There is no end to the number and types of exercises that you can use to introduce, explain, clarify, and demystify perspective. Whether you are introducing perspective to a group of students who have no experience with it or you are exploring more complex processes that require a solid understanding of the basics, any exercise based on observation or imagination is a useful tool in helping students to understand the most basic principles of perspective theory. Once the basic principles are well understood, individual interests can guide a more in-depth and relevant investigation of perspective. Most important in teaching perspective is that you, as the instructor, know perspective thoroughly and be comfortable in exploring it to varying degrees with your students. You cannot fake your way through teaching perspective, and it is painful at best to watch someone attempt to do so.
Allow me to share my own experience with this. Early on in my teaching career at Kendall College of Art and Design, our universal foundations program (every incoming student took a core of 8 courses equaling 24 credits) included a full semester of perspective. At some point it was determined that every faculty member who taught in the foundations program should teach the 15-week perspective course (of which there were multiple sections) on a rotating basis. This was a shift away from the same two or three faculty members who knew and loved perspective teaching the course on a regular basis, and this change created a lot of panic in those faculty who were unfamiliar with perspective. Many of us had received our fine art degrees at a time when perspective was devalued and there was little or no training or experience with the principles of perspective.
When my turn came around, I was scheduled to teach perspective in the fall semester of 1990. This was the semester that I would be returning to teaching following my first sabbatical in 19891990. While I had a basic awareness of perspective, I had never received any instruction and I was far more terrified of walking into the classroom unprepared than I was of teaching myself perspective. With this anxiety-based motivation, I devoted four months of my sabbatical during the summer of 1990 to teaching myself everything I could possibly learn about one-point, two-point, and three-point perspective. I scoured both the college library’s collection of perspective books and the public library’s collection and began my journey. It was overwhelming at first, as you might expect, but over time I was able to focus my attention on just a few books that were the clearest and the most thorough (they are listed in the Bibliography and Supplemental Reading section in the back of Drawing Essentials). And in the process of this in-depth study, I fell in love with perspective and reveled in the experience of learning something new that had always intrigued me. I also discovered multiple errors in many of the books that I ultimately rejected. When multiple sources of information about the same subject are in conflict with one another, it is informative to figure out which one is incorrect and why, and I also enjoyed this part of the process.
I drew and drew for those four months, acquainting myself thoroughly with the principles of perspective and establishing a foundation for myself that then allowed me to investigate more complex processes. I recognized during this period of self-instruction how much I had avoided working with any imagery in my own studio work that required knowledge of perspective. And I realized the leap that must be made between knowing and understanding something and effectively teaching what you know and understand. What a joy it was when I first taught perspective. I recognized the delight in students who began the course with the same anxiety I had about perspective and began to comprehend what had seemed incomprehensible to them.
I have included here several different examples of exercises and assignments that help students to understand the essential principles of perspective, all based on the cube (a six-sided three dimensional form with squares composing each sideall 12 edges are equal in length) and its variations as well as ellipses, which are simply circles in perspective. There are limitless options for exploring various components of perspective. But before any of this happens, it is important to first spend time informing your students about what perspective is, what it can do, what its limitations are, and the ways in which it is similar to and different from how we actually see. All of these ideas are discussed and illustrated in Chapters Two and Three of Drawing Essentials, 3e.
The examples included here are intended to explore both direct observation and invention, and require an understanding of basic two-point and three-point perspective principles such as cube construction, ellipse construction, cone of vision, grid construction, measuring lines, cube division, cube multiplication, and of course sighting. You will find student drawings done during class time as well as homework assignments that include the following:
Direct Observation of 2-Point Perspective.
Drawing a Room or Space or Building from Direct Observation in 2-Point Perspective. This exercise can be explored by using sighting techniques only (no actual vanishing points are established but all angles are carefully observed with perspective principles and vanishing points in mind), or by using sighting in combination with vanishing points. Straight-edges are useful for the sake of accuracy. In order to utilize the drawing surface fully, it is understood that vanishing points, whether established or not, will be positioned well off the drawing surface. Exploration may begin, if desired, using a non-photo blue pencil before transitioning to graphite or charcoal. Please note the specific exercise included here (Perspective Exercise Combining Observation and Basic Perspective Components) as assigned by my colleague Stephen Halko.
Inventing an Interior Space to Explore 2-Point Perspective. This requires that students establish vanishing points that are positioned well outside of the drawing to fully utilize the drawing surface. Students typically attach “wings” of paper to the drawing surface upon which vanishing points are positioned that can be folded over onto the drawing surface for transportation. Generally straight-edges are used for this exercise to encourage precision, but it is entirely possible to explore this exercise working freehand. Exploration may begin, if desired, using a non-photo blue pencil before transitioning to graphite or charcoal.
Inventing a Structure to Explore 2-Point Perspective.
3-Point Perspective from Both Observation and Invention.