Master the essentials: Perspective drawing

Some time ago I was scribing live at a series of presentations on the subject of data centers. It was obviously a lot about servers, computers and big spaces. Those things are basically boxes. And you can see this reflected in the drawing. There are boxes in all sizes and positions. Drawing a box in perspective or 3D provides an extra quality, very different from a plain 2D drawing. Consciously choosing the position of the box, so determining if you'll be looking at it from a "frog perspective" or "bird's-eye perspective" (what's in a name) can support your story.

Hard core perspective drawing

When I studied architecture, I had to learn how to draw a box in correct perspective. As a future designer of buildings it was quite important to draw natural-looking buildings. Yep, in those days it was still assumed that it was essential to draw (shame on you, TU Eindhoven for changing this!). So we got a weekly drawing class. The setup was to start with the basics: draw lines. Just lines. Practicing with thicknesses, with types of pens, and forcing yourself to draw long, straight ones. You'd be surprised how many people aren't able to draw straight, clear lines. Instead, fearful of making mistakes, novices fall back on 'petting' the paper, producing short line segments.

And an uncertain line can lead to an uncertain drawing...

But the lines were only the prelude to draw in perspective. Perspective drawing was invented in the Renaissance and is a representation of how your eye sees reality. It has a mathematical basis that needs to be understood. Basically, it comes down to constructing a wireframe scene, a bit like what a robot sees the world like in sci-fi movies. In this wire-frame scene, with a 'horizon' and 'vanishing points' you use guides to help you place a box in three dimensional space (that's the part where you need the lines!). 


Knowing how three dimensional space works helps in drawing a correctly formed cube from every position, and from there you can extend towards other boxy forms, cylinders, cones, spheres, eventually getting down to the really hard core stuff of complex composite shapes. Like, for example, a church. Yep, that's a pretty complex yet everyday object!

3D fear

That's what an architect should be able to. But as a live scriber you actually have to be able to draw EVERYTHING. Buildings, vehicles, furniture, machines... Almost all of these elements are composite forms of multiple boxes. And then there are the other essential geometric forms like cylinders and cones. Do you need to know how to draw these? Hell yes. Think of a castle tower, rocket or teapot.

Because these forms are complex, it can happen that you find yourself loosing time because you don't know how exactly to draw them. Or maybe you'll even give up on 3D drawing and just stick to good old safe 2D. That's a real shame. Because then every drawing you make will look virtually the same, while each conference or break-out session situation you attend is different.

Indeed, a meeting about innovation has very different visual themes than one about nature!

meaning and spatial quality

Now, of course it's not necessary or even desirable to draw everything in in perspective. But as noted above, it gives a lot of spacial quality when you do. Is there something looked down upon? Or the opposite? See for example the ice cubes in which a three-point perspective is employed (left). It's like looking from the top down, so you see extra depth. This can mean something. Or look at the man kneeling in adoration in front of the data center (right).


But knowing about perspective is of course about more than just being able to draw boxes. It's about bringing spatial quality into your drawings in order to grasp metaphors that matter. In one of my live illustration sessions (a live scribing session with just one other person) the client and I came at a railroad metaphor. Notice how using a birds-eye view helps convey the message about bringing overview to a complicated landscape.


Nowadays I no longer need guides to check if my perspective is correct. The boxes in the data center drawing just flow naturally from my hand, and even the railway landscape doesn't take up much time. It's not perfect, but it doesn't need to be. Meanwhile I can focus on getting the information from the session organized on the paper, which is already quite a task! 

Learn perspective drawing during the Draw-till-you-drop Bootcamp

Knowing the basics about perspective drawing is simply essential. Period. So one of the things we'll be doing during the Draw-till-you-drop Bootcamp is exaclty that! In a nutshell: 20 hrs long of drawing untill you drop, producing a LOT, but supported by essential (technical) drawing knowledge and many (sometimes even fun) exercises. With up to 10 participants versus only 2 trainers the instruction is personal and intensive. Hélène Aarts, Assistant Professor hand drawing at TU Eindhoven, takes the theoretical part of the Bootcamp into her skilled hands. I, Anabella Meijer, live scribe and cartoonist, will make sure the link with graphic recording & facilitating is felt throughout, AND will make sure that the boring theoretical stuff that you need to know is dished up in a digestible way!

The Draw-till-you-drop Bootcamp is, in short, a unique opportunity to take your drawing skills to the next level. Because you want to concentrate on what you do best, and drawing should support that, not cost you more energy. 

Want to learn more? Check out the event. Perhaps we'll welcome you April 8th and 9th in Amsterdam!

That table in perspective is looking very good!

That table in perspective is looking very good!