Perspective in Landscape Drawing – Horizon lines in paintings and photographs

July 16, 2013

cotman the old pigeon house

My watercolor work lately has led me to look at topographical landscape and the ‘stained drawing’ tradition of watercolor prominent just before J.M.W.Turner turned the medium upside-down. The isolated, tall building has been a strong element in the last two months’ of my playing with watercolor, so I was drawn to this type of work by artists such as Cotman, Varley and Girtin. I took a closer look at J.S. Cotman’s “Dovehouse” which is a particularly nice example of sciography, the science of shadows, with its very strong focus on the steps in the foreground.

Corot Bridge on the Saone River at Macon

This work by Corot is thought to have been largely, if not completely, done outdoors. Corot might appear to have dashed this off – large swathes of flat colour dotted with highlights – but if he did, he had obviously absorbed a lot of compositional skill beforehand.

petra schematic

This is a deliberately “flat” drawing of Petra in Jordon from a reference photo. I wanted a photo which had no visible horizon/eye level line so I could work it out for myself, here using the linear perspective of the building. It was hard not to include tone!

Some paintings are “clearer” than others when it comes to identifying an horizon or eye level line. In some of Turner’s work of course, there is no visible horizon.


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