it was a bit of a struggle, yeah, but challenge, not the struggle of "I don't understand what I'm doing". Which honestly, after a few months of the latter, I really appreciated. This is a bit of a ramble, but that's my thoughts.

    Worth nothing that afterwards I tried it again with the little perspective marker and it worked just as well for me as the full cube/horizon. :thumbup:
  • Muzzoid
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    Muzzoid polycounter lvl 9
    Thanks for the writeup man.

    That was pretty much the hoped outcome! I think that the spacial awareness thing is something most artists do naturally, but i think it's helpful to think of it consciously and make sure that you are always doing it.

  • Marcus Aseth
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    Marcus Aseth polycounter lvl 7
    Just attempted it,the reddish one is the starting cube using the perspective grid,am I doing this right? ...I don't know,I feel like my major problem is that I can't visualize what position I want to draw the shape in beforehand in my head,therefore I place a line and I go with it wathever is the outcome,is like I'm not in control of what I am doing,don't know if you guys know what I mean... :poly141:

  • Muzzoid
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    Muzzoid polycounter lvl 9
    You didn't do too bad actually. This exercise is not naturally easy, so don't feel bad that you might not nail it first go.

    Your primitives all look to be good by themselves, but they don't sit in the same scene, This is because they all have a different Field of View. What that means is that some objects have a really pinched exaggerated perspective and others have a shallow one.

    Here is a quick example. The two blue boxes have the same FOV, and the red shapes have a much more exaggerated fov, hopefully you can see how they do not fit into the same scene as the blue boxes.


    If you give it another shot and pay attention to that, it will be a lot easier.
  • Marcus Aseth
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    Marcus Aseth polycounter lvl 7
    @Muzz: Thx for making me notice that,it's not like I can say I totally see it but I start to see it indeed. I can't tell if my problem is that I didn't studied enough images really trying to understand how the perspective behave or that I don't have a "global vision" of my scene therefore I end up drawing some object as if they where in another scene :poly122:
    Anyway I'll keep trying :)
  • RN
  • Muzzoid
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    Muzzoid polycounter lvl 9
    Here´s a HUGE dillema/doubt/question/missing link that I´m always interested. How many of you guys really Visualize the 'subject of the drawing' in your head?

    I think how i think about it is that I'm sculpting form. Once i have defined my perspective, every shape I make is either subtracting or adding to the forms. I don't know what the results of my addition or subtraction are exactly, but i do know i think of it in a 3d space and not a 2d space.

    So i don't think about 2d lines, but instead i do consider drawing like this to be very similar to 3d modelling from a single camera angle.

    I think this is important to me because it dictates that any form i put down won't be breaking the depth of the image, but instead it will either be a good or bad design feature.

    Not sure if that helps answer your questions.
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