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Perspective requires an understanding of principles, such as vanishing points, horizon lines, ellipses, and short and long axes. So, how do you teach the idea of linear perspective to young students without burdening them with a lot of jargon and theory?

I have devised a lesson in which my students have a lot of fun painting figures in perspective. At the same time, the students learn the concepts of linear perspective by creating a composition that projects a sense of form and depth.

Creating Convincing Illusions

Since ancient times, artists have tried to create an illusion of form, space, and depth in their work. The ancient Egyptians didn't quite get it right and placed one figure above the other. The Romans dabbled with the idea of modeling forms in their paintings and had a crude knowledge of linear and atmospheric perspective. But, it was the Renaissance masters who perfected linear perspective and created a convincing sense of depth and space.

By using some of the ideas known to the masters, students can organize compositions full of different figures that suggest a sense of real depth. Raphael's painting, the School of Athens, with its sculptural quality, architectural perspective, and superb balance is an excellent resource. The theme of the students' paintings will be the same as that of Raphael's composition, an imaginary gathering of past and contemporary heroes.

Understanding Concepts

Many old magazines, preferably in color, are used for this exercise, as well as any spare photographs of family and friends the students might possess. The students are first asked to cut out many different pictures of people: old, young, famous, unknown, small, large, complete figures, or just faces.

At this stage, some of the concepts of linear perspective are introduced. Objects of about the same size appear to become smaller the farther away they are, almost vanishing at the horizon. And, if people of approximately the same height are standing in a group, their eyes will fall along the same horizon, whether they appear to be near or far away.

Making Arrangements

First, the students draw a line across a large sheet of paper to represent the horizon. The pictures of people that the students have cut out are then arranged so that the eyes of the figures lie along the horizon line. If a figure is not in a standing position, or is not an adult, obviously this must be compensated for. The students then arrange and rearrange the figures until they are happy with their individual compositions.

Cut-outs of large faces or even partial faces can be included in the arrangement. It will then appear that the figure in question is very close to the viewer. Once satisfied with the arrangement of the figures, the students glue down the figures and faces. The collage each student has produced then provides a basis for the painting.

Transforming the Collage

The composition is then transferred onto a fresh sheet of paper either by working free hand, using a grid method, or by tracing the original collage. Using acrylic paint, poster paint, colored pencil, mixed media, or other suitable medium, the students then work towards finishing their paintings. A suitable background, naturalistic or imaginary, can be added if desired. Another consideration involves the modeling of the figures. If the direction of light is not consistent for all of the figures assembled in the collage, this will have to be compensated for in the painting.

The end results were extremely pleasing and showcased a range of painting styles. Interpretations of family members and friends mingled with the famous and obscure. The students found that painting figures in perspective was an enjoyable and rewarding exercise. At the same time, they got to learn about the more serious aspects of linear perspective.


Students create artworks that use organizational principles and functions to solve specific visual arts problems.
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Title Annotation:lesson on painting figures in perspective
Author:Ellis, Neville John
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Oct 1, 1996
Previous Article:The figure: concealed and revealed.
Next Article:More than a face in a crowd.

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