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Sketching Interiors or: Breaking the Tyranny of Perspective

July 26, 2016


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.

But – as we’ve heard a few weeks ago from Georges Braque, perhaps correctness isn’t the only thing that matters?

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.

Portugal_Ink Pano01_Old Town Faro_Step02_Ground Line_Medium Nib

I have this principle I call ‘Roof Line/ Ground Line’ – which I talk about in the Painless Perspective chapter of my online drawing class. (Or you can read about it in this post).

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.

Portugal_Ink Pano01_Old Town Faro_Step05_Broad Nib

So how does that help us when we’re drawing an architectural interior?

16June172_Chateau_Dufresne_03_X Drawing

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.

16June17_Redpath_Interior (1)

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.

16June17_Redpath_Interior (1)_X Drawing

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.

16June172_Chateau_Dufresne_02_X_Wing Drawing

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?

29 Comments leave one →
  1. Mark Jaudes permalink
    July 26, 2016 9:22 AM

    I am curious about your ink color. In some it is black while in others it seems to have a rust brown tint. I do not recall such a color in Any of the videos you published . Thanks. Really enjoy seeing your sketches. Lastly is there an accordion book that has 140 cold press sheets?

    • July 26, 2016 5:31 PM

      Hey Mark – yes I do like red/brown inks – my two favorites are Higgins Sepia and Noodler’s Red/Black, depending on the day. But there’s loads of colored fountain pen inks out there once you start looking around. Note: These are NOT waterproof. If you want waterproof AND Color, you might have to use a liquid Acrylic ink.

      Re: a commercial accordion book with 140 paper – I do not think there is one. I think that’s just something that it’s too much a special purpose thing. We have to make our own! ~m

  2. July 26, 2016 9:49 AM

    Perspective is a rule I left behind when I walked away from architecture, only to whip it out when I need it. It is one of those correctness thangs that realists want, except it is not quite realism, but a better place to start than a terribly poor sense of perspective, which involves seeing exactly what is in front of you. I love panorama or any crazy drawing that allows us to imagine/see more of what we as artists want to show. I have tons of odd non-perspective, packed away.

    I have your ear. USk is a tremendous force that is largely for the very very few gifted souls who can afford to go. I really do not understand why they are not getting serious about making these symposiums into classes after, for those of us who cannot afford to go. I’d give my eye teeth to see Pat Southern Pearce and Kiah Kiean Chng, and understand that it would not be like being on site, but it could be done. I’ve enjoyed your classes (learning watercolors is what I am about now) and James and really, USk should be doing this. Get craftsy to follow them around if nothing else. This is a no-brainer.

    I look forward to your installments after Manchester!

    • July 26, 2016 10:12 AM

      I agree with Katie! Great idea to get Craftsy to make classes that would be available to all that cannot go! Like us! 😬😰

    • July 26, 2016 11:39 AM

      Want to say how much I agree! In fact I’ve just written a plaintive blog post about this, bearing in mind other sketchers who can’t get to the Symposium (in my case because of disability) and this is such a practical suggestion. Very good idea!

  3. Jan Bradfield permalink
    July 26, 2016 10:02 AM

    This makes so much sense time. Thank you.

    Sent from my iPad


  4. July 26, 2016 10:09 AM

    Beautiful post, Marc! I cannot wait to apply both rules in my sketches: “mountain range” and X rule make so much more sense for giving a starting point, more so for beginners who are so overwhelmed by visual details… Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  5. July 26, 2016 10:35 AM

    Hi Marc, I am not an architect but have had some perspective training in the past. I understand the principles of horizon line and vanishing point (s), etc. This relates to a point of reference where your cone of vision or field of view is roughly 40 degrees. Once you move your head or eyes from side to side or up and down, destortion comes into play. Even if you move several feet from your original location, destortion comes into play. So with that said it is not something, we as artists, should be overly concerned with. You are correct in saying that we should just sketch what we see. Get the angles, verticals and horizontals to your own satisfaction and move on. Lesson learned.

  6. July 26, 2016 11:25 AM

    This is such a joyful, playful, liberating way of drawing and I love it. I really enjoyed reading your break-down of how these sketches were done – very helpful because I realise I’ve been doing something like this now and again intuitively, deliberately not worrying about perspective, but I hadn’t gone as far as to work out consciously how I could get it to work even more successfully. I totally agree that this is an excellent form of location sketching where you want to draw all the stuff you really want and not just what you can see from one angle!

  7. July 26, 2016 11:46 AM

    Extremely useful post. Thanks for sharing.

  8. July 26, 2016 12:18 PM

    A thoughtful and helpful/challenging post. Thank you.

  9. July 26, 2016 1:47 PM

    Thank you for being, as always, so generous with your knowledge. Love your posts, admire greatly your art. Inspiring. have a great Manchester, Don McNulty

  10. July 26, 2016 4:53 PM

    Such an incredible artist are you. I do not think you need luck, of course though I say to you, ‘good luck.’

    You are an exceptionally waterworks, water paint master.

  11. July 26, 2016 4:57 PM

    Thanks for all the comments everyone, and yes – I absolutely agree with you guys on that point about turning the Sympoisum into some kind of open-source education.

    At the end of the day it comes down to volunteer bandwidth. But it really would be an opportunity to get some video of the demonstrations while we have 20 great sketchers all in one place! I suggested it to Craftsy, but it’s a bit outside of thier core strategy so they didn’t bite.

    My feeling on what it would take for USK to do it is a serious volunteer willilng and able to co-ordinate a team of videographers and some after the fact editing. Either someone who is great at sourcing and leading volunteers, OR, someone who would fundraise to hire the skills. Or both. So, ultimatley, that’s the problem with our grass-roots USK movement. Easy to get a few hundred sketchers to show up – hard to get 3 people to edit video for a few days after the event :)

    • July 27, 2016 10:29 AM

      Actually, Marc, is a hard to volunteer or be part of the USk group if you are not on the “in” so I think that there are people who would do things for USk if they would open up a bit. No problem with charging for classes, people would pay. Suggested this a year ago and never even had a response from the USk “heads.” That is why I am now saying it to those of you who I have found to be responsive.

      • July 27, 2016 6:34 PM

        Hmm…well, I’m no longer on the board, but I’m sure nothing’s changed, and it’s got more to do with lack of people’s bandwidth than any intentional cold shoulder. Even if it amounts to the same in the end.

        I wonder if the thing is, just to start it at a regional level. Go out to our own local USK meetup, or the closest regional meetup, (like Chicago, or the upcoming All-Germany Meetup) and to shoot some video of the more experinced sketchers. Get it up on YouTube. Like Anne-Laure did at one of my own demos in Portugal.

        Once that gets some traction, the next symposium committee might be more interested in inviting a person out to do the same at the international event?

        That’s just me spitballing how I might try to do it. It’s easy for me to talk :) But if someone is already making videos for fun, they might find it easy to do, and enjoy having the best seat in the house for the demo.


  12. Becky way permalink
    July 26, 2016 5:09 PM

    These are awesome. Click on the “panoramic book” link. We should do some!

    Sent from my iPhone


  13. Becky way permalink
    July 26, 2016 5:10 PM

    So sorry. I meant to send this to an art friend. Didn’t mean to reply. Love your work!

    Sent from my iPhone


  14. July 26, 2016 7:01 PM

    Thanks for a great post, so good to have you outline these ideas for us.

  15. Nell permalink
    July 26, 2016 9:11 PM

    I like your idea of drawing a room by facing all the directions and just draw. I just did that with my family room and had lots of fun …. not thinking about perspective or trying to get everything in but just what fit in my drawing. Thanks for this fun “assignment”.

  16. Ivana Bowes permalink
    July 27, 2016 2:50 AM

    Thank you for explaining so clearly how you draw these scenes, it’s so liberating to concentrate on just drawing without the constraints of perspective. I used to photograph events and places in a similar way and then collage prints into albums ( alla Hockney style). It makes a huge difference from just viewing a picture to almost being in it. I think it’s the same with your drawings.

    ps.Theo from does a great job of videoing the USk symposiums, perhaps he could be approached to do the job officially. I love following such generous skilled artists.
    Thanks again, its addictive!

  17. July 27, 2016 5:19 AM

    Really sound and helpful advice Marc – I think I often feel more drawn to landscapes purely so I don’t have to worry about the perspectives of built architecture – to have this in my mind as a shortcut to ‘getting on with it’ is just the kind of advice I need to help me tackle something architectural. Thanks so much for sharing.

  18. July 27, 2016 8:46 AM

    Thanks for sharing this great post for us poor folks on the other side of the world. Almost as good as being there.

  19. July 31, 2016 9:06 AM

    WOW…you need to add this as a chapter to your book, Marc :-) Coupled with your one-minute and 5-7 approaches, these ideas will not only be a lot of fun to try but just might loosen up my tight-ass “gotta draw it as I see it” approach (grin). Thanks for all you do for the rest of us who are trying to learn just a tiny bit of what you know.

  20. November 10, 2016 10:56 AM

    This is a new perspective! I love this freer and actually truer way of how we see and experience a space / environment. This is so useful. I love how your self discoveries become looser and benefits all of us. Thank you Marc!

  21. Leila Skye permalink
    October 27, 2019 4:40 AM

    I love the idea of shapes you mention whether its mountains or buildings as a Angela Fehr student, will help me to look at street scenes differently. Love the ceiling/floor motif.leila.skye125@


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