Applying 3D Rectangles to Architecture


Drawing Fundamentals: Perspective and Angle


Lesson Info

Applying 3D Rectangles to Architecture

So, we're gonna actually take a look at what I did on the rooftop, and that's the next thing we're gonna see. So, see ya up there. Here we are on the rooftop of CreativeLive and I'm about to do one of my favorite things which is drawing plein air. Drawing plein air means being out in the air. It means drawing what you see out in nature. We happen to be in beautiful San Francisco, so I have this incredible view. It's an urban landscape, which is one of my favorite things to draw. Urban landscapes can be a little daunting because there is a lot of perspective going on, a lot of architecture. But the main thing is that these shapes can be distilled into these simple block-like situations. I'm going to show you what I mean by that. So, I've got this incredible view in front of me from the rooftop. And I love being up high and working looking across the city. It's like a panorama. If I distill those shapes down into something really simple, we can look at it and think about our blocks. We c...

an think about how these block-like shapes, we can distill them down into something very simple, like this. Now I'm gonna take this very simple idea and I'm gonna draw. I'm just gonna work it up from that place. Sometimes making something very complex into something very simple is really the best way in. The other thing about drawing outdoors or drawing something that might feel a little bit daunting in terms of architecture is that we're only really drawing half of what we see. You don't have to draw every single window. You don't have to draw every single leaf on a tree. So we develop a shorthand, and that shorthand over time will become more organic, will become more fluid. And that just takes a little bit of practice. I'm gonna go ahead and start in on a drawing that I started a little while ago up here, just to get some basic shapes down. When I'm working outdoors I like to first think about sort of my view. Is it gonna have a long panoramic shape, or is it gonna be more of a square? And what I decided in this case was that I was gonna go in and work in more of a square composition, a square format. So I often give myself just a little bit of a boundary to help me know where my shapes are gonna land. Once I give myself a boundary, this is quite a square boundary, is I start to think about the things closest to me in the foreground, the things in the midground, and the things in the distance. All of these things, pretty much almost everything in this sketch, all of these things are architectural. All of these things can be distilled into blocks. So if I start with the block up front, there's a very, very strong foreground block. And I enjoy this foreground block because it gives me something way up in the foreground to have to move past. It's almost like a diving board into the composition. So this foreground block is just the roof and side of the building way up front in my composition. And then if I move back a little bit further in space I come to this little structure. And this structure I'm seeing both this facade here, which is more or less facing me, but I'm also seeing this area, which is moving away from me. So I can see that this is below my eye level too, which means that I'm also seeing the roof of it. I'm seeing the rooftop of this because it's down below my eye level. I'm up high, I'm looking down. And so here's one of our very basic block shapes seen from above. As I start to work up in the composition I come to the next building here. A larger block shape. I notice this front corner coming right at me, coming down. And then I notice this side. And again, these shapes are just reiterating a series of rectangles and squares. And you can see by the way that these blocks are hitting the ground, here and here, that they have some weight to them. They have some weight. And there's a sense that, because of my angle to the blocks, these blocks are ultimately gonna be having some perspective, two point perspective, which will take them out to the edges of the composition and hook up with some vanishing points, which we'll talk more about. But for now I really want to establish this in space. Coming back from this one there's a building here, a little higher up in space. And this building, as we come across the top of it, it's almost parallel to the ground plane. In fact my eye level is so high that my eye level is right up around here in the composition. So any lines that are hooking up with this area of the drawing are gonna be mostly straight across, mostly horizontal. The other thing I'm trying to figure out here is, in terms of the space, some things being in front, some things being in back. What slips behind the thing in front of it? Where do things intersect? Where do things overlap? So you can create some beautiful spatial situations by really looking at that. So for instance this tall building here. This building slips just behind it. There's almost a T intersection. If we can create a nice sense of overlap-- Here's another little box on that rooftop-- that really helps us push that building behind back in space. And the other thing that helps us create space would be, in this case, where do the buildings hit the ground in relationship to each other. This one is higher up than that one. Part of it is it's stepped on a hill. That's San Francisco, it's super hilly. But part of it too is something you can observe even on a flat plane, where buildings hit the ground in relationship to each other. I'm gonna build this building in front out a little bit more with a little bit of detail. So here's something about detail. When we're talking about working outdoors, again, you don't want to push too much detail in but you don't want it just to feel like an outline of just simple shapes. You have to pick and choose. You have to think about, all right, what detail inspires me, what detail seems important to the picture. And when I'm thinking about that I'm feeling like some of these window shapes give these-- I love these industrial buildings-- give them some character. I love these little stairways that sort of pop out off of the buildings. And the detail that I put into the foreground of the picture, the detail of the things up front, which include the sidewalk. Now granted, there's often a lot of cars and a lot of things happening, but for the sake of this drawing I really want to simplify this. I want to think about the feeling of the flow of the drawing where these shapes still kind of hook up with this idea of perspective, but they also act to create a sense of an entry point. So I created this corner, this side of the sidewalk to hook up with this corner of the picture. Often we enter a picture through the lower left-hand corner. It's kind of the classic situation. So that you invite the viewer in. You invite the viewer to come in, and then maybe take a turn, and then experience the rest of the picture. So when we start to build in these other buildings, the smaller buildings, there might be a little less emphasis on clarity. There might be a little bit more emphasis on a little bit more general shape. And we can see again how they stack up. Once they come above the eye level the roof lines actually slope down a little bit rather than sloping upwards. But I'm constantly looking at these shapes like blocks. And I was thinking as I was working on this that it feels a little bit like Monopoly, the game Monopoly, where you get to buy houses. I was thinking, you know, it's almost like stacking these little houses in space and arranging them, which would actually be a pretty cool way to practice this. If you had the monopoly game you could throw out a bunch of the little houses and draw them from different angles. That could be something you could do, in addition, obviously, to practicing outside, going outside to draw. So I'm just gonna build this up a little bit more, working my way up this hill. And what also happens with these blocks is they are all positioned to each other-- I mean if we saw this from above, we were able to fly over the neighborhood, we'd see that there was a grid system of the streets going in particular directions. When I'm looking at it from this view, things are stacking in space with some depth. But I'm still understanding that they're sort of-- They're still established on more or less of a grid. So I'm understanding that. I'm noticing how they relate to each other across the space. And how, as they go up and back in space, they get smaller. So diminishment also happens. Now granted, these foreground industrial buildings are inherently bigger than these little houses in the distance. But something that you can do to help create a more believable sense of space is really being aware of the fact that this little building back here, way back in the distance, you could fit one, two, three of those little buildings across the foreground edge of this big building in front. And noticing that change in scale, noticing that relationship, can really help you create drawings with clarity of space. Now I've chosen to include a certain amount of sky here. There's not a cloud in the sky today, which is kind of beautiful. But sometimes I'll include more sky in my picture if let's say there's some beautiful altocumulus clouds and I want it to be maybe more of a skyscape. So this drawing happens to have-- This is sort of the upper boundary of the picture. One, two, three, four. It's a quarter sky. Because this drawing is more about the architecture than it is about the sky. But I am paying attention to how much of that I really put in. And initially, this big building in front, there's a huge tree blocking it, but I like to kind of draw through that initially, just to make sure I have the shape I want, and then I can lay these organic shapes on top of it. Because right now we're really mostly concerned with some of the industrial detail. And once I start to feel like I have a handle on the way things are sort of moving back into space, then I ask myself why did I sit up here in the first place? Like, why did I love this view? Because at a certain point, once you establish the blocks, and their relationship to each other, and their angle. Most of these block like buildings, the front corner is coming towards me, so I know it's two point perspective. The edges are fading into the distance. Once I have that all established and it's feeling rather believable, that's where the artistry starts to come in. That's where you can say, you know, what do I want to say with this drawing? Do I want to build up everything to the same extent in terms of the rendering? Or do I want to choose an area that seems particularly interesting to me and maybe let other areas fall away? So that's what I'm gonna work with here just a little bit. Because some artists prefer to have almost like a photorealistic way of working. They like to have their details be super clear all over. But personally I feel like sometimes if you spoonfeed your viewer too much information-- And it's seductive. It is really seductive because you have this great view you want to draw everything. But if you spoonfeed too much information, sometimes the drawing falls flat. If drawing is communication, if drawing is about communicating your passion, or communicating your initial inspiration, if I draw everything in the same amount of detail then I might not be able to communicate that to you. So when I setup here initially, I really love these foreground buildings. I love the palm trees in the foreground. And the things that were happening behind that as it steps up the hill, I thought were important supporting characters. But I can let them fall away a little bit. So I'm gonna start to create a little bit more clarity to some of these foreground elements, including adding some botanical elements. These botanical elements can help create a sense of scale. They can help a sense of space. So if I start to work in these awesome palm trees... And I'm not really used to drawing palm tree because I'm from New England. So I'm really excited about that. I can draw them with a different quality of line, where the buildings have a little bit more crispness, but the palm trees can have a little bit more play, a playful quality to them. The structure that you create initially can then allow you to springboard into play. The structure, practicing the structure, practicing that will give you confidence. And then that can allow you to play a little bit more. So some of these organic elements are gonna come in and start to enhance the drawing. And these too are gonna start to create more of a sense of space and structure. So I'm bringing it in here. I'm gonna work into this foreground building. Because it's really what's up close to me. And so what's up close to me, I really want to have a sense of a little more detail. This tree now that's kind of hugging this side here, I can start to work into drawing that tree, and I can actually allow it to block and kind of overlap this big foreground building. And these elements start to give it some personality. And it also starts to create a sense of like, where are we. There aren't palm trees in Rhode Island where I'm from. So we kind of know that this has gotta be maybe California. It definitely looks like California. And bringing in these elements starts to give it some personality. The combination of the organic and the industrial is something I really love. One thing I also really love is power lines. So these power lines, these poles that come down. One's here. Kind of crosses over. And then there's another one here which is a little longer because it's a little closer to us in space. And these link up by the power lines which help us kind of move back into the picture. These are some of the things, you know, I'm really implying. I'm not putting in like tiny details on the tree way in the background here. That's less important to me than maybe some of the elements that I find super inspiring up front. And the line quality up front too starts to crisp up a little bit because it's closer to me. Some of the details start to become a little bit more important. Even in this tree here you can start to create a shorthand for leaves. And even though this tree is not super close to me, I know that having a little bit more texture in it, a little more detail, is gonna help it sort of rest believably closer. I love the front corner of this building. To me it's sort of the anchor of the picture. Everything from there seems to kind of span out, side to side. So I'm gonna crisp that up so that my eye is, when they look at that, they know like, that's sort of the pivotal point of this picture. Sometimes these windows are a dark kind of pattern that you can start to create. And having little hints of dark shapes can start to activate the eye. And even though you're building up one area of the picture that seems most important, if you start to kind of just really simply put in a few little dark hints here and there, it starts to create a rhythm, a pattern for the eye. And it can help to sort of spice up the drawing. It can help to get the eye to move around the drawing a little bit more. So the next steps for this drawing would be taking it to a place that starts to talk about where the light is coming from. Where the light and shadows start to come into play. Because with blocks, if you're gonna enhance their dimensionality, adding in, just knocking in a little bit of tonality on one side or the other, depending on where the sun is coming from, is gonna create a real exciting kind of quality to the drawing. So my next steps for this drawing would be to start really looking at the direction of the light, and how that starts to create a side of a block that would be in shadow, and a side of the block that would be in light. And that rhythm of light and dark is gonna really start to create more dimensions. So I'm gonna work up this drawing some more, keeping an eye on what's happening with the tonality. These are some things you can practice and try. I think that what's most important is getting outside and trying this. You can get a small sketchbook. You can do this anywhere. You can do this having your morning coffee at a cafe, looking out across the street. You can do it from your rooftop. You could do it from your office. At your lunch break you can look out the window and just say, "You know what. "What if these buildings were just simple boxes? "I'd like to try that." And really distill it down to the most simple shapes so that you don't forget, even though there might be a lot of detail, that the starting point is really about first not being intimidated by all of the possibilities. Just really remembering that the starting point is blocks. The starting point is these geometric shapes, simple, simple geometric shapes. And then from there you can build it to something more elaborate. That rooftop was awesome. Sunny day, beautiful view. You saw how building things from basic to complex is really an organic way to handle drawing. So I wanted to show you the drawing that I did up there. I worked on it a little bit more up there. And I added some detail into it. So this drawing now has a little bit of tonality, which is something we're gonna cover in our next lesson. But you can see just by adding a little dimension, a little bit of dark and light patterns, and just a little bit of detail, we can really start to create a sense of dimension to the buildings. And I love the incorporation of the organic shapes, the power lines, all of it. I'm really quite pleased with this drawing. And it's a nice memory of being here at CreativeLive. And that's something that I really encourage you to think about. What would it be like, rather than shooting a whole bunch of photographs on vacation, or in your everyday life, to remember things. Like what would it be like if you chose to draw it instead? Or every once in a while chose to draw it instead. I will never forget this view. I'll remember the sun, and the air, and the smells, and everything out there is part of this drawing. But if I just went and shot a snapshot of it and walked away maybe I'd come back to that photo in a year or two and say, "Oh yeah. I kinda remember that rooftop." But I really was able to internalize my experience and really connect with where I was by actually being in that place and spending the time really analyzing and synthesizing what was in front of me visually. So drawing is, in a big part, about learning to see and connecting with your environment. And even if it's in something that might feel a little daunting at first, like buildings and architecture, that over time will also become very fluid just with practice.

Class Description

This beginner-friendly class will teach you essential techniques for drawing realistically. Understand perspective and how to sight angles for better accuracy. Instructor Amy currently teaches in the Fine Art departments of several New England colleges including Rhode Island School of Design's Certificate Program and she has exhibited her work nationally, winning numerous grants and awards.

This class covers:

  • Practicing 1-Point vs 2-Point perspective
  • Learning how to sight angles and place them with accuracy
  • Measuring relationships of height to width

A series of practice pages will be provided to get you started. You’ll draw three dimensional forms from multiple angles, and learn perspective that applies to landscape drawings, buildings, and still life.


DiDi Hendley

Excellent instructor! Simple to understand instructions, told in few words. Thanks Ms. Wynne and CreativeLive!

Wendy Nelson

Fantastic - I learned so much and got answers to things I was struggling with. This is a great beginner class.