Lesson 5 – Proportion and Perspective

If you use Instagram post your drawings and tag them with #plpDrawingClass. It will be fun to see everyone’s work!

I am following through “The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards with the kids. The materials provided here are taken directly from the book and are the actual exercises and selected highlights. I highly recommend reading the book if you are interested in learning to draw.

In Lesson 4 we learned about negative space and positive forms and the idea of the “Basic Unit”. Our exercise was to draw the negative space formed by a chair. We began by picking (and drawing) one portion of the negative space as our starting point and used it to “scale” our drawing. In other words all other parts of the chair (or it’s negative space in that example) were drawn in proportion to our Basic Unit. This week’s lesson will be about Proportion and Perspective and using a method of sighting to “see” them.

All of the following material was taken from “The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards

Remember the 5 perceptual skills of drawing are:

  1. Edges (line of contour drawing)
  2. Spaces (negative spaces)
  3. Relationships (proportion and perspective)
  4. Lights and shadows (shading)
  5. The gestalt (the “thingness” of the thing)

From “The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”:
















A brief practice in sighting before you do a “real” perspective drawing


What you’ll need:

• Your drawing board

• Several sheets of scratch paper

• Your drawing pencils, sharpened, and your eraser

• Your plastic Picture Plane and your felt-tip marker

• Your larger Viewfinder


What you’ll do:


First, you will practice sighting proportions and angles, using

your pencil as a sighting device. Once you’ve practiced a bit, then

you’ll do your “real” sighting drawing. Begin by seating yourself

in front of a doorway, at about ten feet away.


Hold up your Viewfinder/Picture Plane and compose your drawing so that you can see the whole doorway. Hold the Picture Plane very still and use your felt-tip marker to draw the top of the doorway on the plastic plane. See Figure 8-11. (The line will be somewhat shaky.) This is your Basic Unit. Transfer this unit to a piece of paper, estimating the size and position so that it is the same as on your Picture Plane. Set the Picture Plane aside. See Figure 8-12.

Now, pick up your pencil. Hold it at arm’s length toward the

top of the doorway with the flat (eraser) end out and with your

elbow locked. Close one eye and move the pencil so that the end

coincides with one side of the top of the doorway. (Choose either the outside of the molding or the inside edge.) Then, with one eye still closed, move your thumb along the pencil until

your thumbnail coincides with the other side of the doorway.

Hold that measure. You have “taken a sight” on the width of the



A test: What happens if you open both eyes or if you relax your elbow?


Keep your thumb at the same position and try bending your

elbow just slightly, just barely pulling the pencil toward you. What happens? The “measurement” has changed, hasn’t it? Therefore, the reason you must lock your elbow when sighting proportions is to maintain the same scale. When your elbow is locked, you are always taking sights using the same position.


Then, relock your elbow, and resight the width of the doorway

on your pencil (Figure 8-13). We’ll call this your Basic Unit,

or your “One.” Now, keeping your thumb in the same position,

turn your pencil vertically and find the relationship (the ratio or

proportion) of width to length.


Still holding the pencil at arm’s length, and still with one eye

closed and your elbow locked, measure from the top corner: “One (width), to one (height)” (Figure 8-14), then drop down, measure “One to two” (Figure 8-15), drop it again and measure the remainder, “One to two and two-thirds” (Figure 8-16). You have now “taken a sight” on the proportion of the width relative to the height of the doorway. This proportion is expressed as a ratio: 1:2 2/3, or, in words, “One to two and two-thirds.”












Now, turn back to your sketch

By sighting the doorway, you determined that the width-to height proportion of the doorway was 1:2 2/3. That is the proportion of the doorway “out there” in the real world. Your job is to transfer that proportion from “out there” into your drawing.


Obviously, the door in your drawing will be smaller—much

smaller—than the real doorway. But it must be proportionally the

same, width to length.

Now, therefore, use your pencil and thumb to take a new

measure: the width you have drawn on your paper (Figure 8-17).

Then turn the pencil to vertical on your paper and measure off

“One to one, two, and two-thirds” (Figures 8-18, 8-19, and 8-20).

Make a mark and draw in the two sides of the doorway. The doorway

you have just drawn has the same proportion—width to

height—as the real doorway you were looking at.

To set this idea, draw a new “One,” smaller than the first one.

Now, measure that width with your pencil and again mark off the

proportional height. This doorway will be smaller, but it will be

proportionally the same as your first drawing and the real doorway.

Summing up: In sighting proportions, you find out what the

proportions are “out there” in the real world and then, holding

the proportion in your mind as a ratio (your Basic Unit or

“One”—in relation to something else), re measure in the drawing

to transfer the proportion to the drawing. Obviously, in drawings,

sizes are almost always on a different scale (smaller or larger) than

what we see “out there,” but the proportions are the same.

As a clever student of mine put it: “You use your pencil to find the ratio ‘out there.’ You remember it, wipe the measure off the pencil, and re measure with your pencil in the drawing.”


The next step: Sighting angles


Remember, sighting is a two-part skill. You have just learned

the first part: sighting proportions. Your pencil, used as a sighting

device, enables you to see “How big is this compared to that?”

“How wide is that compared to my Basic Unit?” And so on. Proportions

are sighted relative to each other and to your Basic Unit.

Sighting angles is different. Angles are sighted relative to vertical

and horizontal. Remember, both angles and proportions

must be sighted on the plane.

Take up your Viewfinder/Picture Plane and your felt-tip

marker again and seat yourself in front of another corner of a

room. Hold up the Picture Plane and look at the angle formed

where the ceiling meets the two walls. Be sure to keep the Picture

Plane vertical in front of your face, on the same plane as the plane

of your two eyes. Don’t tilt the plane in any direction.

Again, compose your view, and use your marker on the Picture

Plane to draw the corner (a vertical line). Then, on the plane,

draw the edges where the ceiling meets the two walls, and, if possible,

the edges where the floor meets the walls.

Then, put your Picture Plane down on a piece of paper so

you can see the drawing and transfer those lines to a piece of

drawing paper.

You have just drawn a corner in perspective. Now, let’s do that

without the aid of the Picture Plane.

Move to a different corner or a different position. Tape a

piece of paper to your drawing board. Now, take a sight on the

vertical corner. Close one eye and hold your pencil perfectly vertically

at the corner. Having checked, you can now draw a vertical

line for the corner.

Next, hold up your pencil perfectly horizontally, staying on

the plane, to see what the angles of the ceiling are relative to horizontal

(Figure 8-21). You will see them as angles between the

pencil and the edges of the ceiling. Remember these angles as shapes. Then, again estimating, draw the angles into your drawing.

Use the same procedure for the floor angles (Figure 8-22).

These fundamental sighting movements or measuring gestures

in drawing are not difficult to master, once you have a real

understanding of the purpose of the movements.

• The purpose of closing one eye, as I explained earlier, is to

see a 2 -D image only, not a 3-D binocular image.

• The purpose of locking the elbow is to ensure using a single

scale in sighting proportions. Relaxing the elbow even

slightly can cause errors by changing the scale of the sights.

In sighting angles, it is not necessary to take the sights at arm’s

length, but you must stay on the plane.

• The purpose of comparing angles to vertical or horizontal is

obvious. Angles can vary infinitely around 360 degrees. Only

true vertical and true horizontal are constant and reliable.

And since the edges of the paper (and the edges of the format

you have drawn) also represent vertical and horizontal, any

angle can be assessed on the plane and transferred into the

drawing in relation to those constants.


Some important points about sighting angles


• All angles are sighted relative to the two constants: vertical

and horizontal.

• In your drawing, the edges of your format represent the constants

vertical and horizontal. Once you have determined an

angle “out there” in the real world, you will draw it into the

drawing relative to the edges of your format.

• All angles are sighted on the picture-plane. This is a solid

plane. You cannot “poke through” it to align your pencil with

an edge as it moves through space. You determine the angle as

it appears on the plane (Figure 8-23).

• You can sight angles by holding your pencil either vertically

or horizontally and comparing the angle with the edge of the

pencil. You can also use the crosshairs on your clear plastic

Picture Plane or even the edge of one of the Viewfinders. You

just need some edge that you can hold up in a vertical or horizontal

position on the plane to compare the angle you intend

to draw. The pencil is simply the easiest to use and doesn’t

interrupt your drawing.

• Visual information seen on the plane is nearly always different

from what you know about things. Say you are facing a

corner of a room. You know that the ceiling is flat—that is,

horizontal—and that it meets the wall at right angles. But if

you hold up your pencil perfectly horizontally, close one eye,

and, staying on the plane, line up the corner so that it touches

the center of your horizontal pencil, you will find that the

edges of the ceiling go off at odd angles. Perhaps one angle is

steeper than the other. See Figure 8-22, page 149.

• You must draw these angles just as you see them. Only then

will the ceiling look flat and the right angles of the walls

appear to be correct in your finished drawing. This is one of

the great paradoxes of drawing.

• You must put these paradoxical angles into your drawing just

as you perceive them. To do this, you remember the shape of

one of the triangles made by the edge of the ceiling and your

horizontal pencil. Then, imagining a horizontal line in your

drawing (parallel to the top and bottom edges of your format),

draw the same triangle. Use the same process to draw

the other angled edge of the ceiling. See Figure 8-21

for an illustration of this.


I usually recommend that students not try to designate an angle

by degrees: a 45-degree angle; a 30-degree angle; etc. It really is

best to simply remember the shape the angle makes when compared

to vertical and horizontal and carry that visual shape in

your mind to draw it. You may have to double-check angles a few

times at first, but my students learn this skill very quickly.

The decision whether to use vertical or horizontal as the constant

against which to see a particular angle occasionally puzzles

students. I recommend that you choose whichever will produce

the smaller angle.








A “Real” perspective drawing


What you’ll need:

• Your drawing board

• Several sheets of drawing paper, in a stack for padding

• Your masking tape

• Your drawing pencils, sharpened, and your eraser

• Your graphite stick and several paper towels or paper napkins

• Your plastic Picture Plane and your felt-tip marker

• Your larger Viewfinder

Before you start:

Tape a stack of several sheets of drawing paper to your drawing

board. Draw a format on your drawing paper and tone the paper

within the format to a medium gray tone. Draw the crosshairs on

the toned paper,

1. Choose your subject. Learning how to draw “in proportion”

and “in perspective” are the two great challenges—the

Waterloo, even—of most drawing students in art schools. You

will want to prove to yourself that you can achieve this skill.

Therefore, pick your subject with that objective in mind:

Choose a view or a site that you think would be really hard to

draw—one with lots of angles or a complicated ceiling or a

long view down a hall. See the student drawing on page 153.

The best way to choose a site is to walk around, using your

Viewfinder to find a composition that pleases you—much in

the same way as composing with a camera’s viewfinder.

Possible sites:

• A kitchen corner

• A hallway

• A view through an open doorway

• A corner of any room in your house

• A porch or balcony

• Any street corner where you can sit in your car or on a bench

and draw

• An entrance to any public building, inside or out


Set yourself up to draw at your chosen site. You will need two

chairs, one for sitting on and one on which to lean your drawing

board. If you are drawing outside, folding chairs are convenient.

Make sure that you are directly facing your chosen


2. Clip your larger Viewfinder and the plastic Picture Plane

together. Draw a format edge on the plastic plane by running

the felt-tip marker around the inside edge of the Viewfinder

opening. Closing one eye, move the Viewfinder/plastic Picture

Plane backward and forward to find the best composition—

the one you like best.

3. Having found a composition you like, choose your Basic Unit.

Your Basic Unit should be of medium size and of a shape that

is not too complicated. It might be a window or a picture on

the wall or a doorway. It can be a positive form or a negative

space. It can be a single line or a shape. Draw your Basic Unit

directly on the plastic with your felt-tip marker.

4. Set aside your Viewfinder/plastic Picture Plane on a piece of

white paper so that you can see what you have drawn on it.

You will next draw your Basic Unit on your paper. It will be

the same shape but larger, just as your toned format is larger

than the Viewfinder opening.

5. Transfer your Basic Unit onto the toned paper using your

crosshairs as a guide. On both the Picture Plane and on your

toned paper, the crosshairs divide the drawing area into four

quadrants. Refer to Figures 8-11 and 8-12 on page 146 for how

to transfer your Basic Unit from your Picture Plane to your

toned paper by using these quadrants.


How to re-find your composition: Sometimes it is useful to go

back to the Picture Plane to check on an angle or proportion. To

re-find your composition, simply hold up your Viewfinder/plastic

Picture Plane, close one eye and move the plane forward or

backward until your Basic Unit “out there” lines up with the felttip

drawing of Basic Unit on the plastic plane. Then check out

any angle or proportion that may be puzzling you.

For most people just learning to draw, the hardest part of

drawing is believing their own sights of both angles and proportions.

Many times I have watched students take a sight, shake

their heads, take the sight again, again shake their heads, even say

out loud, “It [an angle] can’t be that steep,” or, “It [a proportion]

can’t be that small.”

With a little more experience in drawing, students are able to

accept the information they obtain by sighting. You just have to

swallow it whole, so to speak, and make a decision not to secondguess

your sights. I say to my students, “If you see it so, you draw

it so. Don’t argue with yourself about it.”

Of course, the sights have to be taken as correctly and carefully

as possible. When I demonstrate drawing in a workshop, students

see me making a very careful, deliberate movement to

extend my arm, lock my elbow, and close one eye in order to

carefully check a proportion or an angle on the plane. But these

movements become quite automatic very quickly, just as one

quickly learns to brake a car to a smooth stop.

To complete your perspective drawing:

1. Again, you will fit the pieces of your drawing together like a

fascinating puzzle. Work from part to adjacent part, always

checking the relationships of each new part to the parts

already drawn. Also, remember the concept of edges as

shared edges, with the positive forms and negative spaces

fitted into the format to create a composition. Remember that

all the information you need for this drawing is right there

before your eyes. You now know the strategies artists use to

“unlock” that visual information and you have the correct

devices to help you.

2. Be sure to use negative spaces as an important part of your

drawing as in Figure 8-24. You will add strength to your

drawing if you use negative space to see and draw small items

such as lamps, tables, signs with lettering, and so on. If you do

not, and focus only on the positive shapes, they will tend to

weaken your drawing. If you are drawing a landscape, trees

and foliage in particular are much stronger when their negative

spaces are emphasized.

3. Once you have completed the main parts of the drawing, you

can focus on the lights and shadows. “Squinting” your eyes a

bit will blur the details and allow you to see large shapes of

lighted areas and shadowed areas. Again using your new

sighting skills, you can erase out the shapes of lights and use

your pencil to darken in the shapes of shadows. These shapes

are sighted in exactly the same way as you have sighted the

other parts of the drawing: “What is the angle of that shadow

relative to horizontal? How wide is that streak of light relative

to the width of the window?”

4. If any part of the drawing seems “off” or “out of drawing,” as

such errors are called, check out the troublesome area with

your clear plastic Picture Plane. Look at the image on the

plane (with one eye closed, of course) and alternately glance

down at your drawing to double-check angles and proportions.

Make any corrections that seem reasonably easy to



After you have finished:

Congratulations! You have just accomplished a task that many

university art students would find daunting if not impossible.

Sighting is an aptly named skill. You take a sight and you see

things as they really appear on the picture-plane. This skill will

enable you to draw anything you can see with your own eyes. You

need not search for “easy” subjects. You will be able to draw anything

at all.

The skill of sighting takes some practice to master, but very

soon you will find yourself “just drawing,” taking sights automatically,

at times even without needing to measure proportions or

assess angles. I think it’s significant that this is called “eyeballing.”

Also, when you come to the difficult foreshortened parts, you will

have just the skills needed to make the drawing seem easy.

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