The concept of perspective allows you as an artist to create depth in your drawings and paintings. And nothing will ruin a painting faster than poor perspective and proportion.
It doesn’t matter how realistically you’re able to render various textures and objects, if your perspective is out your painting will have that awkward, displeasing-to-the-eye appearance.
In fact, you could argue that the more time and detail you put into a picture, the more offensive sloppy perspective becomes – a loose, impressionistic style can claim those wonky lines and disproportion are all part of the effect!
I’ve repeated it hundreds of times over the years to art students… there is no better skill for you to work on than your basic drawing technique, if you want to produce more satisfying artwork. And this applies whatever your medium of choice happens to be.
You might think that drawing complex perspective involves lots of technical skill and hours of practice.
If you’ve seen my Drawing Foundation Course you’ll know that breaking any object into basic shapes (just 5 of them) makes art a whole lot easier. Couple that with correct perspective and you can tackle even the most complex of compositions!
Perspective, in a nutshell, is all about objects (or parts of the same object) appearing smaller the further away they are from us and how that distorts their shape.
The classic perspective example is viewing a building from a side-on angle, rather than directly front-on. Looking 'down the line' of the building means that the far end of a building is further away and therefore appears smaller.
Look at the photo of the house below and notice how the roof line and floor line run at very different angles - one sloping down and one sloping up. In effect, the left hand side of the building looks significantly smaller than the right hand side of the building:
From the floor, the angles of other horizontal lines (such as the tops of door frames and window frames) are going to gradually change until you reach the roof top line. If you get any of these angles wrong - if the line of the first floor windows is too steep for example - your perspective will be off and your picture will look wrong:
And it doesn't have to be out by much for something to just look 'not quite right'.
As you'll see below, using vanishing points will ensure that all the details on objects like buidlings are in both correct perspective AND correct alignment with each other.
The Vanishing Point
You've heard of it before but maybe the vanishing point has never been properly explained… or perhaps it's time for a refresh.
The vanishing point is simply an imaginary point where all lines along one plane meet and disappear. As soon as you realise that EVERY horizontal line along one aspect of a flat building HAS to meet at the same point, basic perspective becomes a breeze!
EXERCISE 1 Let's draw a windowless house and extend the roof line and floor line as far as we need to until they meet (I suggest using a ruler for this).
By the way, it doesn't matter what angles you draw your floor and roof line at. Literally. Just draw the floor line sloping up and the roof line sloping down for now, a few inches apart:
Let's draw one ground floor window (there will actually be two, but the other one will start to 'happen' automatically as we draw the first). We'll draw the nearest one to us. All I have to do is mark a feint spot (not a line, just a spot) about where I want the BOTTOM RIGHT of the right hand window to be.
Now draw a feint line with your ruler through to the vanishing point.
You now have the bottom line for BOTH ground floor windows.
Repeat this for the top of the windows and then add the verticals. Oh, and do make sure they are precisely vertical (compare the line to the edge of your paper). Even the best artists get caught out by this - not because they don't understand; because it's easy to get forget to check, check and check your verticals again!
Now go ahead and add your top windows and a door in exactly the same way:
In the picture above, notice how my right-hand windows (those closest to us) are wider than the left-hand windows. And look at the door. It appears to be in the centre of the house but if you were to measure either side, you'll find it is actually placed more to the left of the house.
This is something called foreshortening, where more 'stuff' is crammed into a smaller space because of the effects of perspective.
EXERCISE 2 Let's draw another windowless house and this time I want you measure the width of your house and mark the centre point. Then go ahead and draw in your door over this centre point:
Even though it's technically in the centre it looks too close to us to be in the centre. Erase that door and this time just use your eye to 'feel' where the door should go so it appears to be in the centre of the wall:
Measure again and you'll see that the door is off centre. Bear this in mind when you're drawing. It's not about being numerically accurate - it's that old adage in art - if it looks right, it probably isright!
Multiple Vanishing Points For Multiple Aspects
We're going to look at one-point, two-point and three-point perspective in the next part of this articel. But for now let's add some solidity to our house above:
All I have done here is created a second vanishing point and construction lines for the end of house.
EXERCISE 3 Add a second wall to your house from Exercise 1 by ading a second vanishing point to the right of the page. Make sure this second vantage point is on exactly the same line as the first vanishing point. This is the horizon line, which is something else we'll look at in more detail in the next part to this perspective article.
Then, let's add a second building on the other side of the street. You should be using 4 vanishing points in total:
While all those construction lines might look a little untidy, in reality you'd erase them as you go.
The point to remember is that each aspect, or face, of the objects you are drawing need to have their own vanishing points.
Many, if not most, buildings don't have flat walls. They have various protrusions, like an adjoining outbuilding for example.
Adding these is simple. Use the SAME vanishing point for anything along the same aspect (i.e the same side of a house). Let's take one of our earlier drawings and add a small out-building to the side:
Both aspects (i.e. both visiable walls) of this smaller building follow the same 2 vanishing points.
Changing The Vantage Point
Suppose you were to view an object from very low down - a worm's eye view. How do you think that object would differ compared to a roof top view? Would the object and its perspective change significantly? You bet!
You can alter the whole feel of a picture simply by changing the view point - or vantage point - from which the subject matter is being observed.
How do we achieve this?
EXERCISE 5 You're going to draw 2 houses on one page. Start near the top of your paper to give yourself room.
Draw a dot on your paper to represent the observer's vantage point. Now draw a perfectly horizontal line from the dot across the paper (check this line runs parallel to the bottom of your paper).
The end of this line is your vanishing point. For the first house, that line is going to represent the FLOOR of your building. It's also known as the 'eye-line' hence the little 'eye' on the right to remind you.
Now draw a relatively SHALLOW angle line for the roof of your building. Something like this:
Notice how this gives the appearance that the building is off in the distance?
Now move down your paper and repeat the above drawing but this time draw a STEEP line for the roof. Draw the house with approximately similar proportions (i.e. don't make one really long and thin and the other short and tall):
This has the effect of bringing you very close to the building, but still with the low vantage point. This 'worms eye view' occurs because everything in the building is drawn above that eye line.
EXERCISE 6 Let's draw 2 more houses but this time I want to set the eye line as the ROOF line. For one house draw a shallow FLOOR line and for the other, draw a steep floor line. See that now everything in the building is drawn below the eye line so it automatically lifts up the viewpoint to the roof level.
Drawing From Photos & Pleir Air
Here are some photos that you can practice drawing from. Don't worry about the detail, just focus on creating a solid perspective drawing.
TIP: use your pencil to measure the angle of the LOWEST construction line (i.e. the floor line) and the HIGHEST construction line (i.e. the roof line):
Once you feel comfortable drawing from photos, go outdoors and work from life. Choose somewhere private - your backyard or even a room indoors - and hold your pencil up those imaginary construction lines. You only need the lowest and highest and you can use a vanishing point to complete the rest!
In our last blog post, we looked in depth at the basics of perspective and in particular, the vanishing point. Let's take things a step further and look at one point, two point and three point perspective...
Understanding one, two and three point perspective will allow you to understand what you're drawing and make it look believably 3-dimensional. You'll also be able to create more dramatic (yet realistic) vantage points for the viewer - helping your artowrk to become more striking and pleasing to the eye.
The Horizon Line
In the first part of this guide to perspective, we looked at how to change the vantage point of the viewer in your drawings and paintings. We do this by adjusting the horizon line - an imaginery horizonal line through your image that represents the observers eye level.
In a simple seascape, the horizon line is obvious. The lower that horizon line, the higher you raise the viewer's eye level (in effect, they are looking down on things). The higher that horizon line, the lower you place the viewer's eye level (in effect, they are looking up on things).
When the horizon isn't visible, in a townscape or room interior for example, it can be more difficult to determine the horizon line, but it's still there.
The key to remember is that vanishing points always sit on the horizon line. In the image of the road below, you can see how we've adjusted the viewer's vantage point using different horizon lines:
Notice how the vanishing point of the road lines, and the top and bottom of the telegraph poles, is right on the horizon line.
One Point Perspective
Correct use of perspective gives your drawings and paintings the illusion of depth i.e. 3 dimensions...
Let's assume that '3-dimensions' simply means that an object has height (1st dminesion), width (2nd dimension) and depth (3rd dimension).
Take a look at the image below. To keep things simple, we're going to say that all lines going to the LEFT of the observer are the equivalent to WIDTH, all lines going to the right of the observer the equivalent to DEPTH and all lines going UP represent HEIGHT.
In one point perspective, there is just one vanishing point. The upwards lines, representing the height dimension, are always completely parallel (i.e. they never converge with each other at a point). The lines going to the left, in this example, are always completely parallel also i.e. we are looking directly front at that side of the house.
We can, of course, swap out the any of the aspects of the house above so that they converge to a point. It doesn't just have to be lines going to the right:
Above, it's the left side of the house we are viewing at an angle and so is effected by perspective. In essence, one point perspective occurs when you view 1 aspect of an object at an angle and the other aspects directly front on.
Two Point Perspective
As you might imagine, two point perspective has 2 vanishing points. This occurs when you are observing 2 aspects of an object at an angle. In the image below , we're observing the width and depth from an angle rather than one side front on:
Notice how both vanishing points are on the same horizon line?
Notice also how the verticals remain completely parallel and don't converge. If they did, we'd have...
Three Point Perspective
It's not often you'll need to use three point persepctive in your artwork - not unless you are striving for a really dramatic vanatge point that is often more synonymous with illustration and cartooning.
You'll have figured out by now that three point perspective just involves adding a third vantage point and, in the example below, this is to cater for the height dimension:
The convergence of the lines to the vanishing point will often be very subtle and those points will typically be well off your paper. If the lines converge quite sharply, you'll get very dramatic effects, like this:
In the final part of the perspective series, I'll cover a really good and simple technique for dealing with difficult shapes and objects like the roofs of houses - whilst keeping them in correct proportion and perspective!