Buildings 2: Viewpoint

October 13, 2021

August am Vertigo
Gouache and watercolour on grey paper

The Importance of Viewpoint

This week we explore looking at buildings with regard to the artists viewpoint.

First look at the Pinterest board at:

Think about the viewpoint from which these works were made. Was the artist looking up at or down on the street. Also look at whether the scene is on level ground or a slope. What happens to the horizontal structures e.g. window ledges and door lintels in relation to the ground when the buildings are on a slope?

Street in Veger de la Frontera
Ink and wash

In drawing a straight street it may be useful to understand how single point perspective works. Where a group of buildings or single buildings are being drawn it is also useful to come to grips with two point perspective. In many situations where buildings are at different angles to each other measurement or estimating the relative sizes of the forms becomes increasingly important. The following diagrams describe how the most basic forms of perspective work.

Compare this photo of a street in Southwold with the left wall of the gallery in the diagram below. The vanishing point is to the right of the image at about the eye height of the two men in the picture. That will also be approximately my eye height.

Single point perspective: If perfectly parallel rows of houses are situated facing a road that is also perfectly straight it would be perfectly feasible to draw construction lines as guides for the drawing which employ the use of single point perspective.

Single point perspective: this is a picture of a gallery. The walls of this gallery are parallel. If lines are extended from the tops and bottoms of the wall they meet at a point. This point is called the vanishing point which lies on the horizon. The eye height when viewing a scene is always the same as the horizon, here drawn in as a dotted line. In this case my eye height happened to coincide with the tops of paintings which have all been hung at the same height as each other on the wall. By establishing the vanishing point you also discover the height of the horizon and it is easy to see how construction lines can be established to help draw in the other details like the tops and bottoms of the upper row of paintings by measurement.

In a perfect street as that described in the text the straight road with a perfect row of houses on either side could be constructed in the same way.

However streets have a tendency to bend and buildings are not always built at Only straight sections lend themselves to this approach. New vanishing points have to be constructed for every bend in the road.

Because buildings are often on streets that bend, and built at different angles to each other, you will often have to resort to measuring the main heights and widths of the large shapes and then home in on how best to draw the smaller details.

Two point perspective: Sometimes where one building dominates the scene an idea of how two point perspective works will give a starting point from where you can estimate and or measure the rest. Below are diagrams that will help you analyze what is happening when a building is seen from below, from a slightly higher elevation and from a point above the building.

Building on a hill: if you are looking up at a house and extend lines from the eaves and bottom on either side these will converge on points either side possibly lower than the house itself. Two point perspective is so called because two vanishing points can be constructed and both lie on the horizon line which is the eye level of the viewer. This means that when you have found the vanishing points you have also discovered the horizon line. Note that in this extreme view none of the top of the roof is visible.
Building on relatively lower or flat ground: Here the vanishing points have been constructed in the same way and because the roof ridge is visible and sloping to the left a line from that also converges on the left vanishing point. Note how viewed from a higher point than in the first diagram the horizon line is also higher.
If similar lines are extended from this Southwold fish hut you can see that both vanishing points lie outside the image. This is where you either resort to more paper or carry on drawing but holding in your minds eye where the vanishing points are. It is something you should check out properly if your drawing looks wrong and make any adjustments early on.
Building seen from a much higher point: the vanishing points are constructed in the same way. Note how from this elevation the horizon line is above the house and more of the roof can be seen. Note that if only a glimpse of one side of the house can be seen i.e. you are almost directly in front of the house one vanishing point will lie a long way outside the picture and you will have to either construct where it is by adding more paper or marking it on your board, or make an informed estimate, mentally imagining where it lies every time you make a mark where you would usually reference the vanishing point.
Seen from even higher both sides of the roof would be visible. The two old buildings are so dilapidated and at different angles to each other that some careful observation is required.

Understanding how perspective works will help you sort out the drawing if something looks out of place, and will supply you with some tools to make necessary adjustments with individual buildings and with some street scenes. More often buildings are not at convenient angles to each other and it will be your skills in observing, making actual or mental measurements (estimations of relative sizes and angles) that will be most useful for drawing clusters of houses. The best way to learn is by sketching wherever possible on site (the best way), or from photographic reference. Continually ask yourself questions about relative heights and widths and angles.

Looking down a street scene in Veger de la Frontera: ask yourself how a knowledge of perspective would help in drawing this scene and what things would be best done by measurement. Try sorting out the main shapes and lines before committing to paint in thumbnail sketches. Also check out the relative heights of trees and cables in relation to the buildings, and especially check out the major areas of tone.
These images are views looking in the other direction, up the same street in Veger de la Frontera. The image on the left is the camera shot as taken. On the right I made an attempt to correct the perspective so that the walls were made vertical instead of leaning inwards as in the image on the left.
Note what is missing on all four sides of the image on the right. I have also lost some of the foreground and the hill has become flattened out. Look also at the foreground shadow. Sketching on site is hugely valuable as decisions about what to include are made and most distortions as in the left hand image are largely eliminated.
If I were drawing this scene from the photo reference I would think very hard how to either use the distortions making the picture slightly surreal or manage them in a way that accommodated all the items I wish to include, and most importantly maintaining the impression of a very steep ascent..

When things get very complicated as when looking across at a sea of dwellings just enjoy the pattern of shapes and colours and have fun with them.

This week: choose to paint a rather straight street of regular houses or a single building or group of buildings in which one building dominates. Think about how single and two point perspective can help in constructing the drawing and/or help you check your preliminary drawing before developing the work further. Alongside this think hard about how important a part measuring dimensions and angles will be.

Your Paintings:

Bauhaus Architecture
Rothschild Avenue Tel Aviv
Ink and Watercolour by Maryon
Clovelly Sunset: stage 1
Acrylic by Malcolm
Clovelly Sunset: stage 2
Acrylic by Malcolm
Offley, Porto
Drawing by Mali
Offley, Porto
Pastel by Mali
Houses in the Bokaap, Cape Town, SA
by Maryon
Ink Drawing
by Sandra
Ink Drawing with added Pastel
by Sandra

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