Learning perspective with The Urban Sketching Handbook

Perspective drawing has never been my strength – even back when I was learning and studying the subject full-time as an art student.

I hated drawing lines.

My hand is such that whenever I try to draw a straight line, it would falter and curve somewhere in the middle. It may be a matter of practice, but I’ve always been put off by the idea of practicing how to draw straight lines. It was this laziness and manner of thinking that shaped my work – organic and loose lines that didn’t follow a set of rules, unlike perspective work, which had to make sense for the work to look good.

While traveling in Europe this year, I saw a few beautiful places and thought to myself, “How nice it would be if I could draw this structure/cathedral/railway in my journal.”

I did try, and some turned out pretty believable while most lacked a sense of realism due to the horrible perspective and bad lines. See below.

My favorite out of the lot. I felt like the color and perspective here is quite believable (but not accurate) due to the full page scene.
You can see how the fore drawing looks good but the buildings in the back are terrible.
Decent drawing, bad framing, too much empty space on the right.
The left drawing of a tower in Utrecht could be better; the left side drawing of the St Barbara’s Cathedral feels a little too lifeless.

Just the other day, as I was browsing through the art section in Kinokuniya, I chanced upon a book that looked very much like my sketchbook (Moleskine & Seawhite) which was all black and had the vertical elastic on the right.

It was The Urban Sketching Handbook (which I’ve seen before on their Instagram) and it was one part of the series titled “Understanding Perspective”. 

Needless to say, I felt a lightbulb click in my head – like I had been on the search for this book and it has finally arrived to meet me. I bought it and immediately devoured the first few pages.

It was like being back in college again – except that my study notes are much shorter and there are useful examples and line drawings to succinctly explain the theories. (Why didn’t we have this in college?)

I immediately put some of the simpler theories to the test (I was still halfway through the book) and I believe that my work definitely had a touch of improvement. I drew the National Museum of Singapore that I recently visited and had taken a photo of.

Other personal observations:

  • I find that I understand structures more clearly, and also how elevation can change the way things look.
  • I learnt a lot of useful nuggets of info that my lecturer failed to highlight to us in college – these are things you only notice if you draw a lot of urban scenes, but may take for granted.
  • Perspective has a range of easy to stupendously mind-boggling – but you can change the level of ease no matter what you’re drawing, it all depends on where you stand!
  • I tend to work on buildings bit-by-bit and obsess over details like elaborate railings or fancy minarets. The key is to work with big shapes first (to get your sections plotted in) before working on the minute details.

I won’t spill more of what’s inside the book. It’s worth getting especially if you want to work more buildings and structures into your art. I went ahead and ordered one of the other books in the series “People and Motion”. More on that later!

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