When I was still in college, and a few years after, I lived in Atlanta, the home of Gaijin Studios. For those who don’t know, that’s the studio Brian Stelfreeze calls home, and shares with the likes of Cully Hamner, Karl Story, and Laura Martin, and in the past with the likes of Tony Harris, Jason Pearson, Joe Phillips, and Adam Hughes. Brian’s an incredible talent, and an amazing teacher. I believe he does lectures for SCAD both in Savannah, GA, and now at their acquired Atlanta branch, which used to be my old school, the former Atlanta College of Art. Sadly, when I was in school they didn’t bring in comic artists to speak, so I sought out Gaijin Studios on my own. I pestered the guys (bringing boxes of candy didn’t hurt my chances), but I’ll admit, at the time I wanted to bug Adam, as he was my idol. It was Brian who taught me the tricks, gave me the bulk of his time, and passed on to me the most important lesson of all… the wheel! Naw, but darn near as important- perspective.

When you look at pages by other artists, anatomy is the first thing you notice- because we all know what it’s supposed to look like. We’ve seen it our whole lives, so it stands out- but immediately behind that (literally and figuratively) is perspective! You’ll find guys who are bad at both, but often you’ll have someone who is good at anatomy, but lousy at perspective. Funny thing is, you rarely (if ever) find a guy who’s good at perspective but lousy at anatomy; it just seems to go against the learning curve. I’ll never do justice here to what Brian taught me, and I could never cover all the things that he passed on to me (it’s like he did some wacky Vulcan mind meld and downloaded way more than I can convey), but I’ll try to pass along a few tricks that have always helped me. They’re not the only things you need to know, but they will help save you time, put you on the right path to finding a solution, or at least help you spot the problems early on. I know that Brian didn’t originate a lot of the information he passed on to me, but like any great artist, he took it and made it his own.

The first is something I believe both he and Adam Hughes got from Andrew Loomis, and because of that, I’ll use the images from the out of print book that they got it from… Andrew Loomis‘ “Figure Drawing for All it’s Worth“. If you don’t have his books, as most of us don’t, you can probably track down PDFs from various art sites, or spend crazy amounts of money (like I did over the years) buying second hand copies of the originals. In Figure Drawing for All it’s Worth, Loomis discusses “hanging the figure”, something Brian passed onto me when he saw my first pages for DC and promptly pointed out all my failings. :::sigh:::: What it means is, whatever Horizon Line (HL) you establish for a shot, all of your figures will be subject to the same spacial relationship to that line. So if we have a HL at the waist level of Mr. Main Guy, then all the figures the same height as Mr.Main Guy will also hit the HL at their waists. Without doing accurate math, that means if the HL and Mr. Guy’s waist are 41″ from the ground, then the HL (in theory) should hit all figures at approx. 41″. If they’re shorter than Mr. Guy it will hit above their waists, and if they’re taller it will hit below. If a person of equal height to Mr. Guy is sitting (considering most chair seats are set at the same height) then odds are their shoulders & head will be at about waist level of our standing Mr. Guy. Similar to before, everyone seated who is just as tall as Mr. Guy, will also have their head/shoulders hitting our HL as well. Now all of this is subject to what a person is doing of course. If they’re bending over to pick something up, jumping, dancing, blah, blah, blah- then of course that alters their relationship to the HL, but this is a simple gauge to use quickly to see if there are any glaring mistakes in your image. Here is the image from Loomis’ book that illustrates this more clearly than I can with words.

Andrew Loomis- making it simple

The next trick needs a quick recap of a basic perspective theory, which is that any image (excluding cubist ideals) is seen from ONE view point. That image is being shown from one set of eyes, and one position in space, so the HL and all Vanishing Points (VP) contained are subject to that view point regardless of where they are. So if they’re standing on a ladder we see things from slightly above (bird eye), and if they’re laying on the ground, the view is from slightly below (worm eye). A simple note to remember is that where the view point is in relationship to an object will dictate the distance between VPs so if we’re standing just to the left of an object then the left side VP is much closer to our center and the right side VP is further away from us just as that side of the object is. The closer we get to the left side of the same object, the closer the left side VP becomes and the further away the right side of the object, the right side VP moves further away. Here’s a couple of diagrams to show that as well.

We start out almost in the middle.

Then move a little to the left.

Then just a little more to the left.

Notice anything on odd about the last image? Well that’s because we ran out of table- there was nowhere to put our far right VP. When doing perspective, we learn to draw out our HL and then add our VPs, so we can draw boxes, buildings, cars, whatever. When you start getting into trickier shots, the VPs tend to get further and further out on the sides of the drawing, if pushed to the extreme- you run out of table. Now there are tricks to doing this in the computer, but I’m a proponent of learning how to do things by hand. That isn’t because I hate computers, but I’ve found that a lot of guys who don’t learn it by hand first, and rely on the computer to do these types of things for them, never learn why stuff happens the way it does to begin with. Learning how to do something by hand, trains your brain to recognize perspective properly, and over time your drawings will adjust to being more accurate without the aid of devices. Not to toot my own horn, but thru the years I’ve noticed that my perspective layouts are practically spot on from the thumbnails to begin with and all the ruler tricks only help to tighten up the lines.

For speed you’ll want a specific type of ruler, you can find it in most art shops, or if you live someplace without a good art store, you can order it on line from any major supplier. It’s called a “Type Gauge”, used in the old days of type setting to see how much space a column of type would take up at various point sizes. Of course there aren’t a lot of people who use these much anymore, so you better get one quick before they stop selling them! Here’s what they look like.

Now establish your horizon line, but when you know your VP is going to be very gradual and end up off the edge of the table, you whip out the ruler. If both VPs fall off the table you’ll have to establish this for both sides, but for now lets only deal with the idea that the VP on the right side of the drawing has fallen off the side of the table. On both sides of the image draw a perpendicular line to the HL, one going thru the VP on the left the other can just be on the right side of the paper.

The left will be the larger side and the right will be the smaller just as the VP would do if it were on the paper. Take your type gauge, you’ll see the point sizes are clearly marked according to height, most range on one side from 7- 10 and on the other from 11-15, skipping 14 (don’t ask me why, I don’t know- you’d think they’d skip 13 out of superstition if they had to drop one). Decide how extreme you want the VP to be, if you want it to be very slight pick numbers closer together like 8 and 10. If you want to make the VP more extreme obviously pick number further apart, such as 7 and 15. Usually you’ll end up with numbers only a couple of steps apart, the more extreme you get, the odds increase that the VP would have ended up on the table to begin with.

Now lay the ruler to where you can see your perpendicular line in the space of the type gauge, if you’re on the left it should be inside the gauge for the larger size and reversed when doing the right side (smaller). Tick off marks going above and below the line, I tend to only tick at the even numbers and then make double marks at every fifth point for quick reference when I’m done.

Do the same process on the right side with the smaller type gauge. You should end up with something like this.

Now all you have to do is start connecting the ticks. The numbers don’t mean anything other than to reference where you are, but if you have a line that falls at tick #4 on one side, the find #4 on the other and you have your perspective line! It’s that easy, and all that struggling just falls away.

That’s it- quick easy and ready for perspective ruling! If it doesn’t seem extreme enough or too much, simply erase one set of ticks and make the spacing more or less accordingly. The first couple of times may feel a bit odd, but you’ll get the hang of it in no time. After a while, you’ll start to notice how you really get a feel for perspective and that you observations when sketching outside or doing interiors will speed up.


Next time- the great falsehood of 1 point perspective!