Drawing in the Fifth Perspective | A Demo by Rudolph Stussi

People often tell me that they would have liked to have become artists, but they can’t draw a straight line. I always smile. What’s drawing a straight line got do to with it? With that ability, you can maybe aspire to becoming a technical draftsman or assistant architect at best. Art eschews straight lines. My lines are almost never straight, which I can only consider an advantage.

Okay, some people think I’m stupid, blind, drunk, mad or in dire need of a qualified optician. (My glasses are okay, but I can’t vouch for the rest.) I do believe, however, that I offer a new twist (or curve) on perspective.

Drawing in the Fifth Perspective

by Rudolph Stussi



In Al Prado, Havana (oil, 36×48), I used the fifth perspective. The figure at the red table in the upper window is the focus. All the lines lead to and bulge around this focus, and the color and tonal contrasts support it.

The problem for me and countless other artists, is that all four perspectives are too geometric, too calculable, too sober, too boring! The alternative is what I call the fifth—or perverse—perspective.

The fundamental idea behind the fifth perspective is that there’s movement through the image. This movement is reflected in the vertical or y-axis—only she ain’t vertical! No, sirree. She bends and bobs through the subject matter like a fishing line in a swell. The horizon line, too, becomes part of this craziness, though it’s neither horizontal nor straight. The other lines in the picture that would normally run parallel to the vertical axis or the horizon still vaguely follow the twists and turns of those axes, but are not parallel. The lines deviate, run afoul and lose themselves but, in the large scale of things, they follow the main movement.

For an example of how I incorporate the fifth perspective into a painting, see the following demonstration.

Step-by-Step Demo
photo references of Wall Street for a landscape drawing

1. First I take photographs in case I need to refer to them later. The above photo collage allows me to confirm details for Wall Street.

sketch of Wall Street for drawing perspective

2. I then create a good sketch on location, even at this point trying to work out the distortion in my head. First I establish the basic movement (the swaying vertical axis and the destabilized horizon line) so that there are no parallels to the sides of the rectangular picture. This step vastly increases the abstract dynamics of the subject, the goal being anything but order and quietude. To emphasize the focus, I leave out unnecessary detail. Other aberrations may be lines that cross through and change all shapes in their path—mostly in one direction—or the arbitrary reduction or enlargement of a surface, or the continuation of an element far beyond its natural borders. I take a long time with this drawing stage because I don’t want to have to concern myself too much with form later.

add color to a landscape painting with fifth perspective

3. Next I fill in the large areas, working from the lightest to the darkest and ignoring finer detail (although, if I’m working in watercolor, I must respect some light details because I won’t be able to get them back later). It’s important to fill in all areas so I have a true sense of the whole picture. I work fast, and I make the areas vary subtly in color and tone to give life to the surfaces. At this stage I can adjust the shapes, color and movement on a simple scale. I think more about abstract principles, such as tonal balance and color harmony, rather than about what the areas represent in the real world. The goal is to paint the whole work on a basic, visceral level.

add details to a landscape painting in fifth perspective

4. Now I bring in the larger details, such as the flowing building surface. Here again I respect the bent y-axis and horizon line, but I can also add nonconforming elements, such as the windows of the Stock Exchange. These are like the variations in a jazz riff. I check the light source and make sure I’ve applied the shadows consistently.

add details to a landscape painting in fifth perspective 1

5. At last the finer details get their moment as I add the stars floating from the flag, people and architectural detailing. But I don’t overdo or add them simply because they exist in the original. Rather, I put them in because they add to the entire painting or to the focal area. The painting isn’t about detail or accuracy but about feeling—about impression and expression.

intensity and hue in a landscape painting with perspective

6. In the final stage I check large movements throughout the picture and make adjustments where necessary in tonality, intensity and hue. This is a good moment to create or expand on fault lines (lines along which the image shifts). I may also discover aspects I didn’t consider before. Being flexible and open to new ideas is important. I tighten up on gaps, edges and missteps. Finally, I declare Wall Street (oil, 32×44) finished.

Stussi’s detailed article appears in the June 2010 issue of The Artist’s Magazine. Learn more about the June 2010 print issue here.
Find out about the June 2010 digital download here.

Bonus Article! Perspective Drawing: Tips and Advice on Creating Realistic Art

The Art of Perspective by Phil Metzger

To learn more about traditional perspective, check out ‘The Art of Perspective’ by Phil Metzger.

Meet Rudolf Stussi
Born in Zurich, Switzerland, Rudolf Stussi was reared there and in the United States and now resides both in Canada and Switzerland. His cosmopolitan background is also reflected in his education. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in literature, a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Ontario, Canada, and a fine arts diploma from the Ontario College of Art. He has also studied art in Florence, Mexico and at St. Martin’s School of Art in London. From 1988 to 1991 he was president of the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour. In addition to his work in fine art, he has also been involved with animation for American and European films and has illustrated two children’s books. He currently teaches at the Fine Arts Studio at Centennial College in Toronto. Stussi is represented by galleries in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, as well as by the Blue Dot Gallery and David Kaye Gallery in Toronto. For more information, visit his website at www.rudolfstussi.com.


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