Perspective & Measuring: Illusions Revealed

What is the “secret” to realistic botanical illustrations?

Star Apple by Wendy Hollender

Accurate measuring from your unique viewpoint!

As something tilts away from us, its physical form does not change, but our perception of it does.

Botanical illustrations convey depth through the illusion we create based on our perception of the subject. If you were doing a technical drawing, you might move your ruler around to measure the subject’s physical dimensions. However, for botanical drawing, we measure the subject’s dimensions according to our perspective – what our eyes see.


Scroll through this post to check out FREE helpful drawing tips for realistic perspective from our course, The Practice of Botanical Drawing!


Catch the recording from our Measuring & Perspective Zoom Drawing Workshop where we study perspective, the most effective way to read a ruler, and how to illustrate the illusion of foreshortening using cross-sections of round fruits.


1. Consider Different Views

Sketch a few, and choose your fav!

Look at a flower (or other subject) from various views. When setting up your subject, remember to keep these 4 things in mind. (See more tips on how to set yourself up for success here.)

Practice rough sketches to see which view best communicates the subject’s 3D form. It is good practice to measure and draw at least three views before choosing one to draw in detail.


2. Measure Accurately

Flat against a Picture Plane

Imagine that there is a window (or picture plane) right up against your subject. I have created a grid that is in front of my subject to illustrate this and help with measuring. Because the window is flat, in effect we have transformed the three dimensions of the flower into a two-dimensional view.

If we measure the height, width, and depth this way, we will have a view of the subject in perspective.

To measure correctly, use a see-thru ruler that you can hold right up against the picture plane as well as your subject.


3. Cup Exercise

Clearly see the power of perspective

Perspective makes form and space look three-dimensional. We can create the illusion of depth using foreshortening. For botanical purposes, we will focus on using circles that become ellipses.

a. Hold a cup up so that you are looking directly inside the cup. Measure the height and width of the cup and notice that this is a circle which has an equal height and width.

b. Start to tilt the cup away from your eyes just a little bit. Measure the height and width and notice that the width remains the same, but the height is diminished or foreshortened. Notice that you are also beginning to see the outside of the cup.

c. Tilt the cup even farther away from your eyes. Notice that the inside of the cup is now an even more foreshortened ellipse and you can see more of the outside of the cup.

d. Hold the cup at eye level. Now the inside of the cup has become a straight line, and you see the entire front of the cup.

e. Now, rather than holding the cup straight, tilt the axis to about 45 degrees. You will now have a cup in perspective but at an angle, which is useful in creating varied and pleasing compositions, especially with flowers.

f. Place a flower inside (or pretend to put it inside) a cup to view it in a similar way.


4. Ellipses

How to Start a Cross-Section

A cross-section of a fruit creates a round or elliptical shape, which makes it perfect for practicing perspective measuring techniques.

Start your fruit cross-section by measuring the height and width against the picture plane. Then connect the points in an ellipse, and add the cup shape of the bottom. Continue with cross-contour lines and grisaille toning to add depth, before you add color and finishing details.


Most importantly, your creations should come from a place of JOY. Rekindle your sense of curiosity and wonder by practicing your beginners’ mind!

Find more helpful motivation here.


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