The Basics of Perspective Drawing

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Perspective drawing

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Perspective drawing is one of those fundamental techniques that will not just improve your drawing and painting but it will also help you to create more convincing images. Learning perspective will also increase your confidence because you can be certain about what direction an angle should or shouldn’t be at.

In this article I will be going over the basics of perspective. At the bottom of this article I also have information on a resource if you want to go further in depth.

What is perspective drawing in art?

There are two main different types of perspective in art: atmospheric perspective and linear perspective. Perspective drawing allows us to give a three dimensional feel to an otherwise 2D surface. It is what helps us to create a believable sense of space in our painting and drawing. It is the artist’s job to be able to draw an object so that it will look solid and not flat like the surface of a piece of paper.

All about linear perspective drawing

The basics of linear perspective

In linear perspective there is one point, two point, and even three point perspective. By using the elements of linear perspective we are able to arrange objects on a canvas or piece of paper similar to how we would see it in the real world. Objects that are closer to us appear larger while objects that are further away appear smaller.

How linear perspective drawing works

One Point Perspective drawing

We will take a look at one point perspective to show how linear perspective works.

First, a horizontal line is placed across the surface of a picture – as you can see in the image diagram below. This line is known as the horizon line. Parallel lines then meet and converge as they recede back into space at what is called the vanishing point.

One point perspective drawing diagram
Image taken from ‘Perspective Made Easy” Ernest R. Norling

Vanishing Point

You can see where the vanishing point is in the perspective drawing above – this is the point where the train tracks meet far off in the distance. The rails go on and on across the level plain until they reach the horizon where they are lost from sight in the distance.

One point perspective photo of a road

Here is a real life example of one point perspective of a scene you might encounter on a road trip. Notice the parallel lines and the vanishing point far off in the distance where both points converge at the one point.

One Point Perspective drawing in Art

Leonardo da vinci one point perspective drawing, Adoration of the magi
Perspectival study for the “Adoration of the Magi”, Leonardo da Vinci, One Point Perspective Drawing

Leonardo da Vinci’s “Adoration of the Magi” is an excellent example of one point perspective drawing. He did not leave any stone unturned in his efforts to get a precise and accurate understanding of perspective drawing.

Notice how all of the lines, from the steps to the arches all converge at the same spot on the horizon line. Check out some extra drawing tips from the Florentine master.

What is two point perspective in perspective drawing?

Two point perspective can also be called angular perspective or three quarter perspective.

In simple terms two point perspective is when there are two separate vanishing points.

Two point perspective drawing, city of paris
Diagram image showing perspective drawing 2 point

Notice this concept of two point perspective at play in this real life photo of a view of Paris. There isn’t just one vanishing point but two. One side of the building in the center will vanish off to the right and the other to the left.

Two Point Perspective in Art

Gustave Caillebotte, Two point Perspective drawing and painting
Gustave Caillebotte / Public domain

Here is another Parisian inspired example of two point perspective. In the upper left we see the building and how one side of the building will vanish to the right while the other side will vanish to the left – thus creating two separate vanishing points.

Atmospheric Perspective

Like linear perspective atmospheric perspective also gives an illusion of depth and space on a 2 dimensional surface. However, in place of using lines and vanishing points color is primarily used.

Leonardo da Vinci is credited with first coining the term. In his ‘treatise on painting’ he observed that colors “become weaker in proportion to their distance from the person who is looking at them”.

So, for example things far off in the distance are typically lighter in color while things close up are stronger and darker in color. This principle can therefore be used in painting by painting elements far off in the distance lighter in color and things that are close up much darker.

Example of Atmospheric Perspective in Art

atmospheric perspective, JMW Turner
Joseph Mallord William Turner, Regulus

Here is a clear example of atmospheric perspective in action in this painting by JMW Turner. We can see how the areas that are further away are lighter. That which is closer to the front is darker in color.

Where to learn more?

I highly encourage you to deepen and broaden your understanding of perspective drawing. Not only will help you to feel more confident when painting and drawing, but it will help you to create a very believable sense of space in your work.

A painting and drawing becomes a much more powerful visual experience when you can feel that it has a clear sense of space.

The resource I recommend for you to check out is a book by Ernest R. Norling titled “Perspective Made Easy”. This book simplifies and breaks down every area of perspective drawing in a very easy to understand way. It sheds light on what you may not have understood before.

Perspective Made Easy by Ernest R. Norling

Elisabeth Larson Koehler creator of art studio life

Hi! I am Elisabeth

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