Perspective Police!: Wagon Wheels

For this latest installment of Perspective Police, I have selected a 1982 piece from the National Lampoon by an illustrator named David Celsi, who had a busy but not very visible career in the 70s and 80s before dropping entirely out of sight, then reemerging in the 90s as an autobiographical cartoonist under the name David Chelsea.

David Chelsea is watching:
“Dexter: The Fifth Season”


Print by Albrecht Durer
Print by Albrecht Durer

It is clear that Celsi is aware of perspective but has yet to fully master it; he begins by making the classic novice mistake of setting up a one point perspective with the vanishing point far to one side, indeed out of the picture entirely. Here Celsi is at least in good company; the great German printmaker Albrecht Durer favored a less extreme form of lopsided composition. However, where the artist utterly fails is in constructing a circular object, that unnaturally pinched-looking wagon wheel on the left.

The first step to correcting the perspective is establishing a horizon line and central vanishing point consistent with receding lines in the rest of the picture. We then enclose the front circle of the wheel in a perspective square.

Twelve Point Method for drawing a circle
Twelve Point Method for drawing a circle

We subdivide the square 4×4 using the crossed lines method, then add further crisscrossing lines to establish twelve points on a circle in perspective. This Twelve Points Method figures prominently in both my books on perspective.

Notice that the perspective circle is a tilted ellipse, not a straight vertical one like in the original illustration. Most beginners assume that foreshortened circles must be aligned parallel to the horizon or perpendicular to it, but in fact they tilt increasingly as they get further from the center of vision. The rules govern this effect are complex, but if you construct your circles within perspective squares using the twelve point method, the results will always be correct.

Once the outer rim of the wheel is complete, we construct a circle for the inner rim with its points tangent on the 2×2 square. We then add smaller circles to construct the hub and axle, and give it depth by extending vertical lines left and right.

To add a rear wheel, we need to first draw another square the same size as the first. The first step is extending a diagonal line from the square back to a “transverse¬† horizon”, a vertical line passing through the central vanishing point. Where they intersect is the diagonal vanishing point, which can then be used to construct a second square further back in space.

We follow the same basic steps to construct the second wheel.

I’m bothered by the barrel. It’s pretty well drawn, but the top circle is too full for how it would look that close to the horizon. Also, it seems to be behind the rear wheel even though it visually overlaps it. Let’s bring it forward and put it properly in perspective. The first step is establishing a diagonal vanishing point on the horizon. Easy to do- it is exactly the same distance from the central vanishing point as the diagonal vanishing point on the transverse horizon.

Once we have the top and bottom circles established, we draw curves to define the silhouette.

Curved lines gradually evolving from flattish at the top to fuller near the bottom define the hoops. Similar lines that are straight at the center and bowed closer to the edges define the staves, and the barrel is complete.

We then superimpose our construction lines over the original illustration, and shift pieces of the image around through the magic of Photoshop.

Before you know it, we have a brand new illustration, all correct in perspective. Isn’t that a pretty wheel!

Got an example of iffy perspective to show? Be a whistleblower! Send an e-mail to me at davidchelsea(at)comcast(dot)net and include Perspective Police! in the subject line.