It’s easy to spend all your time thinking about what you (and your viewers) are looking at and overlook the question of who is doing the looking, from what vantage point. Changing the point of view—close up, far away, low horizon, high horizon, and so on—can dramatically change the experience of a sketch or painting.
We painters are lucky. We can use an understanding of perspective and our creative imagination to invent scenes from the viewpoint of a small child, a bird on the wing, or even imagine how a scene might look if we had the compound eyes of a fly. We can also make less-dramatic changes to help direct the viewer’s eye, or affect the mood or experience of a painting.
If you’re used to working primarily from photos, you may be in the habit of using the point of view the photographer selected. In this module, I invite you to consider how you can affect viewers’ experiences of your painting by giving clues about the point of view of the painting’s “narrator”.
When you consider the composition for a sketch or painting, do you include the possibility of changing the point of view?
For a painting you’ve completed, or one you’re planning, how would the feeling of the painting change if it were painted from a lower viewpoint, looking more upward, as from a child’s perspective, or an ant’s?
How would the feeling of the painting change if it were painted from a higher viewpoint, say, as seen from high up on an overlooking hillside, or from the perspective of a fly on the ceiling?
How does the feeling change if you zoom way out or way in?
What if you took the idea even farther, and adopted the equivalent of a narrator in a novel?
What could you do to give the impression that this is the point of view of a child, or an ant, or a robot drone flying overhead?
What kinds of moods could you create, what kinds of interesting stories could you tell, if you created paintings from the point of view of an artistic character or persona different from your everyday self?
Today, explore the same subject from different viewpoints. You can use your imagination, or use a simple object or still life. Try creating sketches from different perspectives and viewpoints. Zoom out and allow a lot of space around your subject, zoom in tight and make it fill the frame, zoom way in and show only a part of your subject.
Use your imagination, and don’t stress out too much over whether you’ve drawn things right. If one of your sketches spurs some exciting ideas, you can always refine it or work on more accurate perspective later. Think of this as visual brainstorming.
If you like, you can take the exercise further and draw or paint from the perspective of a different creative persona. How would that artist draw or paint the scene?