Quick Perspective: The Starburst Method

Well, it’s been another busy month. After getting home from my whitewater rafting trip, my schedule was immediately consumed with several contract negotiations, wrapping up a commission, planning a big party for the Summer Solstice and also spending time with family visiting from overseas. Whoa!

Today, I want to share a neat little perspective method I’ve coined “The Starburst Method”. It’s great for simple one point or two point perspective drawings in which you need a series of buildings or objects to simply fall in line with each other, regardless of their height. It won’t help with relative proportion, but if you’re not concerned with that then it works pretty well.

I’ve talked about my perspective techniques using the 3D program Blender here before. This is a much simpler and less complex method. Blender is excellent for complex perspective layouts but if you don’t need all that pizzaz, then the Starburst is your best friend!

Step 1: Make Your Starburst

There are many ways to make the Starburst. My method was to use Adobe Illustrator and copy a series of straight lines around the center of a circle. Here’s a good tutorial that I used for that, if you’re interested.

You can also just download the PSD file that I use for my starburst as well. It’s very large, so it may take a minute – I’ll explain why it’s so large shortly.

Step 2: Choose Vanishing Points

Once you’ve got Mr. Starburst all ready to go, identify the vanishing points in your image. The above image is a painting for a card illustration for the project “Go For Baroque” that I worked on earlier this year.

If we break down the perspective in this image, we can see that it has two vanishing points – the pink lines from the left and the green lines to the right. These vanishing points emerge from two Starbursts that I used to line up the architectural details of the palace building.

Here’s the photograph that I used as a reference for this painting with the perspective lines overlaid. “Why didn’t you just trace the building?” you might ask. The problem with tracing a building is that photographs bend and warp perspective, especially around the edges of a photograph when receding details become more dense. If you’re not careful, you’ll inherit all these photographic quirks without even realizing it and the drawing will start to look incorrect.

Here’s that same photograph with a Starbursts overlaid for each vanishing point. I know, it looks like a really bizarre Venn Diagram. This is how big I need each Starburst to be so I can see each vanishing point line, and where they fall relative to the actual picture plane. It is very common for the center of each Starburst to off the border of the picture in a two-point perspective image. You can now see why I make my original Starburst so huge!

Once you’ve got them placed, your Photoshop file will be gargantuan and will probably be unwieldy to work with unless you have some kind of supercomputer. There are a couple of ways around this issue – one is to just marquee select only the Starburst that is on your canvas, cut it, and paste it back into your file. Then, you can delete the excess Starburst outside the canvas that you don’t need and your Photoshop file will again be at a reasonable size.

Step 3: Draw!

Once your Starbursts are in place, you can draw to your hearts content. By following the guides, you can rest assured your perspective will be correct. I used a base photograph quite a bit for this palace drawing but the Starbursts were essential in correcting many warping issues in the original photograph.

You can see I used the exact same method for the fairy city in “Into the Feywild.” This is a much more imagined landscape, but it is using exactly the same technique. The Starbursts help to keep it looking grounded and correct, despite the fact that it has no basis in reality.

You might have already guessed this, but the Starburst method also works well for one-point perspective images. Just use one Starburst instead of two and place it right on top.

Perspective is a daunting challenge for most artists and I’m no exception. But with the help of a trusty Starburst, you have an ally in your quest to get the perspective beast tamed once and for all!