Perspective is key to almost any painting. It is one of the fundamentals of art that you need and should understand. It is with perspective, that we give a feel of 3D to our drawings!
Perspective is something very hard to pull off correctly. Imagining things in the right perspective can be very hard and that is why I’m writing this article! To help you, and myself, understand perspective better!
To better and improved drawings: let’s do this!
Table Of Contents
- 1 Perspective Drawing Definition
- 2 The Basic Terms of Perspective
- 3 The One-Point Perspective
- 4 Two-Point Perspective Drawing
- 5 Three-Point Perspective
- 6 Four-Point Perspective
- 7 When To Use Each Type of Perspective Drawing
- 8 Foreshortening Definition In Art
- 9 How To Foreshorten A Drawing Correctly (Basic Guide)
- 10 Summing It Up
Perspective Drawing Definition
If you tend to draw a lot of scenery or even comics and visual novels, then you know how necessary perspective can be.
The painting needs to be well organized and its structure needs to make sense.
Just like the importance of Color, perspective is right there next to it.
But what is perspective drawing?
Very simply put, it is a technique used to give a 3D feel to your paintings.
When drawing, everything is made on a paper, so in 2D form and we use perspective to represent objects to appear farther away or closer to us in the painting. If they’re small and very close together, our eyes can tell that those objects are farther away than the rest.
The definition of perspective started to appear in the 15th century when we were beginning to enter the Renaissance era, where everything was very symmetric and well organized.
For many years, perspective remained one of the fundamentals of art and almost obligatory of use. That is until we entered the 20th century and symmetry started to be challenged and deconstructed!
When we talk about perspective drawing, we usually mean Linear perspective, but there are actually two main elements to it:
- Linear Perspective: we use lines and shapes to organize our painting, its scale, and distance. This is a very geometric method.
- Atmospheric Perspective: here we use color and tones to help the 3D feeling, the scale, and distance of objects. If the subject is farther away, the color tends to be less saturated.
Both of these elements are combined to create the idea and feel of a three-dimensional image!
But let’s go through every individual type of perspective with tutorials of when to use them:
The Basic Terms of Perspective
Let’s start simple!
The basic terms of perspective. There are 3 main ones that you need to know: Vanishing Point, the Horizon Line and the Eye-Level (aka vantage point or Point of View):
- Vanishing Point: it’s a point in the image where parallel lines appear to converge to. Depending on what type of perspective we’re working with, the visual effect will be different, but we’ll talk more about that in a bit.
- Horizon Line: this is, very simply put, the line that you see when the sky touches the water or the land right below it. This is a very important line since this will be where our Vanishing Points are placed. Your horizon line will probably be present at all times in your paintings.
- Eye-Level: it’s exactly what it sounds like, your eye-level according to what you’re drawing.
For example, if the horizon line is below your eye-level, it would be a High Eye-Level drawing. On the other hand, if it is above your eye-level that would be a Low Eye-Level drawing since you’d be looking up at the drawing.
This might sound confusing but it really isn’t, you’re either looking at the drawing in the same eye-level as the horizon line, below or above. And the drawing will look differently to each type.
Other than these 3, there are other terms that are important for you to know:
- Ground Plane: the plane where the base of your drawing sits. This is most of the times the actual ground, but it can change. It can be a very big table for example! Imagine you’re painting a still life drawing. A book here, a jar there, some flowers and even some fruit. They all sit at a table. In this case, the table is our ground plane!
- Orthogonal Lines: these are imaginary lines in the painting. They appear to converge on each other as they move towards one or more vanishing points. These lines will help you maintain the perspective in your drawings without the risk of making a mistake! They will serve as guides, so you can draw a realistic view of the subject.
The One-Point Perspective
One-Point Perspective, basically means that there’s only 1 vanishing point on the horizontal line.
This is usually used when the subject is facing us, directly.
For example, for drawings with roads, railways or hallways.
This method is made up of parallel lines that converge into the vanishing point. It shows how things get smaller, the farther away they are, converging into one single point, somewhere in the horizon line.
The one point perspective is very common to use and popular, especially among architects and illustrators and you can also find it in room interiors, for example!
We have an entire article on One-Point Perspective Drawing with Exercises and Examples here!
Two-Point Perspective Drawing
If you’re drawing something that is not facing you directly, this one might serve you better.
Like the name suggests, it has 2 vanishing points on the horizon line!
These can be put wherever the artist desires, as long as they stay on your horizon line. They should be spaced out though, to avoid any kind of distortion.
This method is more commonly used when drawing buildings, where you can see two sides of the building at once. But it can also be used frequently when drawing interiors as well.
So in short, to work with this kind of perspective, first, you draw your horizon line.
Then two vanishing points, anywhere on it. Now all you need is to add the corner of your building, for example.
From there, you just need to start drawing some vanishing lines, connecting your vertical line, with the vanishing points.
Now you’re ready to draw your building!
This method is used a lot by architects and 3D modelers, but you can also see it very commonly in comics when the artist needs to show some panels of buildings and cities.
You can find many exercises and examples in our Two-Point Perspective Drawing Guide (With Exercises) article!
Once again, very similar to the 2 above, but here, we have a twist!
In the three-point perspective, we have 3 vanishing points: 2 on the horizon line, but the other one will be below or above it.
Usually, it goes centered, in the middle of your drawing.
If you’re looking at it from below, this is called a Worm’s Eye View (more on that below).
This means that the third vanishing point would be up above the horizon line. On the other hand, if you’re looking at it from above, this is called a Bird’s Eye View.
So the last vanishing point would be below the horizon line.
This is usually used to portrait high and mighty buildings or a big view of a city. When using a three-point perspective, the image appears somewhat distorted but at the same time, realistic as long as you don’t push it too hard.
You can also use it in cartoons, when representing the point of view of either a very smaller subject, for example, a worm or a mouse, looking up.
Another alternative, a big subject or a flying one, looking down. For example, an elephant or a bird!
Drawing In A Worm’s Eye View
To make a drawing in a Worm’s Eye View, start by deciding a vanishing point on the upper part of your paper or canvas.
Now, create a horizon line on the bottom of your paper. Finally, add one vanishing point on each end of the horizon line.
Remember that the closer they are together, the more distorted your drawing will be, so play with this idea.
Try different places for your vanishing points and see what happens and what you can come up with.
Now draw a line coming from each of the side vanishing points and intersect them in the middle, these will be your X and Y axis.
Lastly, draw a line coming from your upper vanishing point straight down, this will be your Z axis.
Remember when making your drawing, to take into consideration your X, Y and Z axis, making your image more interesting and consistent all around.
You want to draw all your lines having in consideration each of your vanishing points. So draw them all the way from your vanishing point to where you’re drawing them in the image.
This might sound confusing, but with practice, you’ll be understanding this in no time!
Drawing In A Bird’s Eye View
This is VERY similar to the Worm’s Eye View!
The only difference here is that the last vanishing point will be below the horizon line. This means that your Z axis will be going down instead of up.
This time, we have 4 Vanishing points: two on the horizon line, one above and one below.
This is also called the infinite-point perspective, and is the hardest of all the ones to get right!
It’s used to create impossible scenes, sometimes close to 360º panoramas.
It is very curvilinear, and you’ve probably seen it before on a Fisheye view (like the Lenses you can get for your cameras).
Drawing In A Fisheye View
This is the base of Four-Point Perspective.
Drawing in a Fisheye View might look somewhat weird, but it’s a very interesting type of perspective.
To draw this you need to imagine looking at a sphere right in front of you.
Start by drawing the horizon line at the center of the canvas, and two vanishing points at either side.
Now, draw a perpendicular vertical line with another two vanishing points, one at the very top and one at the bottom.
Finally, draw a circle (or ellipse depending on the distance of your vanishing points), uniting all your vanishing points!
Sounds and looks a bit weird, right?
But it works and can produce very interesting paintings!
Do you know the artist M.C. Escher? He is known for using optical illusion and producing impossible sceneries.
I’m a very big fan of his work, and Hand with reflecting Sphere is a great example of this kind of perspective!
When creating your drawing in this perspective, remember that each individual line you’re creating is converging towards those vanishing points. And since you’re drawing in a curvilinear perspective, the lines themselves will be very curved as well!
This is one of the hardest ones to master, but it’s very fun.
When To Use Each Type of Perspective Drawing
So we’ve talked about each type of perspective drawing and, very briefly, when to use them.
Let’s recap the how to use them, very quickly, so you can nail it down and understand better when to use each one:
- One Point Perspective, is great for when you’re drawing pictures with roads, railways or long hallways. It gives you a feel of immersion and a never-ending painting or drawing.
You look at the painting and you feel the distance of it and how far away it goes! This sort of perspective was also a favorite to use during the Renaissance era, so if you need to look for inspiration or examples, that’s a good place to go.
- Two Point perspective, is really good for showing two sides of a building at once, or a whole venue. It is also great for when painting an ambiguous type of drawing, for example with two roads, one going in each direction.
Comics tend to use this kind of perspective a lot, so they’re a good subject of study!
- Three Point Perspective, really amazing and fun to use, if you want to give a small animal’s or a high up in the sky point of view. It is also very useful for depicting huge buildings and sceneries or whole cities and wide landscapes.
Once again, comics and visual novels are a good place to look for these kinds of perspective as well as architectural drawings!
- Four Point Perspective, good for distorted drawings, where you want to give a bigger angle that a “normal” perspective could not. Great for showcasing wide-angle panoramas, or for focusing on small details with a lot of background noise.
In paintings, like I mentioned, M.C. Escher is an artist you could check to see an example of this kind of perspective. His whole work is very interesting to look at, so give it a go!
Foreshortening Definition In Art
Foreshortening in art is something we use to create the illusion of depth.
In short, we create an object or part of it, in a smaller, shorter, larger or longer way than it actually is. This happens because of the perspective you’re using, that way, the object will be angled towards the eye-level.
This doesn’t happen only with buildings and objects, this also happens with creatures and people.
This last part is the main reason why a lot of artists struggle with foreshortening people.
Foreshortening also gives a better sense of 3D perspective, so it’s a very important skill to have!
How To Foreshorten A Drawing Correctly (Basic Guide)
Focus on the shapes!
The closer each shape is to the “virtual camera” (the point of view of the viewer of the drawing), the larger those shapes will appear. And the farther away they are, the smaller they will look.
Don’t worry about the distortion.
It is actually something you can take advantage of and even use it for exaggeration! When drawing in these types of perspective, the drawings will look distorted and the shapes won’t look as you think they should look, but that’s fine!
If you use the perspective correctly, using your X, Y and Z axis as your guidelines, your proportions will look just fine.
Practice with helpful tools.
I’ve talked about Artist Manikins before, and I’ll mention them again, if you’re drawing a person, consider getting one! These are very helpful and will last you a long, long time.
If you want to try out different perspectives and use foreshortening, pose your manikin the way you want it to look and then take a picture from different perspectives.
Now you have several reference images for you to practice!
Alternatively, you can just look at the manikin from different views, to have a better understanding of the shapes and how the subject behaves from different points of view.
These will help you see the shapes you need to draw much better than an image online or guide could ever help you, I promise!
Summing It Up
There are many types of perspective and you should now be able to know better when to use each one.
If you’re a beginner, I’d say to start with simple techniques, like the One-Point Perspective and even the Two-Point One.
Practice a lot and experiment different sceneries and objects and when you feel more confident in your drawings, jump onto more bold perspectives like the Three-Point and Four-Point perspectives!
Even though these are harder to pull off, it is possible and very fun to do so.
As always, experimenting is essential and you’ll learn from any mistakes.
Don’t be afraid and practice every aspect of perspective drawing, while having fun with it!
And if you’re working on your fundamentals, here are 7 Elements of Art You Need To Know!
Patricia Caldeira is the main writer here at Don Corgi. She's an art teacher with over 20.000 happy students across many platforms and courses!
Enjoy your stay and as always:
Keep on drawing!