How to Improve On Perspective in Oil Paintings

Just mention the word “perspective” to a group of beginning artists and you’ll practically be able to hear their hearts start beating faster in fear.

Perspective isn’t something that creative types usually like learning about because it involves a lot of terminology is frankly seems more based in math than art.

It’s notorious as one of the hardest things for beginners to figure out. But it isn’t impossible to master, and at some point you’ll get over your fear of perspective and it will become second nature to you.

It’s not just something architects need to master—most great oil painters will also have a good handle on it.

Take Your Paints Out of the Mix

First of all, if you’re worried about color, tone, mediums, brushes, canvas and strokes (just to name a few things), you’re not going to be able to focus on perspective. It may sounds counterintuitive, but if you want to improve perspective in your oil paintings, put away your oil paints. Put away all of your brushes, your canvases, and your painting smock.

Instead, get comfortable somewhere and take out a piece of paper and a pencil. Start simple. Understand that you need to be able to draw in proper perspective before you can paint it. Narrowing your focus will help you concentrate better and get things right faster.

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The Clock Method

The Clock Method is something some artists find helpful when trying to get perspective right. When attempting to find the angles to the vanishing points, things some things get skewed when you’re looking back and forth between the scene and your canvas. It’s hard to accurately convert angles from reality to paper.

To help with this, you can imagine the vanishing lines as the hand of a clock (hopefully you remember what a clock face looks like in this era of digital displays!). When you look out and realize that the road is disappearing exactly into the 10 o’clock space, it will be much easier to draw that line properly in your sketch and for your painting.

The Thumb and Pencil Method

Another method that comes in handy for getting the angles of perspective right is the thumb and pencil method. This method is commonly used for getting proportions right, but it can also easily be used to find the angles of vanishing lines as well. Hold your pencil in your thumb and index finger at arm’s length.

Now position it so the pencil is running exactly parallel to the line you want to draw. Carefully bring your arm back to your canvas, keeping the angle steady, and draw the angle your pencil is at. You can either note the angle and quickly sketch it, or use the other hand to draw in the angle while your first hand holds the pencil steady at the correct angle.

Hopefully one or all of these three tips will improve your perspective when learning how to oil paint. Perspective is a difficult thing to get right, but with time and practice it will become much easier.

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