Do you want to learn perspective?
Desire to help your art by studying perspective?
When I was a drawing beginner, I found perspective unnecessary to learn. I considered it only for mechanical and architectural artists. I understood it on a basic level, but didn’t realise how learning perspective could improve my art. It was clear to me that learning colour could enhance my illustration work, however perspective was low on my learning list.
Furthermore, I dismissed eye level, one point perspective and fundamentals. How wrong I was! Only until I discovered how much I didn’t know, and got to grips with it, that it helped improve my work tenfold.
If perspective sends fear through your veins, it’s understandable as a lot of artists went through this pain at some point. However, this blog post is here to help alleviate your perspective fears. Helping you get to grips with one point, two point and three point perspective. The good news is that perspective is not too difficult either. If you’re still doubting whether perspective can help your art, look at some of your favourite artists. Coupled with learning composition, colour and style, these artistic masters have perspective nailed down to a tee. One fine example is Scott Robertson’s drawings, if that doesn’t inspire you not much will!
Within this blog post, we will also look at eye level, the horizon line, and help you gain perspective confidence. So let’s begin by understanding why bother learning this subject…
Why is learning perspective important?
“Drawing is based upon perspective, which is nothing else than a thorough knowledge of the function of the eye.” — Leonardo da Vinci
Even if you’re not a landscape artist, understanding perspective can still help your art. One, two and three point perspective is a core perspective fundamental. Having this knowledge at your fingertips can help your drawing in so many ways. It can help your portrait drawings, life drawings, to still life creations. I could go on and on, but it’s surprising how often perspective comes into play.
Having a good grasp of perspective is also essential for those of you who create imaginative art. Creating imaginative works from photographs is great. However, if you’re purely drawing from your imagination, perspective knowledge is crucial. I’m always trying to learn more about perspective to develop further.
Not only does perspective help your compositional arrangements, learning perspective is also enlightening. It lets you see how everyday objects follows perspective ‘rules’. It’s your own eureka moment. Similar to the scene when Morpheus shows Neo the real truth in The Matrix. Perspective is your real truth.
If you’re still not inspired by learning perspective, look at the work of late Kim Jung Gi. He was the champion of perspective, and you can clearly see he had throughly mastered it. One of my favourite videos by Jung G shows exactly how he uses perspective, even with drawing faces. You can start to see perspective everywhere; in figures, buildings to faces.
So now you understand why perspective is important to learn, and hopefully have some motivation to study it, let’s start with the basics of the picture plane.
Before we tackle perspective, you first need to get to grips with the picture plane. The picture plane is your art board, your canvas painting, or your working area. It’s what you, and viewers see, directly in front of them when viewing your art. Your picture plane sits perpendicular to your viewer’s eye of sight. This is crucial with perspective, as you structure your perspective based on this picture plane.
Think of the picture frame as a transparent screen infront of the world which you’re drawing. It’s an inbetween, and it’s your job to record the perspective of the scene, on the picture plane. Hopefully that makes sense! Picture planes can vary in size, dimensions, scale, width and height.
Eye level & horizon line
The eye level, or the horizon line, sits across your picture plane. Your eye level is the horizon line. It’s the level of your eyes (or the viewers eyes) looking straight ahead of you. The horizon line is an invisible line, which objects correspond to on your picture plane. Every image relates to a horizon line, even though you may be on the hundredth floor of a skyscraper or low on the floor.
You can do some interesting things with the horizon line. You can arrange your horizon eye high up on the picture plane, or low down. This impacts the camera angle. When the horizon line moves up within the picture plane, the camera angle looks down. When the horizon line moves down, the camera angle looks up. You don’t have to position your horizon line directly in the middle of your picture plane. Which results in an overused, boring and generic feel. You can add appeal to your art by moving this horizon line up or down, which I’ll cover later. Lots of famous past and present artists used this approach to create amazing works of art.
How to create a horizon line
To create your own horizon line, draw a picture plane. This is your artboard, so any box size will do on your paper or digital medium. Imagine looking straight ahead. Draw an imaginary horizontal line within your picture plane. This is your eye level or horizon line. Have a look at the example image below, this is my eye line, but on an art-board that I’ve created. Hey presto, you’ve created a horizon line! The next step is understanding what vanishing points are.
According to Dictionary.com, vanishing points are:
“(In the study of perspective in art) that point toward which receding parallel lines appear to converge.”
It’s a point, or most commonly a dot, on the horizon line, which objects in your drawing correspond to. It’s how we create a three dimensional image. Look at the world around you, can you notice the objects conforming to vanishing points? Or as more of a clear example, when you look down an alleyway, the buildings correspond to one vanishing point in the middle of the road. Or look at a piece of art, design or magazine illustration that uses perspective.
How to create a vanishing point
To create a vanishing point, place a dot on your horizon line. This is your vanishing point. The vanishing point is where receding parallel lines disappear, whilst viewed in perspective. Below shows my eye level line. They conform to the vanishing point.
One point perspectives houses one vanishing point, two point perspectives houses two vanishing points, and three point perspective houses (you guessed it..) three vanishing points.
Grid lines are lines that protrude from vanishing points. Think of them as a structure, a framework, to act as a base for your perspective drawing. These are guidelines, drawn faintly if working traditionally, or on another layer if working digitally.
From your vanishing points, you can draw grid lines. Grids lines begin from the vanishing points (the dots on your horizon line). Draw your grid lines faint on your paper, in a different colour. If you’re using drawing software, grid lines should be on a separate layer, which a different colour and / or transparency.
Draw these grids lines in a different colour. For example, the left grid lines, protruding from the left vanishing point in a two perspective drawing, will be green. The other grid lines, from the other vanishing point, will be red. Different coloured lines are especially important as a drawing with lots of lines can become confusing.
Creating one point perspective
From here, you can start to create a one point perspective drawing. To do so, draw a box (your picture plane), a horizon line (a horizontal line going through that box) and draw a vanishing point in the centre of that box. Why in the centre you ask? This is because if we put the vanishing point anywhere else on the picture plane (to the left or right for example), it may as well become a two point perspective drawing. The optimal vanishing point placement for a one point perspective drawing is in the centre of the artboard.
Now you can draw lines from this vanishing point. It’s a powerful perspective technique to consider. There are limitations with one point perspective however, as the most efficient of point perspectives is two point. However it’s great for an alleyway landscape artwork for example, where the picture mainly corresponds to one point perspective. The tops of the boxes show below your eye level. In contrast, the bottom part of the boxes show above your eye level.
This is crucial part of perspective. The things have are above your eye level will look differently to things below your eye level. You may also notice that things that sit on your eye level are parallel to this line. Vertical lines are straight when viewed in one point perspective picture.
But what happens when we move the horizon line and vanishing points can make your image communicate a completely different message.
Pro tip: lead the eye around your image by being clever with your composition. If you’re drawing a one point perspective alleyway, arrange your composition to point to the focal point, most often in the centre with a one point drawing.
Creating a two point perspective drawing
One point perspective is very similar to both two and three point perspective, and is easy to grasp. With two point perspective, instead of your lines protruding from one point or vanishing point, your lines protrude from two points. With three point perspective, your lines protrude from three points. Take a look at the image below which shows two point perspective.
You can see that I’ve drawn an eye level, and two vanishing points on that line. From here, I’ve drawn lines from these points, and have created a box. Try this for yourself by drawing an eye level, two points on that line, and drawing lines from these two points. See if you can create different boxes using two point perspective, like my image below. And there you go, you’ve created a two point perspective drawing. One way I’ve been able to drastically improve my own perspective drawings is with the lessons of drawabox.com, as featured on my Resources page. This is where I detail all of the tools I use on a daily and weekly basis.
The optimal vanishing point placement for a two point perspective drawing is having one VP (vanishing point), close to the art board or picture plane, and one VP away from the art board. If you put your VP’s close to the picture plane or art board, it can result in distortion, making objects in your scene seem ‘odd’. To also avoid distortion, it’s best to keep your VP’s away from the art board.
Pro tip: position one of your VP’s close to the art board, and one three or four times this on the other side.
Creating a three point perspective drawing
The great news is that three point perspective is pretty much a follow on from two point, as objects conform to three points. Looking at my image below, I’ve drawn an eye level, two points on this line, and also a third point underneath that line. This third point (which is not on the eye level line), which may confuse you, but not all vanishing points have to sit on the eye level. Like this image below, you can see that this building has three point perspective – one on the left and right, and one underneath, going way up to the sky. To create one yourself, draw your eye level, two points on this line and a point somewhere underneath, and see how many boxes you can draw from these points, like my image below.
With three point, it’s crucial that you don’t place your third vanishing point too close to the picture plane. As the VP needs to be three or four times the height of your picture plane. This avoids distortion, which we covered earlier. Arranging your VP close to the art board results in very dramatic and often bizarre angles, not seen in everyday life.
As we often don’t have enough space around our picture plane (or want to waste paper or have a huge digital art board), it’s best to guesstimate this third VP. It doesn’t have to be one hundred percent accurate with this vanishing point.
Pro tip: position your third vanishing point three or four times the height of your picture plane. This will avoid distortion.
How to create an ellipse in perspective
Now you’ve got one, two and three point perspective down to a tee, it’s time to level up your perspective knowledge by drawing an ellipse in perspective. From car wheels, clock faces to landscape illustrations, you’ll be surprised how often ellipses in perspective comes up. The first thing you need to learn is that a circle viewed in perspective is an ellipse. A circle with the same height and width, is when we view it from straight on. Like boxes in perspective, a circle changes to that of an ellipse when viewed in perspective.
To create an ellipse in perspective, use the one point perspective method. Draw your picture plane, a horizon line, and place the vanishing point in the centre of the picture plane. From here, draw a couple of grid lines. Draw two horizontal lines, forming the top and bottom of the circle.
Create a diagonal line from each intersection, making the basis of your circle. To create an even more accurate ellipse, estimate a third of each box, and mark little indications. This helps as an aid for your ellipse. You can then draw your ellipse, touching the guides. Hey presto, you’ve created your own ellipse in perspective.
Pro tip: Learning and understanding drawing in ellipse in perspective can improve your drawings immensely. But one way to take this to a new level, is drawing from your shoulder, not your wrist. Be confident in your drawing, and ghost your marks before committing.
Problems & solutions with perspective
Sometimes drawing with straight lines from your vanishing point can make drawings seem stiff and unnatural, so it’s important to keep this in mind when drawing from perspective. Use a ruler and pencil whilst drawing your grid lines, and be sure to draw them faintly if you’re creating your art traditionally. If you’re working digitally, create a new layer which you can switch off and on. When you create your drawing masterpiece, you can use a ruler, however keep in mind to make it as natural as possible when drawing from perspective.
Another issue is that your vanishing points may sit far off your paper or art-board. This is a problem that I have encountered, and it can become very frustrating! You just want to draw from perspective, but your vanishing points are just too far off your paper (and you might not have a paper large enough to do so)! If you want to ensure your drawing is 100% accurate, follow this helpful video on the Brewer method. For this reason, physically drawing vanishing points may not be realistic, which makes learning perspective even more important. Having a clear understanding of perspective can help you create realistic pieces, without necessarily drawing line after line from vanishing points.
Now you understand one, two, and three point perspective, you can start to notice these three elements when you’re out and about. Not only is it enlightening to see why houses around your neighbourhood look a certain way, constantly viewing your environment with curiosity can help strengthen your perspective knowledge. It’s certainly improved my own drawings and paintings. Take the knowledge that you have learnt today and apply it to your art, but also when you’re walking around outside, and see perspective in reality.
To recap, perspective has important things to consider;
- The picture plane: a imaginary plane that is perpendicular with the viewers line of sight.
- The eye level: an imaginary horizontal line that depicts the eye level of your image. This is also called the horizon line.
- Vanishing point: where receding parallel lines disappear when viewed in perspective.
- One point perspective: perspective that adheres to one dot on your eye level. Best arranged in the centre of your picture plane.
- Two point perspective: perspective that follows two dots on your eye level. Arrange one vanishing point close to the picture plane, with the other vanishing point half the width of your picture plane on the other side.
- Three point perspective: perspective that anchors to three dots. This third vanishing point should be at least three or four times the height of your art board. This avoids distortion of your image.
Discover other pages and helpful articles
I hope you have enjoyed this blog post, and it has helped you get to grips with perspective! I’ll love to hear what you think of it in the comments section below. Do ask me any questions that you may have with perspective, as I’ll be more than happy to answer them.
If you enjoyed this article, check out my recent blog post on helping you create an illustrator portfolio. With this blog post I go into depth to show you how you can create a portfolio ready for clients and customers.
To help aid your perspective drawings, discover how you can improve your compositions with this guide on the rule of thirds. It’s quick, easy, and can keep the viewers of your art locked into your work for longer.
As an alternative, check out my illustration shop. Offering high-quality art prints, canvas paintings and greetings cards.
Many thanks guys, and see you on the next blog post!