Perspective and proportion

HerbDecember 15, 2004

When we plan to place lanterns in our gardens, we usually think about what style of lantern we want, and where to put it.

But do we give much thought to the lantern's size?

Here are two pictures - each has a lantern inserted but one lantern is smaller than the other.

When I look at the smaller lantern and then at the rest of the picture, I get a distinctly different impression of the garden's size from the impression I get when I do the same thing with the other picture.

Do you find the same thing? I ask because I think that the size we select can make quite a difference to a garden's overall appearance. Do you agree?

Click here to compare the two

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Gorfram(7b W Oregon)


The second garden is "obviously" smaller, although IMHO more pleasingly proportioned.

:) Evelyn

    Bookmark   December 16, 2004 at 1:07PM
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The larger lantern gives the feeling of greater intimacy and quietness. The smaller feels more like a lake and implies openess. This would seem to imply that feeling can be scaleable based upon the scale of the features.

This works with the photo - wounder if it works in real life with a much larger field of view.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2004 at 1:23PM
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Bacchus -

I've tried it in real life, and yes, it did work - though I can't guarantee that it'll always work!


    Bookmark   December 16, 2004 at 2:39PM
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ScottReil_GD(z5 CT)

Excellent study Herb.

As (uneducated)American gardeners have a tendency to base their J-gardens on the ornamentation rather than the stones and plants, choosing the correctly proportioned lantern makes even more difference...

    Bookmark   December 16, 2004 at 5:03PM
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edzard(3b Canada)

Really excellent concept Herb...
- the increase in the grass size in front of the lantern also makes a difference, creating a closer mid-ground moving 'over-there' to 'there'...
not quite a true study of only lantern enlargement, since it includes the grasses, which illustrates why vertical bladed iris - grasses, focal textured & brightly colored plants should stay in the 'here' or foreground position,...
was there any way to only enlarge the lantern?

    Bookmark   December 16, 2004 at 9:14PM
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Hi, Edzard,

Yes, I could have combined the lantern with smaller grasses, or I could have added the lanterns without adding grasses. It just happened that I had a shot of the lantern complete with the grasses (rushes actually) so I used that shot in both pictures. Herb

Click here for a pair of pictures without the rushes.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2004 at 11:52PM
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All the pictures work in terms of composition because they are basically the same. The lantern never acheives dominance, which would upset the balance. As always when discussing the technical aspects we are inclined to forget what touches us, the very thing Herb's Japanese friend expressed so eloquently. Is the lantern essential to the feel, how would it look without it, or is this an essential in a 'Japanese garden'?

    Bookmark   December 17, 2004 at 4:43PM
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In the real garden there's no lantern in that spot - see the picture, below. So I expect that many people would say that in this garden, a lantern in that spot is superfluous.

My own feeling is that the biggest lantern draws a bit too much attention to itself, but I quite like the effect of the two smallest ones. Whether I'd still have the same opinion if I could visit the actual garden & try standing some real lanterns there I can't know.....


    Bookmark   December 17, 2004 at 6:04PM
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Sneaky Herb, you old devil.
So then, is the addition of the lantern an improvement?

    Bookmark   December 17, 2004 at 6:32PM
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Inky -

I'm not clear whether the question in your second line's directed at me.

However, the lantern in the pictures is my latest attempt at making this style of lantern. The garden on the other hand is universally esteemed as an old and famous masterpiece. This, I think, requires that I be reluctant to claim to have improved it.....


    Bookmark   December 18, 2004 at 12:47PM
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Hi Herb,
I believe the beauty of the lanterns is in the eye of the beholder. I don't think that one looked out of place..the garden looked nice with it and without it in my opinion. Here is a picture of a garden with a very big lantern. Tell me what you think of it.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   December 18, 2004 at 8:56PM
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Hi Tsuki,

You are entirely right - the beauty of many things, lanterns included, is definitely in the eye of the beholder.

Wow - that lantern IS big! I couldn't resist the temptation to see what the garden might look like without the lantern. And that led me to try it with another one.


Click to see the results

    Bookmark   December 19, 2004 at 12:13AM
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kobold(Vancouver BC)

Hi Herb!

I knew for years, that you have a special talent for lanterns, making and placing it on the perfect spot. The lantern's effect looks more appealing for me, puting it next to the path and the balance between the lanterns and the "mountain" too.


    Bookmark   December 19, 2004 at 4:16AM
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madtripper(5/6 Guelph)

Great pics Herb.

I think that the effect of moving the lantern has a lot to do with the concept of scaling. Most of the material used in a JG is scalable. A round boxwood could be 2 ft tall or 6 ft tall. A wind swept pine could be 4 ft or 20 ft. Same holds true for rocks and the water.

This is important in JG which try to give the impression of (usually) larger areas than they really are.

The lantern is not very scalable. Given a certain desing of lantern, our minds immediately size it. For example it is 2 ft tall. Our mind then sizes everything else accordingly since these other things are scaleable. The pine now looks like a 6 ft tree beside the 2 ft lantern.

Our mind can scale things well in 2 D, but we have trouble with the depth. You not only have to compare to the lantern, but you also need to take into accound the distance (depth) between an object and the lantern and interpolate (estimate) the size.

You can also make the garden appear bigger by undersizing the non-scalable items; lanterns, fences, gates. For example making a path narrower will make the garden look bigger. Making it get narrower as it moves into the distance adds great perceived depth and hence the garden seems bigger.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2004 at 8:51PM
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