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THOUGHTS ON PERSPECTIVE

The graphic recording blog title picture

Introduction

I want to take the opportunity to remember my first conscious approach on how to think about perspective. It was a rainy evening and I was drawing. At some point midway through I painfully noticed the lack of perspective in my drawings and for the first time in my life it truely annoyed me. So I went for a long walk to get away from the paper and clear my mind. My plan was to keep on walking and observing, until I figured out how to introduce perspective to my drawings and thinking.

Perspective and reality

Perspective is like water to a fish

My first observation was kind of trivial, though it might be the most powerful one. Perspective is real! It is all around us, surrounding us like water surrounds fish. Perspective is the way we see the world contrary to how the world actually is! A building that is tiny when looked at from afar isn’t actually tiny .. it just appears that way to the human observer. In reality it always stays as big as it is. A first light went on in my head.

3D Space

Objects in 3D space

The next observation is obvious and undoubted to our modern minds. We exist in 3D space! This observation seemed as trivial as the first one but after a while of meditating on it, it started to raise some questions. What is a dimension? Why are there 3 and who defined this ... how? While these questions were floating in the jellies of my mind an answer started to appear very slowly and quietly. It was less an answer then a direction. I thought all of a sudden that 3D space could only be understood with some basic knowledge in mathematics. There was the number '3', a mathematical word like 'dimension' and all of this wrapped in 'space'. It seemed that I had to inspect this further to get some real answers.

The sandwich rule and infinity

The sandwich rule and infinity

Since I actually studied mathematics for a while, I didn’t panic at the fact that my mind has led me into this corner. I scanned my brain for any knowledge I could use. What I fished out of the depths of my abstract thinking and my past memories was a so called sandwich rule. It states that if two lines meet each other in one point, then a third line that runs in between them will meet in the same point as the two outer ones. Another piece of information that popped up immediately afterwards was that all lines that run towards infinity meet each other in one point eventually - even parallel ones. So considering the ground being one set of lines and the sky being another parallel one, when they meet on the horizon in infinity then everything that moves between those two sets of lines has to point towards the same horizon in infinity. As a conclusion, any line that is directed away from the observer will point towards a common horizontal line. These thoughts started to sound familiar and it seemed that I was onto something.

One, two and three – point perspective

The classic approach to perspective

All these mathematical thoughts led me to an understanding of 3D space and perspective in which there is a horizon and either one or two points that help constructing a rectangular surrounding … but wait a minute! That’s not a new idea! I was instantly reminded of things we learned as kids about the classical types of perspective. I guess everyone knows these. I just had to understand the history of perspective! I started reading, and reading ... and reading. Eventually I started to be a little frustrated. I understood the concepts that I was reading about and they matched my mathematical understanding given to me by infinity and the sandwich rule, but it all seemed fairly complex. It made perfect sense for big visual constructions like architecture or concept-art landscapes but not at all for simultaneous visual recording! I had to discard the mathematical approach and find something that could actually be applied fast and without all these tedious thoughts. That’s when I started to think about the biological composition of the eye.

The biological eye

The biological eye

When you move away from the definition of space and turn towards human biology it all starts to be physics. Particles or Rays of light meet the eye, fall onto the retina and create electrical signals. Those signals get processed in the nervous system of the eye and transported as information towards the brain. The brain stores, combines, compares, analyses and basically constructs the pictures with high speed and maximum performance. It is amazing what the brain is capable of! But it still didn’t satisfy me. Even though I could follow the concepts that scientists use to describe the phenomenon of human vision, I still didn’t know how my hand and a pencil could express perspective during a creative process! After all these thoughts I felt that I had to think all over again. And it would better be a good clarifying thought, because it was dark already and I wanted to bring this mission to an end.

Thinking, feeling and imagination

The new 3D: Think, feel and imagine

The conclusion that came to me as an epiphany was that whether I understand any of the previous observations or not, my eye is naturally capable of translating a 2D picture into 3D. It is doing this all the time when it makes me feel part of 3D space based on 2D pictures that are created on the retina. I would just have to believe that everything is part of 3D space and create my drawings accordingly. Because the eye translates 2D images into 3D throughout all our lives we can apply this natural skill to our imagination and imagine objects as part of a 3D space before drawing them! It seemed as if I had found a new artistic 3D: think, feel, imagine. I am not so sure why but I felt great relieve inside of my brain.

The result

Those are the results, my first objects that contain perspective. While revising the previous observations and thought cascades, you can see immediately that I actually didn’t think anything new or ground-breaking. So what has changed? The novelty was that I started to be aware about perspective and started to think about it as a part of my natural skillset as a human being. And a simple thing as being aware and choosing to imagine in 3D opened a new understanding and new possibilities to draw. Often it seems to be the small, almost unseen changes in thinking that can have a truly big effect.