Perspective is a set of techniques by which we can paint a three-dimensional scene on a flat, two-dimensional surface. Perspective allows a muralist to create believable space beyond the surface of the canvas. For this reason, perspective is an important component of the muralist's art.
by Cher Galiotti
by which we can paint a three-dimensional scene on a flat, two-dimensional surface. Perspective allows a muralist to create believable space beyond the surface of the canvas. For this reason, perspective is an important component of the muralist’s art.
The demand for murals in homes and businesses is growing, and more and more painters are becoming interested in doing murals. The question inspiring muralists most often ask is, “Do I have to know how to draw?” The answer is, “No!” With projectors, stencils, templates, and transferring techniques, drawing need never be an obstacle. All that you’ll need to properly apply these aids is an understanding of perspective. The following guidelines will help.
The first step in creating a mural with perspective is to identify the eye level. The placement of images in a scene will vary according to the viewer’s eye level.
The eye level is the horizon line in a mural. Sometimes the horizon line is not obvious, as in an indoor scene, but the imaginary line at the height of the viewer’s eyes will be the eye level. If the mural is viewed while sitting at a dining table, the eye level is different than when viewed while standing.
Choose a level that is appropriate for your scene. Consider a painting of a bookcase with vases on each shelf. Locating the eye level on the second shelf will dictate a different view for each shelf. On the lower shelf, the top and possibly the inside of each vase will be visible, whereas on the top shelf, the bottom and the front of each vase will be seen.
Converging parallel lines will appear to meet on the vanishing point (VP). Determining the VP is the most important decision in the design of a mural. It guarantees the proper placement of your oblique lines. The VP is on the horizon line at the eye level of the average person viewing the mural.
The classic example of this phenomenon is railroad tracks. They are in reality parallel. To make the two-dimensional plane appear three-dimensional, these tracks must appear to converge at the VP.
Stand against one wall of your living room and observe the other three walls. If you were to draw this room, you would notice that the left and right walls would seem to converge or get closer together as they go away from you. All lines would lead to your VP, as in figure 1.
The VP will help you determine the size of objects placed within the mural. As an object recedes, it appears smaller. For example, someone close to you seems larger than someone 20 feet away. If you hold up your thumb beside that person you are viewing at a 20-foot distance, he or she will equal the size of your thumb. Someone 50 feet away will equal half the size of your thumb. In a mural with perspective, you must use the VP to size objects in accordance with their relative distance and position.
Another part of creating a believable three-dimensional scene is determining the placement of the light source. It must be consistent throughout the mural. Working from an existing painting will make it easy to keep the light source in mind, but when using the imagination, attach a yellow paper sun on the side of the mural where the light source is located.
Often there is more than one light source. For example, suppose an artist is painting a mural of a stone wall along a patio, as in figure 2. The light source is the sun, but there may be a softer, reflective light coming from a lamp inside the house.
Reflective light is on the side opposite to the light source. Round objects must have reflective light, and it should be cool in color. Reflective light on a column will add a lighter element to the dark side of the column. Round, tight-skinned objects, such as grapes, will have reflective light, but it will bounce around the object and appear in several places.
Cast shadows are dark and must get lighter as they go away from the object that is creating the shadow. The shadow must partake of the color of the background that it falls on. If the background is beige, the then the cast shadow must be brown, since it is darker than beige.
A body shadow is a shadow cast from one object to another object. The shadow should be warm in color, narrower than a cast shadow, and darker in value than the object that it falls upon.
Still another component of perspective is color and value. Each object in a mural must have a light, middle, and dark value, or the object will not have shape. A red rose must have the middle value of the red as a base, the dark value on the shadow side or the inside of a petal, and a light value on the side facing the light source.
To make objects recede, make them darker or duller. This can be accomplished by mixing in a complementary color. For example, green is the complementary color to red. A little of the color’s complement will dull objects in the distance.
For example, in a garden mural where there are three red rosebushes, one behind the other, I would add a little green to the red color in the middle bush and a little more green to the red color in the most distant bush. I would also add a little red to the green leaves.
Conversely, when complementary colors are placed next to one another, they accentuate each other. If I surround the distant rose bushes with green plants, it will make the distant roses too red, causing them to be obtrusively conspicuous.
Warm colors advance and cool colors recede. When you are painting a cloudy sky, the clouds with warm yellow and orange highlights appear to be in the foreground. The clouds with purple and blue will be in the background.
The front plane of a mural is the center of interest. It is lighter and brighter. The middle area gets grayer or darker. Finally, the background is graying out so much that it is tucked back into the shadows. The value change from a light or bright foreground to a dark or gray background will add tremendous depth, therefore creating perspective.
An easy way to show perspective is to overlap objects. An urn in front of a stone wall shows perspective in the fact that the urn covers part of the stone wall, as in figure 2. The urn, in turn, is overlapped by river rocks in front of it.
A forest scene has many trees overlapping other trees. One tree will have branches overlapping other branches. How you place each branch relative to the other branches adds depth to the mural.
The best way to paint a mural is to start with the background and work forward. Each object will overlap the other, becoming more prominent and colorful as it moves into the foreground.
Perspective gives a mural depth. Establishing the eye level, vanishing point, and light source, properly sizing objects, and correctly using color are all common methods of achieving perspective.
Anyone who has a desire to paint a mural can do so. Don’t be intimidated by a fear of drawing. Drawing aids and an understanding of perspective are all you need to create awesome murals.
Cher Galiotti is a decorative painter/ faux finisher in Louisiana. Cher owns and operates Faux Filled Dreams Studios, and offers classes in faux and decorative painting to beginner and advanced painters.