Recently, I acquired a pretty cool new toy - a drafting table nearly a metre wide, with an illuminated centre section, parallel motion ruler and perspective peg slots all around the sides. It was actually cheaper than my previous drawing board - one of those awful plastic-sheet-with-metal-clips things - since it was a fortunate eBay find from a seller just up the road from me which nobody else bid on at all. I felt a bit guilty taking the thing in the end, the charming old guy I picked it up from - an ex-illustrator, apparently - insisted on bringing me in to demonstrate how best to use it, and seemed a bit wistful when he explained that he's having to get rid of half the things in his studio as him and his wife were moving into a small bungalow for their retirement...
Now, a drafting table is pretty cool in itself, because I've always been a bit of a traditionalist and liked the feel of drawing stuff by hand as opposed to using a graphics tablet all the time. This one also has one feature I've not seen before, though, which aids in drawing in perspective - at least, for common degrees of perspective. Generally, if you're trying to draw in perspective by hand, you have the choice between "guessing", "using an obscenely big piece of paper compared to your drawing size" or "calculating all your perspective lines at great cost in time".
On this board, a series of holes are spaced around the outside edge of the board, and a pair of pegs provided which fit through holes in the supplied ruler (the dark plastic one seen in the above photo) to allow it to rotate fairly tightly around the peg. This basically allows you to use two or more of the peg holes as your vanishing points; obviously not perfect for all situations, but given that the table is very wide, more than adequate for drawing - say - VN backgrounds in perspective on A4/A3 sheets of paper. It's essentially the giant-bit-of-paper approach (which I seem to recall that my girlfriend told me she was taught to use when she did some architecture at school...), only without the giant bit of paper - the board not only keeps track of where your vanishing points are for you, but the pegs make it mechanically easy to draw from them.
(I suspect that a similar system would be very easy for anyone with a wooden drawing board to emulate; it just requires a series of evenly-spaced and parallel holes drilled around the edge of your board, and a ruler with holes drilled along its centre-line to match. Nevertheless, it's a neat idea that improved my perspective-drawing speed significantly, and I'd not seen it before.)
Naturally, despite the fact that I don't really have the time for it or the inclination to be involved with VN projects at the moment, I had to give it a go as soon as the thing entered the house. I sketched the above out one evening leaning over the drafting table still perched on my coffee table... the image isn't great quality 'cause it's just sketched with a rather coarse pencil and photographed, but I'd say that using this old-fashioned traditional approach probably saved me quite some time compared to my previous method, which was just to model the scene in SketchUp, print out and then try and draw over it. Maybe my speed using the computer-aided approach would increase with practice - I still have trouble getting proportions and camera angles right in SketchUp - but I dare say I could improve my speed with the table, ruler and squares, as well.
The other nice thing with this, of course, is the illuminated centre panel. This will be familiar to anyone who's ever used a lightbox (the drawing kind rather than the web-gallery kind), but it's essentially Photoshop layers for your bits of paper. You can get a similar effect taping your paper over your sketch to a window while it's light outside and drawing the final version there, but obviously that's a bit more awkward!
...now I just have to finish obsessively reading my copy of Rendow Yee's Architectural Drawing - it's an inspiring book!