Eye Level The Foundation of Perspective

Many students fail in their attempts at drawing because they're unaware of eye level. Actually, it's such a simple concept, so seemingly obvious, that perhaps it's this very quality that causes it to be overlooked.

Eye level refers to the height at which your eyes observe an object. You may want to write this sentence and place it where you can see it often, so that it becomes part of you. It's that important to your development as an artist.


To actually demonstrate what is meant by eye level, lie prone on the floor. Notice that you see the bottom, not the top, of most objects. Now sit up and notice the difference; move to a chair and again observe that as you raise your eye level, the top planes of objects come into view. If you were to climb a ladder to the ceiling, everything below you would show its top plane. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Well, it is!


The cubic form on the opposite page (top) is seen at eye level, and shows only two of its six sides. Its horizontal lines converge down to and up to their respective vanishing points. A vanishing point is an imaginary point on the eye level, or horizon, where the parallel edges of a cubic form appear to converge and meet.

Converging lines, eye level, and vanishing points all add up to perspective. It's a word of Latin origin meaning "to look through." In other words, you view an object as though it were transparent and you could see all its sides—front and back.

Actually all you have to do to draw an object in perspective is to observe closely. What's the angle and length of one edge compared to another? What's the length and width of a plane in relation to its neighbor? Asking yourself these kinds of questions as you view an object will help sharpen your powers of observation.

The middle cubic form on the opposite page has all its lines rising to the vanishing points because this cube is below eye level. All the lines of the bottom cube on the opposite page go down to their vanishing points because the cubic form is above eye level. In short, if the cubic form is at eye level, the lines (that form the sides of the cube) come down from the top edges and go up from the bottom edges to their vanishing points on the horizon. If the cubic form is below eye level, all converging lines go up to vanishing points on the horizon. If the form is above eye level, all the converging lines come down to vanishing points on the horizon.


Also, the cube clearly demonstrates the illusion of the three dimensions— height, width, and depth—that you must convey on the flat surface of the paper. If you can portray these dimensions, you'll be able to draw realistically, no matter what the subject.

From this moment on, remember the three dimensions that are inherent in everything. Naturally, each dimension can vary. The height of a cubic object can be greater than its depth, or the width can be the largest dimension of the three. As long as you're aware of their relationship, you'll be amazed at the progress you'll make.

Now take a box from your pantry— any box, regardless of its shape—and hold it at eye level. Turn it so you can see only two of its sides, as the top cube on this page. If the design on the package distracts you, tear off the paper covering and work with the bare box.


Drawing realistically means drawing accurately. Whatever proportions your box may have, check the relationship between one side and the other. Notice that in the box at left, its length is about twice its width. The three boxes are seen at three different eye levels. Draw your box in the three different positions shown at left. Use any type of pencil to do the exercises in this section—a regular office pencil will do. It won't matter at all either if your box isn't the same shape as the box pictured here. The main thing is for you to be aware of the object's planes as you raise it or lower it above or below your level of vision.

When you're satisfied that you can draw a cubic shape at eye level, continue with above and below eye level views as on the following page. In the boxes you draw be sure that the lines converging to vanishing points 1 and 2 are at the proper slant, even though the lines can't extend all the way to their respective vanishing points on the eye level—simply because the paper isn't big enough.


Most of the objects you'll draw (at least at the beginning) will be indoors and below eye level, because interiors— furniture, rooms, etc.—are scaled to a size that humans can manipulate. Therefore, the reason for drawing objects below eye level is quite obvious. Look around you and notice that even as you sit you can see the tops of tables, chairs, sofas, etc. When you can see the top of an object, it means that it's below the eye level or horizon. Since most of the work you'll do will be from a sitting or standing position, you need to observe the appearance of things from that viewpoint.

Below eye level. All converging lines go up to their respective vanishing points. The arrows show the direction in which the parallel lines extend to th£ eye level.

At eye level. The converging lines of the sides of the box come down from the top edges and go up from the bottom edges to meet and vanish at imaginary points on the horizon (or eye level) called vanishing points.

Above eye level. All converging lines come down to their respective vanishing points.

Above Eye Level Perspective

Yes, this caption is supposed to be upside down, so that you can see that the same principle applies when you're looking up at an object. In this and following projects, the vanishing points will usually be beyond the borders of your paper.

Pencil Sketches Furniture Objects

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Ask yourself how much the line of an object departs—up or down—from the horizontal, as the diagram shows at view 1. If the diagonals are incorrect, you'll get the distortion shown at view 2. Note that the proper angle at view 3 gives you the correct form, because the diagonals run farther out to their vanishing points.

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