Reilly's Perspective Tip


Reilly's Perspective Tip

Reilly's Perspective Tip

Illustrator Frank Reilly painted this aerial view of a railroad yard. The perspective lines vanish to points far outside the composition's rectangle. How did he locate those points?

Reilly's Perspective Tip

Reilly explains that the client wanted a certain number of freight cars to be visible in the shot, which meant he had to use a high point of view. 

He went to the lumber yard and found strips of wood that stood in for the railroad cars, then photographed them from a stepladder, experimenting with different angles.

Reilly's Perspective Tip

He took a photo of the wood strips and put a print of the photo in the middle of a large sheet of paper (above) and traced the perspective lines back to all three vanishing points (VP). From each point "he then swung an arc on the paper near the edge of the photographic print." 

Reilly's Perspective Tip

He then photographed this diagram and put it in a projector. He was able to trace onto his larger board the main lines of the separate railroad cars and the big arcs that would lead him to the remote VPs. 

Reilly's Perspective Tip

"On the enlarged drawing (thumbtacked to a large drawing table), templates cut of thick cardboard were tacked, their curved edges identical with the arcs of the projected enlargement."

"The T-square, traveling along the curved arcs of the templates, served for all converging lines, many of which in addition to those of the photographic print, were needed for the detailed drawing."

Reilly's Perspective Tip

"The lower vanishing point is located in a vertical that passes through the vertical lines of the picture quite near its left edge."

Reilly's Perspective TipFrom American Artist Magazine, March 1951.


The Frank Reilly School of Art (about Frank Reilly's teaching)
The Student's Guide to Painting by Jack Faragasso (student of Frank Reilly)


13 Comments on Gurney Journey: Reilly's Perspective Tip

  • Luce
    on October 03, 2020 | 13:18 Lucesaid :
    "Reilly worked with Dean Cornwell, Cornwell worked with Frank Brangwyn and Brangwyn traced his linage back to Titan. Here in Los Angeles, Fred Fixler, a student of Reilly's founded his own atelier school during the 80's and 90's with a stellar roster of students trained in Reilly's insights.
  • Meera Rao
    on October 03, 2020 | 15:24 Meera Raosaid :
    "Oh wow - thats such creative dedication to the art of painting ! Thanks for sharing. Take care."
  • Standby4action
    on October 04, 2020 | 05:10 Standby4actionsaid :
    "I had to look at this several times but wow! How on earth did he think up the arc device as a substitute for long distance VPs??? Brilliant!"
  • Abrown
    on October 04, 2020 | 10:11 Abrownsaid :
    "The illustrator James Bama was also one of his students. If anyone is interested, there is a collection of Reilly's lecture notes from his time at the Art Students League of New York. Found here:"
  • Nick J.
    on October 04, 2020 | 11:50 Nick J.said :
    "In terms of how did he think it up, the clever device embodies a simple geometric theorem from high school geometry: the perpendicular bisector of any chord of a circle passes through its center. In the Reilly construction, each swept arc is part of a circle with a VP at its center. The "head" of the T-square is a (moveable) short chord of this circle; and the "beam" of this square is perpendicular to and bisects its head. So the extended line on which the beam falls always passes through the VP, as long as the end points of the head are firmly located on the arc.

    Familiarity with basic elements and constructions from plane geometry would've been bread-and-butter cognitive tools for the pre-digital draftsmen of Reilly's day.
  • James Gurney
    on October 04, 2020 | 11:55 James Gurneysaid :
    "Nick, yes, exactly.In fact, one little detail that you can notice from his diagram is that he reset the bar of his T-square, re-bolting it on the "T" so that one edge actually goes down the middle of the crossbar. "
  • Nick J.
    on October 04, 2020 | 12:14 Nick J.said :
    "Here's a digital illustration I made of a nicely pre-digital phenomenon :-). It might be clearer than my verbal explanation:
  • CerverGirl
    on October 05, 2020 | 00:11 CerverGirlsaid :
    "Thank you for that detail about the T-square, James—now it makes sense to me!
    Really spectacular and educational."
  • Norman Boyd
    on October 05, 2020 | 03:53 Norman Boydsaid :
    "That's so helpful Nick. I never mind showing my ignorance when I can learn something!"
  • Anonymous
    on October 08, 2020 | 18:25 Anonymoussaid :
    "Algun libro de perspectiva que me recomiende uno donde se explique bien la perspectiva"
  • jeckert55
    on October 10, 2020 | 09:08 jeckert55said :
    "We should feel deep gratitude that Photoshop + sketchup makes our lives so easy. It's breathtaking what we can knock together in an hour, which the old masters would have had to move mountains to achieve.

    File photoshop and sketchup under "No Excuses""
  • JennyC
    on October 13, 2020 | 17:42 JennyCsaid :
    "Thanks, that illustration is really useful"
  • James Gurney
    on June 09, 2021 | 15:20 James Gurneysaid :
    "Sol Korby mentioned a point similar to the one I made in an earlier comment above.

    "In transcribing the article from American Artist to your website, you left out a small, but important, point.

    "The T-square you are working with must be altered. They are made with the center bar of the T-square centered on the head of the T. But the center bar of the T needs to be moved so that the edge of the center bar (or blade of the T-square) is set as the center, not the center of the center bar set as the center. In order to move the bar of the T-square so that the edge is the center-line, the T-square must be made of wood. The metal ones can't be taken apart, while the wooden ones can.

    "Once the edge of the T-square is the center, the lines you draw using it will to draw perspective will be correct. If the edge of the T-square is not centered, all the perspective lines will be off drawn using the arcs will be off. This is critical to the success of drawing perspective lines correctly.""
Reilly's Perspective Tip

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