When I first saw this recent New Yorker cover by Chicago cartoonist Ivan Brunetti, its perspective just looked WRONG to me- a random jumble of elements seen from a variety of inconsistent viewpoints. However, on second look it all fell into place and I realized that a subtle and (mostly) consistent scheme is at work. This becomes clearer when we divide the picture in two:
Brunetti has drawn the top area as an elevation, a type of parallel line drawing corresponding to a view facing one wall directly from an infinite distance away. This method is standard in architectural rendering but is also used from time in time in fine art and illustration.
David Chelsea is reading:
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments
by David Foster Wallace
Elevation is a particular favorite of Tralalajahal artist Pierre Clément, who creates a sense of depth without perspective by his deft use of shadows:
The floor area may at first look like a plan view, (that is, seen from directly overhead at an infinite distance), but if it were then the paint cans, dishes and tape roll would all appear as circles and we would not see their sides at all. Instead, this is a vertical oblique projection, a tipped view somewhere between an elevation and a plan.
Vertical oblique is not much seen in Western Art, but it turns up frequently in Islamic Art pieces such as this Persian miniature:
The difference between Brunetti’s two approaches can be clearly seen by comparing the vertical oblique paint can on the floor with the elevation paint can on the ladder. The transition between the two halves of the drawing could be likened to a song changing key, or a sentence that changes tense in the middle. (Quick word from our sponsor: I thoroughly explain the construction of both elevation and vertical oblique in my recent book Extreme Perspective!)
I thought it would be amusing and instructive to rework Brunetti’s drawing as he might have done it using a single method throughout- first as an all-elevation, then as an all-vertical oblique. I created two altered versions in Photoshop. Here is the elevation:
To convert the entire drawing to elevation I reduced the floor to a horizontal bottom line and placed all the objects sitting on it in a foreshortened cluster. It does make the room look very high-ceilinged and rather empty.
Brunetti bends the rules in his treatment of the window- since we observers are already infinitely distant from the scene, the buildings seen through the window cannot appear reduced in scale any further. Instead, we would see an exactly window-sized section of the nearest building, even if it were miles away. I decided not to correct this, but to regard it as if we were looking at a miniature diorama through the window.
I did change the canopy of the ceiling fixture- it looks as if Brunetti has drawn the ceiling section as a vertical oblique looking up. To bring it in line with the rest of the drawing I drew the canopy in edge-on view and treated that light gray section as if it were a strip of wall above the molding rather than part of the ceiling.
Changing the drawing to all-vertical oblique means that we are now looking at the entire room from overhead:
This required me to include elements that were not visible in the original version- the roofs of buildings and the bulbs inside the ceiling fixture- I hope in a way consistent with Brunetti’s style.
I changed what I regard as one glaring inconsistency- the paint roller and pan appear to be drawn in strict plan, with no side depth. Possibly Brunetti was unsure how they would look in vertical oblique, particularly with the roller lying diagonally, but I’m not afraid to take a crack at it:
The two human figures recapitulate the entire drawing’s divided method- their heads are seen in flat profile elevation, while their bodies are viewed from above in vertical oblique projection. To obtain tipped views of the heads I decided to have a little fun and construct them as ellipsoid models in CGI, mapping Brunetti’s original drawings on them as textures.
Finally I restored the floor areas damaged by pulling off the address label. There’s one detail I didn’t correct but which bothers me nonetheless- the paint spots on the floor. Didn’t these people ever hear of drop cloths?
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.