Sketching Interiors or: Breaking the Tyranny of Perspective
Ed. Note: We should be arriving in Manchester for the USK Symposium today! I wrote this before we left home. I was just finishing these drawings, which I did as part of my research for this year’s workshop. Wish me luck – once again I’m trying out a new class on the eager sketchers here in Manchester! ~m
As a person who travels and sketches, something I’m frequently bumping up against is my lack of interest in perspective drawing.
This above is one of the few ‘proper’ ones I can find in my archives. (Christchurch Cathedral in downtown Montreal).
I know perspective is one of the big innovations from Western Art, and is the key to convincing realism.
Typically, inside a venerable old church, or a fusty museum, (the kinds of places I find myself drawing interiors), there are amazing things all around you.
I just want to get it all in! And as fast as possible! There’s an entire castle to draw today! (Or whatever it might be).
Proper perspectives can get in the way of a suitable speed of execution.
I feel that even an experienced artist needs to take their time planning one of these. Setting up the vanishing points and guidelines. Measuring things to see where they fall in the structure. Learning the underlying grid the architects have built.
I would say, most artists that do these well spend at least a half hour setting up the drawing. And of course, it shows! They get great results. But it’s hard for me to delay gratification like that.
Plus, when I have a wealth of detail around me, it’s always frustrating to leave anything out. When something is drawn correctly – most of the time that means you can’t really see it. Unless, like many architectural draftsmen, you’re making *huge* drawings.
In a sketchbook-sized perspective, once you’re past the second pillar in the row – I bet you can’t really see the carving any more.
Not to mention, if your viewpoint is fixed, that fancy carved candlestick that you’re dying to draw? It might be just outside a doorway, only a few degrees beyond reach.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could somehow see around corners?
So here’s a few things I find myself doing, right or wrong, to make sketches that are high on ‘sense of place’, if a bit low on realism.
Essentially, the idea is to sketch the ‘mountain range’ of a building or block, and then the grounding line, where everything touches the earth. See those two lines above – that’s what I mean.
The Roof Line and the Ground Line. I sketch those first, and then everything falls in place.
So how does that help us when we’re drawing an architectural interior?
We can apply this basic principles, but instead of a roof/ground, we have a ceiling/floor line. Any time you’re in a room or hallway, you can count on this odd “X” shape to be your guide.
You might start a drawing by actually sketching the X shape lightly in pencil, or just by visualizing it, or by doing a Dot Plot.
Then just proceed to hang your drawing of the room from that ceiling/floor framework.
Here’s the important thing:
Even if the proportions of your X are wrong – it doesn’t matter!
Just finish the drawing based on what you’ve sketched – don’t worry too much about reality. Once you’re long gone from the place – what is more important? The accuracy of the sketch, or the fact that you finished it!
I’d say, having something to remember the place wins out.
And besides – over time – as you get some practice – your estimates will get more accurate.
This study-slash-library is in the Chateau Dufresne in Montreal. I most wanted to capture the carved wooden built-in bookshelves framing the room – but also to include the best pieces of ornamental clutter on the shelves and desk, and to note the ornate fireplace with it’s iron dragons.
Here’s another example – this one gets tricky.
This is a long corridor inside the Victorian style Redpath Museum on McGill Campus.
Now, what I will often do, in a situation like this, is cheat a bit.
This long hallway was of course much narrower, and much longer than the study from the Dufresne above.
I wanted to get the various skeletons hanging on the walls, and some of the display cases – and I needed the items on the wall to be easily seen, and simple for me to sketch.
So I’ve distorted reality – spreading out the hallway so that I’m looking at both walls more flat-on than in reality.
After quickly sketching in an X for of the ceiling / floor, I stand with my back to the right hand wall to draw the opposite (left) side with the turtle skeletons – then physically move my view point – putting my back to the left hand wall to draw the opposing (right) side with the office door.
I started the drawing from the very back of the hallway, because of where the skeletons are hung, but moved to around the middle point so that I could peek in at the academic clutter inside office door.
There’s no way to actually see into that door from the back of the hallway – so I had to edge forward to get it in.
With this trickery, we able to see the most interesting parts of the two walls, somehow magically in the same drawing.
This isn’t correct by any means – but it’s lets me see what I want to sketch.
Take that, Rules of Perspective!
Ok, third example on an interior – this one even more un-likely.
What I wanted to draw most in this little stairwell in the Chateau Dufresne, was the statue of the frolicking couple in the niche between landings.
(Sorry, it didn’t turn out very clear in the sketch – it’s a dude throwing his girlfriend up in the air while stepping on an old man. Typical French Rococo stuff. Why wouldn’t you want a thing like that in your hallway!?)
But at the same time I was interested in the yoke-arched doorways and ankh shaped windows that are quite distinctive of this house.
That Ankh pattern is repeated in almost every major archway in the house. It makes me thing the was some secret-society mumbo-jumbo going on in this place. Some gatherings of old men in silk robes going about expanding their minds and contemplating the mysteries of the universe.
So, to get this ultra wide view in, once again, I’ve moved from one side of the hall to the other in the middle of the drawing. Sort of ‘drawing cross-eyed’.
In one half of the drawing I can see into the next room, and in the other half I can’t!
Perspective is shattered!
But still – it’s a fun little drawing with a unique point of view.
Ok – Finally, let’s forego perspective drawing entirely.
In this sketch, I started at the fireplace on the far side of the room – and just kept on drawing.
Moving around the room in a kind of continuous panoramic drawing.
Imagine you are standing in the center of the room, and just pivoting. Drawing each important landmark on the walls as you come to it. I actually had to do more moving than simply rotating, as the center of the room was blocked with various furniture and display cabinets.
I sketched each of the exits to the room, and kind of back-filled the furnishings and connected the paneled walls in between as if they joined seamlessly.
You might want to try this with an accordion book, so you won’t run out of space. Or, you can do as I did and just draw over the edge of the page onto a new sheet, adding sheets as required. The bigger the room, (or the more stuff crammed into it) the more length you might want for the drawing.
As I drew left to right across each of the three entrances, I was shifting my viewpoint so I could get a good sight-line into the rooms beyond.
Similar to what I had done with the office in the museum. I wanted to give the best peek at the silly furnishings in each adjacent room.
I’ve decided to call these kind of sketches Panopticons. For the ancient Greeks, a Panopticon was a particular type of building, usually a prison or a library, in which every room could be seen from a central point.
I guess their enemies and their books were the two things they most wanted to keep an eye on.
Makes sense to me!
I had a great deal of fun with this one. Just drawing, and making it up as I went along.
I plan to see what else I can do with these kind of interior panoramic sketches – and I’d be interested to hear if anyone else is playing around with similar ideas.
Why not drop me a note or a comment if you have some drawing experiments to share?