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SKETCHBOOK: a creative tool and a way of life that celebrates design and drawing as vital ways to see and value culture, to discover ideas, and to envision a better world.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

How Does Eye Level Work on a Hill?

From my Skillshare class, "Drawing People and Crowds Made Simple" ;

This morning Shawnery Mathis, a participant in one of my Skillshare classes, asked "How do you deal with eye level--where heads go--when you are on a hill? I live in a really hilly area so a lot of my urban sketches would have some sort of hill to deal with." 

I get this question occasionally, since I usually teach the "eye level" concept assuming that the artist and most of people and crowd are standing, and that the ground is relatively flat--the kind of scene you'd see in an Italian piazza or this Parisian street corner:

You can see that, regardless of their distance from the viewer, (almost) all the heads are lined up on that white eye level line. In a sketch, it looks like this:

The most common question I get regards the the eye level of the artist when sitting and most of the people being sketched are standing. In that case, the artist's eye level is about at the waist level of the average person. In a sketch, it looks like this: 

So, observing a hill presents a different kind of situation. The people standing at the same level on the hill  as you (in the example, you're at the bottom of the hill) will all be at the same eye level as you. For people further up the hill, forget about eye level. Those figures simply get smaller, drawn with less detail and higher on the page as they get further away/up the hill from the artist. Here's a simplified illustration:

Pretty cool, right? This observation comes in handy when drawing something like a grand urban staircase, like the Spanish Steps in Rome. Assuming you're standing at the base of the steps, the people also at the base of the steps are at your eye level. Those moving up the stairs gradually diminish in size and detail:

When in doubt, LOOK CAREFULLY AND DRAW WHAT YOU SEE. These kinds of guidelines and techniques make you aware of the optics and simplify the issue, helping you to translate hopelessly complex scene into something that makes sense on the page.  One of my great teachers, Michael O'Keefe, told me, "Yes, you draw what you see. But you see what you know to look for." Understanding eye level helps you know what to look for.

There are TONS of tips like this in my book, Freehand Drawing and Discovery.  I hope this little lesson was helpful. I look forward to seeing you out on the street one day soon. Until then, keep dreaming, and keep drawing.  -J.