Painting Bridges, Alleys, and Avenues of My Favorite Cities

22 Jun 2014

I was born and raised in the suburbs, with rural farmland and city centers nearby so I have an unbiased appreciation for both. I'm attuned to the natural elements around me and I love to be outdoors, but I also get so energized by the sights and sounds of the cities I visit or live in. And sketching a city has certainly helped me hone my perspective drawing skills because with so many visual elements to contend with, I have to be able to create a sense of space in which objects look like they share the same environment relative to one another.

Although one-point perspective is easy to grasp, I'm still working on using more complex layouts of linear perspective. In the meantime, I have a few workarounds that I use to keep myself in a perspective mindset but don't necessarily require me to work out all the details.

Cropping: One thing that I don't think artists use enough is creative cropping when it comes to settling on a composition. For instance, if I taper my composition in at the middle, an illusion of distance is created. Artists often do this in cityscapes where the buildings and roadways, for instance, veer together at one point in the distance.


Via Pietro Micca by Valerio D'Ospina, 2010, oil on canvas, 57 x 51.
Via Pietro Micca by Valerio D'Ospina, 2010, oil on canvas, 57 x 51.


Color: Over the span of a day, light on a form—a building façade, let's say—changes consistently, though sometimes subtly, as the hours tick by. None of us usually have the time to watch that play of color change minute by minute, but I always try to remind myself of how subtle color changes can really make an impact. When trying to go from near to far in a painting, I don't need to drastically alter my colors; minute changes—more like tinting—will give me the effect I want.

North Window in Afternoon by Bennett Vadnais, 2010, acrylic on paper, 12 x 16.
North Window in Afternoon by Bennett Vadnais, 2010,
acrylic painting on paper, 12 x 16.

What looks right: For me, it all comes down to what looks believable rather than whether or not it falls within the mathematical boundaries of a more complex perspective drawing. So I stop looking at my subject and just evaluate my drawing or painting. Does it look believable or does my eye snag on something not quite right? That assessment is my highest standard and one I keep in mind no matter what I work on.

Scrub Free Vessel by Christopher St. Leger, 2008, watercolor painting, 26 x 38.
Scrub Free Vessel by Christopher St. Leger, 2008, watercolor painting, 26 x 38.

But that isn't to say that I am not always taking steps to sharpen my perspective drawing abilities. Using these well means the difference between having to use a lot of creative workarounds and working exactly the way I want. I also like contrasting the linearity of perspective with the fluidity and chance of watercolor, which is why Watercolor Artist Magazine is a great resource for me, making linear perspective understandable from an artist's point of view with painting lessons that I can easily incorporate into my practice--and plenty of inspiration from practicing artists who are driving me on. And right now the subscription is being offered at a special price, so be sure to check it out. Enjoy!


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on 31 Aug 2011 7:44 AM

Some beautiful work shown here.  If you get a chance, check out Stephen Magsig's work too.  He's a plein air painter who does gritty paintings around Detroit.  Very stark and thought provoking in these tough economic times.

on 1 Sep 2011 8:59 AM

Hey David,

I was just in Detroit visiting a close friend. Thanks for passing Stephen's name along. I'll definitely look him up.

on 26 Jun 2014 2:07 PM


I love all of this work. This is an excellent commentary on one of my favorite subjects.

You are so right. Your eye is the best judgement tool you have. You can be mechanically correct when using the principles of perspective but be off visually.