Drawing in Perspective

February 15, 2014

By Tad Fry

If you’ve taken a drawing class, then this may not be for you. However, if you want to get better at drawing, and never had proper education in this discipline, then please read on to discover a principle that will greatly benefit your work.

A few years ago I sketched often because I thought in order to get better, all I had to do was practice. We hear it all the time… practice something a lot and we’ll get better. Some of my sketches were horrible and some were decent. I was alright with the horrible sketches being horrible, but the decent sketches irked me because I couldn’t tell what made them bad. Furthermore, if I had any notion at all why they were bad, I didn’t quite know how to fix them. There must be a better way to do this—I started to look for some answers.

As fate would have it, I discovered the most amazing element to drawing while I searched for an answer to the wrong question. “Do I need better pencils, paper, and measuring tools?” I asked. As I rummaged through the drawing aisle of our local craft store, an employee approached to ask, “May I help you?” I somewhat couldn’t believe his features: an older man with golden-thin-rimmed glasses, grey hair, and a beard. Like a wise man from the mountains about to shed light on my horrible skills as an artist.

“Yes, I think I need a smudge stick and new pencils,” I said like a moron.

“Hmm… smudge stick? Is that what people are calling it these days? You probably mean a blending stump or tortillon; anything will work as long as it moves the graphite around. I’ve even used a bit of tree bark while I’m out drawing. What kind of pencils do you need?” He replied as he handed me a pack of tortillons.

Wait! Did he say tree bark? He knows things—I must learn from him!

“I’m not sure what pencils to get, I have no idea what I’m doing,” I replied.

Concerned, he asked, “Well, what exactly is it you’re trying to do?”

“I want to get better at drawing. No matter what the subject is, I simply want to get better. Unfortunately, I didn’t take drawing classes in high school or college. I took photography and have read a lot of books on design principles and typography. Much of what I do is on the Internet as I’m a web developer,” I explained.

“Ah, follow me…” he said as he made his way down the aisle.

He handed me a book titled Perspective and said, “I don’t care if you’re starting out or in the art business for 50 years, everyone needs to know this. It’s what I teach all my first-year students. Before you try to find your pencils and other things, you need to know how to translate our 3-D world into a 2-D plane, the canvas. If you don’t take the time to learn it, then nothing you draw will ever look correct. After this book you can read a few of these others.”

Excellent, this wise man is a teacher! How lucky was I to discover this drawing principle this way? I told him thanks and ventured home.

The book is Perspective by William F. Powell. With this newfound knowledge, it was amazingly clear why my previous work didn’t look correct. I won’t go into explicit detail of what the book teaches because you should read it in its entirety. However, I’ll show a few examples of my drawings with and without perspective to demonstrate the necessity of this technique.

Jar

After I drew this jar, I knew the top looked weird, but I didn’t know exactly how to fix it. I guess my perspective changed as I drew it. After reading the book, I discovered the top and bottom ellipses of the jar should be parallel. We sort of see a one-point perspective jar (I didn’t know it at the time), but since the lines aren’t parallel there’s no way the top and bottom could fade to the same vanishing point. This makes the jar seem a tick off causing it to look strange.

Bottle

I sketched a bottle after reading about the rules of ellipses in perspective and it went a lot better. Knowing I was going to use one-point perspective, I drew my horizon line, vanishing point, and the lines that would encompass the ellipses of the bottle. Drawing this foundation made more room to be creative and after the dust settled it looked more real.

Die

After initially drawing this die, I thought it looked decent. But something seemed a bit strange. I couldn’t quite figure out what caused the weirdness. Looking back at the die with an understanding of perspective, I can now tell we’re looking so far down on the die that it’s actually in three-point perspective; therefore, the sides of the die should slant inward a bit to a third vanishing point.

Cube

The perspective book has many exercises. When I drew my first cube in three-point perspective, I immediately knew what was wrong with my previous attempts of drawing cubes from a slight bird’s-eye angle. Here is a cube in proper three-point perspective.

As you can see, knowing perspective is a tremendous benefit to our drawings. It brings life to our subjects because we’re adhering to the rules that make them look real. Building within the framework of perspective makes the creation process far more enjoyable because we can make the skeleton of our works using these rules—instead of trying to make things look real through our own judgement. This makes more time to shade, texture, and maybe even write a bit of story about the subject.

If you want to learn how to draw in perspective, then I recommend this Perspective book. There’s also a nice video from Khan Academy: How one-point linear perspective works. To see a few more examples of perspective exercises, then check out my Twitter feed: @tadfry #sketch.

How to Destroy Screen Fatigue

July 16, 2013

By Tad Fry

Eye’m Classy

I’ve suffered vast amounts of fatigue after my work days even though I get enough sleep, exercise, and have a healthy diet. Of course designing and coding exhausts our brains, but this fatigue had me wanting to go to bed immediately when I got home without even eating. If you’re in the same industry or have the same symptoms, then you’ll be interested in what my optometrist bestowed upon me.

The Problem

Considering I hadn’t been to the optometrist in over 14 years, I thought it best to pay him a visit to rule out my eyes going bad. After several tests, he told me my eyes were fine, and I didn’t need lenses. He even mentioned that based on my history, he didn’t need to see me for another 10 years.

But, there was one final test, and I failed. He had me look at a set of horizontal lines intersecting vertical lines. One set was black and the other green. He asked which one was which. Without hesitation, I answered. Despite my assurance, he said I was wrong, and that confirmed what he thought was wrong with me.

“Your eyes are simply overworked,” he said. “If I gave you a box of rocks and asked you to carry them all day without any breaks, would you be able to relax your arms near the end of the day? Our eyes work in much the same way. If we don’t give them frequent breaks, then it’s difficult to relax them. This can lead to an immense amount of fatigue.”

He further explained we have a buffer between seeing things up close and far away. Since we look at a monitor that is in the mid-range of that buffer, our eyes work a little harder to stay within that range. Staying within that mid-range with no breaks can tire us out.

The Solution

We must give our eyes rest breaks throughout the day. My optometrist suggested every 20 to 30 minutes to look at something else in the room for 30 seconds and then return to working. He said looking at a painting on the wall would work fine, but looking out a window would be best.

These rest breaks time up nicely with The Pomodoro Technique; therefore, I’ve been using my Pomodoro Timer to reward myself with these breaks.

Since looking out the window for 30 seconds every 25 minutes, I’ve noticed significant improvement and have more energy toward the end of the day. Taking the breaks has not harmed my productivity, if anything I’ve been getting more work accomplished and have what feels to be a fresher mind. Keen intellect for the win. I can also tell a difference on the days when I forget to take the breaks and feel quite sluggish by the end of the work day.

Try It

We of course are all different; our age and other factors affect fatigue. But, if you have similarly unexplained symptoms and stare at a screen all day, then I hope you’ll give these breaks a try. It’s definitely worked for me!

VIM Starter Guide

July 11, 2013

By Tad Fry

Behold, an amazing introduction to the mystical beast that is VIM!

What This Starter Guide Is

A tiny set of commands that will drastically increase how fast you edit and move around files.

What This Starter Guide Is Not

This is not a full reference. Venture to the wise being in the mountains to call upon more commands when you want to learn more: https://www.google.com/search?q=vim+commands

How to Get VIM

Command Mode vs. Insert Mode

VIM has a few modes, but we’re only going to discuss Command Mode and Insert Mode.

Command Mode allows you to move about the file with haste, perform simple/bulk edits and other insanely helpful tasks.

Insert Mode allows you to type in the file. Plain and simple—you type characters and they appear on the screen; not nearly as epic as Command Mode.

The Commands

The following list of commands will only work when you’re in Command Mode. Press ESC to get into Command Mode.

Command Mode

Saving

Move Cursor

Insert Mode

Undo

Copy

Paste

Delete

Search

Here’s to Here’s to Iteration

December 12, 2012

By Tad Fry

Here’s to here’s to iteration in 2013 now. It’s time to do the things instead of thinking about them. No more thinking of a plan for a new year’s resolution and then not executing it because we’re scared to act on the idea, again :/

Creatives are blessed with talent to make wonderful projects; however, with that blessing comes the natural curse of wanting everything to be perfect. Even along the creative path, we strive to make every step go as planned. We try to avoid mistakes to hopefully reach an error-free destination. Albeit, it’s nice to have a plan and follow through—it’s that pre-planning which can lead to fear, and that prevents us from beginning the project.

I’m going to destroy that fear with iteration, and I hope you do the same! Most of us know how important iteration is to a project, I just don’t want to forget how powerful it can be to our mental health as creatives overall.

We must remember iteration is with us even before we start a project. This will allow us to create amazing work and fosters learning opportunities. It’s of course the learn-from-our-mistakes mentality, but ensuring we always have that mindset before, during, and after a project completes.

I hope we all keep iteration with us, and I sincerely hope we use this fantastic tool to get our new projects off the ground. This is my new year’s today’s resolution, here’s to iteration.

Exercising Constraint

April 13, 2012

By Tad Fry

Someone once asked me, “What makes a bad design?” Aside from using colors that don’t mix, not using a grid, or not applying negative space etc., this can happen if we don’t add constraints while designing. Art direction is giving yourself constraints and developing within them. If you deviate from these limits then you start to lose the feel of your project. Things start to not fit; it’s like trying to solve a puzzle with the wrong pieces.

Magnificent examples of applied constraint are Rogie King and Tim Boelaars. In an interview with Rogie, he says, “Give yourself a limitation.” You can see this in his shot, The Essentials of A Day in Disneyland Illustration, on Dribbble. By limiting use of certain colors he created wicked elements that fit well together. Had he used a different palette on any one element, then the work would seem off a bit. Tim applies the constraint of using one line weight, but don’t be fooled by this simple limit. Armed with one line weight, Tim builds amazing illustrations that are easy to discern. And we all know the easier something appears, the harder it actually was to make simple… it appears simple because he took the time to solve the problems which then communicates those elements to us easily.

How do you add constraints to a project? You can develop these as you listen to find the problems you are trying to solve. What limits could you apply to help you reach a solution? A company wants a consistent look using colors from their logo as you build their website. Determine which colors compliment and ground each other using the color wheel. Now, the somewhat difficult part; stick to those colors no matter what! Adhere to your constraints. Keep in mind when you’re developing your constraints they are also just an iteration. So don’t stumble over which ones to make… just make a few and try to apply them. If they’re not working out, then iterate to make new constraints.

Too often I’ll want to add to a design to make it better when in fact I should try to figure out what I can take away. Improving the work by applying the limits I first set forth to build the project. Referring to the constraints potentially makes the decision-making a lot easier. They should be a constant go-to in order to ensure your design is on the right track. Always seek the approval of your constraints; albeit a bit annoying, this referee will help you play out your design by abiding to your rules.

Are you up for the challenge? Then throw down some constraints and create within them on your next project. It’s amazing how much you can build by applying limits.

Tell Your Hero

March 30, 2012

By Tad Fry

We’re inspired by people every day, and neglect to tell them they inspired us. Think about how selfish that is. You get your inspiration and make magnificent work, while the person who inspired you possibly goes on with their day wondering if their work is even worth doing. It’s time to tell your hero they are your hero.

Tell Your Hero They Are Your Hero

I’m not trying to suck up or be a gigantic cheeseball. I want to give credit to a batch of awesomes that need to know they are my heroes.

@joshuamilford

This obsessive-complusive maniac loves design and programming. We bounce ideas every day to create projects. Extremely motivating and knows how to ship.

@joshuafantastic

An amazing designer. Picks up the phone to tolerate my newfound love of typography. Countless discussions on design.

@scrivs

The man behind Drawar. This beast provides a wonderful platform for us to learn and discuss design and is a prolific writer.

@cliffpro

Cliff invited me to Drawar and has given me honest feedback with my projects. He brings a refreshing attitude to design and user experience.

@jimmynotjim

He wrote this amazing post; thanks others and has a passion for details which is seen in his work. Also drafted me to Dribbble.

@jeffgoins

Some of the most honest writing you’ll ever read. A genuine mastermind who knows how to motive people.

There you have it. A few of my heroes. If you’re not on my brief list, then please know I’m not trying to draw lines.

Let’s have some reciprocity. Take the time to tell your heroes they are your heroes. They deserve it.

Make Your Own Wrench

March 23, 2012

By Tad Fry

My Dad is an amazing mechanic. While growing up, I noticed he used a lot of tools that were not branded. One day, I noticed a wrench laying around; I had never seen one like it so I asked where he bought it. He replied, “Oh, I made it.”

“What!?” I asked in disbelief.

“Yeah, I couldn’t find a wrench at the store to do the job, so I made my own.”

I always remember that because it helped me see why my Dad is so good at his job. He does whatever it takes to get it done effeciently and in the right way. Even if it requires making a tool.

Over the years, I noticed I do many of the same tasks. Sure, some programs automate them, but many don’t do the job correctly. Furthermore, the programs might not be available everywhere I work. Therefore, I’ve written my own tools to keep at tadfry.com. They’re simple, but save time and are available everywhere I have Internet.

Here’s a few of them:

They’re probably not intuitive to most users, but they’re for my own use. I know what they do, and they help me tremendously. One I found extremely helpful was tadfry.com/ratio/200. Thinking it might be useful to others, I made getratio.com.

So, I hope you’ll make your own wrench. It frees up your time and mind to save your brain for creative work. I’d love to see what you make, so please share on Twitter @tadfry.

No Silver Bullet to Design

March 15, 2012

By Tad Fry

Do you want to be a better designer, and are not sure where to start? After college, I wanted to ensure I became a better designer as I grew with my profession. I bought a few books about universal design principles and it helped quite a bit, but I felt like something was missing. Sure, we learn and apply design principles, but there had to be more to design than principles alone. I’m just now discovering there is no silver bullet to design, and we need to dig deeper within elements of design.

The question of how to be a better designer surfaces often on Forrst. We want to know which books to get or tutorials to read. A reply I found most useful was when a member said there is not a single book that will help us become better designers overall, but we need to get many books on single topics. Then drill down to learn as much as we can. That advice motivated me to get a typography book, and I’m amazed by how much there is to know on type.

To find which typography book to read, I did a search on college design programs to discover many classes use Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton. The book is magnificent—No, those are not affiliate links. Lupton teaches how to use type, and does so with inspiring references and has an amazing sense of humor. Reading this helped me to see why some uses of type look so well done while other uses look awkward. I could never discern this a few months ago.

So, where to go from here. I highly recommend you pick a topic about design and focus on it. Dig deep. Here’s a few suggestions of topics you could read about:

  1. Grid
  2. Typography
  3. Sketching
  4. Color

Overall, I find this wonderfully annoying. I want to grow as a designer, but now I’ve found there is so much more I don’t know. Yes, I understand we’ll never know everything, but that’s what sets well-designed work a part from the so-so work. It was created by those who took the time to learn and apply individual elements of design.

How I Write

March 5, 2012

By Tad Fry

Welcome to the behind-the-scenes edition of how I write (I know you’re excited). It’s simple right? Think about stuff and write about it. If it were only that easy—actually it can be easy if you adhere to the writing format I’m about to share.

We of course take composition in high school & college, and are shown the ropes of how to use logos, pathos, and ethos to write essays. It’s valuable information, but what I found most useful was discovering a simple, yet amazing, format that fosters prolific and meaningful writing.

The course was Communication Theory at Baldwin-Wallace College, taught by Dr. Mary C. Toale. We wrote a paper each week based on a theory we wanted to discuss. She provided the following format to help us achieve that goal:

  1. Select a theory and introduce it (First paragraph).
  2. Build on it or argue for/against it (Next 3 paragraphs).
  3. Conclude (Last paragraph).

That format helped me stay focused and get to the point. Those elements were important to me when I decided I wanted to write more often. I want to share what I know very quickly, and hopefully others will find it useful.

If you want to write more material and more often, then I highly recommend this format. Choose your topic, find how you can introduce it, discuss it within 3 paragraphs (focused), and then conclude. Sure, there are times where you’ll need an extra paragraph or two, but try to exercise restraint because it can lead to slim and solid writing.

For the Love of Random

December 13, 2011

By Tad Fry

Random is one of my favorite creative weapons. Although a major goal of design is to assign meaning to elements, the slightly haphazard road created by random can spark quite a brainstorm during your creative process. If you find yourself stuck on a project, then roll the dice to keep moving forward.

My obsession began when I couldn’t decide which action to do next on my Next Actions list. All priorities were equal, and I was wasting time debating on which item to complete. So, I rolled the dice and the decision was made for me. Yes, I’m aware this was ridiculous, but it was fun and kept me moving. Not to mention, I couldn’t wait to complete the task so I could roll again.

Now, if you’re like me, your Next Actions list is well over a dozen items. We must not leave out the tasks after the twelfth item; therefore, (yes, I know I’m insane), I wrote code that will give a random number from one to a max number I input using mt_rand. My glorious random machine was working, but something bothered me. How in the world did mt_rand do its job? Considering programming is so binary, how did it give me a random number? I learned it’s pseudo-random. Upon putting that knowledge in my brain, I attempted to write my own random function, but for now it’s just heads or tails. I might expand it a bit, but I like its simplicity and that I made it without using a library. If I need anything more than a coin flip, I’ll use mt_rand.

Aside from taking care of my insanity, there’s other fun uses with random. As you’re sketching, roll a random number to decide how many limits you are going to force with how many points, lines, planes, shading, or texture you get to use. Draw some monsters, and roll to figure how many eyes, mouths, and legs are going to be on it.

A more practical approach is to use mt_rand, array_rand, or MySQL RAND(), to pull in different content to your website. Appropriate content could be a homepage image, testimonials, quotes, facts, and tweets. I wouldn’t apply random to your navigation because it might annoy users. But adding random to some of your other elements can make your website live; an amazing-living-random creature.

I hope you’ll add some random to your next project, or at least during your creative process. If you do, then please share your progress with me on Twitter, @tadfry. I’d love to see your work. My next project is heavily based on random, and I can’t wait to release it!