Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tuesday Tips & Tricks: "Perspective for the Urban Sketcher: Using the Sighting Technique"

One of the most challenging techniques to master in on-location sketching is perspective.  Many people shy away from architectural, city scenes or subjects involving vanishing points because of all of the rules involved.  Even when following the rules, it’s pretty difficult to achieve a completely accurate record of the actual scene.  Most of the time when we sketch on location we use small to medium sized sketchbooks.  More often than not, the vanishing points will fall well off of the edge of our pages, making it impossible to calculate the actual vanishing points.  Lastly, when we are urban sketching, we don’t always have a lot of time to analyze and perfect the perspective.  However, a technique I use, called Sighting, will enable you to draw in perspective quickly, and without needing to fully construct a perfect set of vanishing points.

Sighting is based off of the principles of perspective, but is a shortcut, so to speak, and a great, simple trick to use in both shorter and lengthier sketching sessions.

Before moving to the step by step explanation, there are 2 rules that must be followed in order for this to work.  Keep these in mind while reading about and using the technique.  These rules are crucial and sighting will not work unless they are followed.

  • Once you decide where to sit and sketch, you must stay in the same spot until you have at least marked out your perspective lines.  (Once you move, your point of view changes, thus your horizon line and vanishing point(s) will change as well).

  • For consistency, hold your sketchbook in one position until you have at least marked out your perspective lines.  For example, if the sketchbook is sitting flat on your lap for the first half of the sketch, do not tilt it up for the second half of the sketch.  This will ensure consistency in the transferring of your lines.

Sighting: Step by Step

1) I use a thin, straight, wooden skewer and that I carry with me all the time in my travel kit.  A pen or pencil will work fine too, but the longer and thinner the sighting tool, the more accurate of a reading you will get and the easier it will be to see.  About 6”-8” is plenty.

Hold the sighting tool at one end.

3) Fully extend your arm out and hold the sighting tool parallel with your body.  This is important.  Do not tilt the tool outward towards the subject, or inward toward your body.  You will only get an accurate reading if the tool is parallel with your body.

Align the tool with the edge of the receding line.  Here I am aligning it with the roof line of the building.  (You will want to place your tool directly on top of the edge when actually doing this.  I put the tool slightly above the edge so it easier for you to see.)  Imagine the hands of a clock.  Only rotate your tool like the hands on a clock would rotate around the center point.

5) Hold the angle of the tool and slowly place the tool on your paper and draw the line.  (I do not mean to imply to use the tool as a ruler, just as a visual guide.)  I usually map out perspective line in pencil because you will need to double check and edit your lines as you go.  The more you do this, the better you will get at transferring the lines and soon enough you will not need to edit. 

Therefore, once you have drawn your line,

6) Double check your line and repeat steps 3,4 and 5 again to make a revised version of the first line.  With a line already drawn, it is easier to compare what you have drawn to what you are sighting, and you can make changes relative to what you have drawn.

7) Repeat steps 2-6 for all of the lines you do not feel comfortable free handing and remember to follow the two rules I mentioned at the beginning.

Here is quick sketch I completed using the sighting technique.  Take a look at all of the different angles that are transferred to the sketch.

I hope this is helpful!  Feel free to ask any questions!

-Andrew Banks 


  1. Thanks for this post! I have used sighting with my pencil but I can't wait to try your method.
    Great lesson!

  2. i love urban sketching
    but i have to improve some Technics of drawing
    like backgrounds,sky,tress,floor etc
    grate blog keep continue


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