Perspective and the Picture Plane

Perspective in Pieces

Perspective can be dealt with in various ways:

Informal Perspective

Scale and relativity Measuring and siting Aerial perspective

Artist's Sketchbook

Scale in drawing is the rendering of relative size. An object or person or tree, as it is seen farther away, will seem smaller than another of the same size that is closer.

We'll look at each of these methods in a few pages. Formal


One point Two point Three point

Artist's Sketchbook

Eye level, or the horizon line, simply refers to your point of view relative to what you are looking at. It is the point at which all planes and lines vanish.

Let's consider eye level as the key to understanding vanishing points and one-point perspective. As you look at an object in a still life or the corner of a room or out at a landscape, it is eye level, in your view and on your paper, that most determines the actual image.

When drawing landscapes or things in perspective, the horizon line is the line to which all planes and lines vanish. As you look out on a landscape, you can be looking up at, straight at, or down at the view, the horizon line, and the vanishing points, to which everything will disappear (seem to get smaller).

You can think of eye level as how and where you are viewing the landscape—looking up, looking at, or looking down. In landscapes, eye level is also referred to as the horizon line. Where you position yourself and where you position the horizon or eye level in a drawing greatly affect what you see and how you draw it.

Affect Above Eye Level Perspective

Your eye level is your point of view relative to what you are looking at. Points begin to "vanish" above or below the center, or "horizon" line. Notice how the perspective of the house changes above, at, and below the horizon line.

Eye level
Below eye level

At the bottom of the previous page, and here, at left are three drawings, one executed at eye level, one above eye level looking down, and one below eye level looking up.

Above eye level

Now, let's look at the three ways of viewing formal perspective.

One-point perspective is a single straight-on view into space. To envision one-point perspective, look down a street, straight down a plowed field, or along a fence or a tree-lined country lane. The road, the trees, the fences, or the rows in the field will seem to vanish toward a central point straight out in front of you at eye level.

Eye level Single vanishing point

One-point perspective: View down a few roads toward a central vanishing point.

Two-point perspective is based on the fact that planes seen at an angle will recede in space. They are directed toward vanishing points on either side of the horizon line or eye level.

Lines of houses, buildings, fences, bridges, roads, trees, or anything else, seen at an angle, will follow and recede to the points on either side, often far outside the area of the picture itself. It can be easier to try to see perspective simply as angles in space rather than needing to draw in the vanishing points.

Two-point perspective is vanishing points on the horizon or eye level.

Three-point perspective adds a third vanishing point and represents a fairly radical viewpoint. Try it after you have mastered informal, one-point, and two-point perspective.

Three-point perspective adds height or depth, for a radical view.

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Eye level

Eye level

Three-point perspective above eye Rectangle/cube looking down level.

Our technical editor, Dan Welden, contributes this beautiful drawing illustrating three-point perspective looking down.

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