How Artists Give Depth – Perceiving Relationships

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Look at this drawing. There is a lot going on.


Notice how horizontal edges that fall on the horizon are flat?
Also notice how any horizontal edges above the horizon converge down?
And how horizontal edges below the horizon converge up?

“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” – Pablo Picasso, 1923

“Point of view is worth 80 points of IQ.” – Alan Kay, Computer Scientist

These concepts are part of the perspective paradox. We know alls sides of a square have equal length sides, yet if we want to draw one with perspective, that ‘rule’ needs to be broken.

Art has concepts that helps artists deal with perspective. One of them is vanishing points.

Vanishing Points

The vanishing point is that level on the horizon the artists eventually sees all lines of perspective converging. It’s that classic road fading off into the horizon.

When we do this a couple of things happen.

  1. Horizontal edges that are below the horizon converge up.
  2. Horizontal edge below converge down.
  3. And those on the horizon are flat.

Get this wrong in your drawing and things are going to look weird. So it’s a maxim artists use to maintain perspective.

Here’s a building I happen to be sitting inside.


Can you see the vanishing point? Here is me trying to capture it.


If an artist were doing this for real, they would be way more careful than I am (I just eyeballed it). But you can see it. It’s there in every picture with depth.

The trick is identifying the vanishing points in your drawings, respecting them, and then drawing everything else in a way that respects them.

Easier said than done. Here is me trying to fill in some detail.


It’s OK (in that I picked a vanishing point). But you can see how bad it looks if you get the horizontal edges wrong.


Here’s a beautiful drawing (with lots of challenging perspective lines) by Alex Eben Meyer.


Anyways, as a software programmer learning to draw, what I take away from all this is there are rules of thumb, design patterns, and maxims in art, just like there are in software and anything else.

I enjoy learning about these because it helps me see the world differently, in ways I couldn’t before.

Vanishing lines are neat. You need to respect them, else your drawing will come out all funny and the human eye will reject.

More drawing posts:
How Artists Draw the Hard Parts – Negative Spaces
Modified Contour Drawing Exercise
Drawing on the right side of the brain
Three exercises to get you going
Vases and faces
Drawing upside down
Use contour drawing to see things differently

Betty’s excellent book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.


Saving Private Ryan

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Saving Private Ryan

I am sick.
I’ve got a cold.
My throat is burning.
My nose is runny.
My family is away on vacation (which is probably a good thing).
And I should be in bed, sleeping, and generally feeling sorry for myself like most men when they get a cold.

But I am not.
I am here, at Starbucks, on a Friday night, totally pumped and just feeling lucky to be alive, because I just finished watching the first thirty minutes of one greatest movies ever—Saving Private Ryan.

You think you’ve got problems?

Watch Saving Private Ryan.
Then tell me you’ve got a problem.

Watch the first 27 minutes of this film and tell me tomorrow you have to get up, and storm the beaches of Normandy.

Tell me you just had to type the letter to the mother of a soldier who just lost her third son to combat.

Didn’t get that promotion?
Didn’t get invited out for beers with your friends?
Your iPhone 4 antenna not quite working the way you’d like?

You have no idea how lucky you are to be alive.
Much less be one of the lucky sperm to be born in one of the of the most amazing, privileged countries in the world.

Why I love this movie

Saving Private Ryan is more than than a Academy Award winning movie about a group of soldiers sent out to find and safely return the last son of four of a family whose sons all volunteered to fight in the Second World War.

It’s a wake up call, to you and me, to stop feeling sorry for ourselves, and to appreciate every God given day you and I have to be alive, here on the planet, to do as much, or as little, as we like.

Watch (or read) this scene where General George C.Marshall reads a letter to his staff about why they are going after Private Ryan.

Marshall: I have a letter here, written a long time ago to a Mrs. Bixby in Boston. So bear with me.

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine that would attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved, lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

Abraham Lincoln

Marshall: The boy’s alive. We are going to send somebody to find him. And we are going to get him the hell out of there.

Staff: Yes, sir….

If this scene doesn’t bring a tear to your eye you are made of stone.

You have no problems

So if you are feeling down, need some perspective, and you don’t know who to turn to, pop Saving Private Ryan into your BlueRay, or PVR it like I did, and let one of the greatest war movies ever bring your pity party to an end.

I guarantee you. What ever conceivable problems you think you have, won’t be so big when compared to what those Son of guns went through when they stormed the beaches of Normandy.

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