Saturday, 27 November 2010

Understanding Perspectives in Buildings for Painting

Painting buildings for the first time may flummox the artist who struggles with vanishing points and perspectives, resulting in a village scene consisting of childish-looking blocks nestling in trees with black squares for windows. What is the best way to paint buildings?

Problems with Drawing Perspectives for Buildings

Perspectives to Buildings
Rachel shirley
Before making improvements to a painting consisting of buildings, the following culprits need to be identified.
  • Not understanding or adhering to the rules of perspectives, vanishing points or failing to measure proportions of buildings.
  • Illustrating every building as being a cuboid of equal sides and angles that fall away towards the distance in the same fashion.
  • Illustrating windows as being the same size and proportions, despite the wall they reside upon angling away from the viewer.
  • Taking the draftsman’s approach to illustrating buildings, measuring equal spaces between windows, centring doors, and using the ruler to draw lines for tiles, bricks or drainpipes.
  • Over-smoothing the paint on surfaces of buildings, resulting in a space-age looking village rather than one that looks natural or worn by time.
Simple Exercise on Painting Buildings

The following simplified drawing exercise may help the artist paint convincing buildings, whether this is a Lakeland village or Cornish tin mines.

Establish the centre of the composition, which could be a window or a roof tile. Plot this centre point onto the centre of the painting surface. Doing so will prevent the composition from falling off towards the edge of the painting.

Identify a “key” measurement within the composition starting with the biggest. This could be the height of a building or the width of a roof. This “key” may be used as a foundation from which to build up the sketch and make comparisons with other aspects of the composition. The church spire, for instance may equal or half this key measurement.

How to Draw the Vanishing Point

How to Draw Buildings
Rachel Shirley
Bear in mind that the horizon lays at eye level, whether or not it can be seen. Draw a faint line across the painting surface to represent the horizon. Remember that the location of the line will affect how much of the sky or ground will be in view.

If the wall of a building went on forever, it would eventually recede at a point on the horizon. This point is known as the vanishing point. Every building or structure has their own vanishing point.

Any aspect of a building, such as a porch or veranda that falls below this horizon line will generate an angle that will appear to recede upwards towards the vanishing point.

Similarly, any feature located above the horizon line, such as a rooftop or chimney stack, will generate angles that appear to fall downwards towards the vanishing point.

How to Sketch Angles for Buildings

Another rule of thumb is that a structure that is situated near the horizon line will generate a small angle; a structure that is situated at some distance above or below the horizon line will generate steep angles. This can be seen when viewing tower blocks from below.

Drawing Detail on Buildings

Contrary to belief, windows often are not spaced equally on a drawing, even though this might be the case in reality. If a wall recedes from the viewer, the spaces between windows, doors and other features will get smaller and appear more squashed together. Doors will appear narrower and chimneys thinner, including the spaces between.

Sketching Detail on Buildings

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All this being well, nothing can really substitute for sensitive observation. In many cases, buildings are not perfect right-angles and walls do not have crisp corners. Weather and time will create imperfections. Crumbling brickwork, crooked cottages and gates off hinges often add a charm and authenticity to a setting consisting of buildings.

The Colour of Buildings

Close observation also applies to the hue of buildings. Brickwork is often not a consistent and perfect red, but a medley of ochres, oranges, browns and maroons; similarly, mortar will exhibit blues, browns and rusts. Moss, pebbledash and sandstone will often possess a variety of tones. The weather and lighting conditions will further create unlikely colours on any building. Reflections from a blue sky or sunset will cast pinks or blues onto white cottages.

Finally, a successful rendering of buildings will result if making artistic comparisons between the buildings and other elements within the painting. Are the colours paler, more sombre or have a particular hue? This will ensure the buildings key in with the trees, river or sky nearby.

Links to Products and Articles on Oil Painting Buildings


Unknown said...

This is very sound advice. I've always managed to paint pretty landscapes of countryside but buildings are a struggle for me. I do envy Avril Paton. Her artwork is so impressive with all the perspective spot on.

Anonymous said...

Do you have advice for putting steeples on churches? I can't seem to get them right.


Rachel said...

Hi Judy
Thanks for your question about painting church steeples.

So long as the steeple is upright in your painting, you are halfway there. Our eyes can decieve us, so either turn the image upside down or measure with a ruler. Once you are certain the steeple is upright, use good visual resources or detail will be lost. Use excellent quality sables, 00 or 1 size. Move the paint upwards when illustrating the steeple. Don't use black or this will look harsh. Midnight blue or a dark earth colour is more in keeping with the rest of the church. Thin the paint with a little linseed oil and wipe off surplus paint into a rag. This will ensure clean lines. Remember to keep looking at the image to ensure a faithful depiction.

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