Maintaining Perspective

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In the preceding section you make one view of each of four geometric shapes. One perspective. How do you make more? The rules of perspective help you make shapes look correct in space and in relation to each other.

Perspective uses horizon lines and vanishing points. These items are created by you, the artist. The horizon is where the sky meets the earth. The vanishing point is located on the horizon line and is the point where all horizontal lines converge. If you extend the horizontal lines of an object, they meet at one spot on the horizon.

The number of vanishing points corresponds to the number of perspectives. In one-point perspective, you have one vanishing point. Two-point has two vanishing points, and three-point has three vanishing points. One- and two-point perspectives are used most often in art, but I throw in three-point for free just so you know it exists. You may even see a creative application where it will come in handy. I discuss all these points in the next sections.

Vanishing points and their theory can be applied to landscapes as well as still lifes. Even people and wildlife are influenced by perspective. Understanding and being able to use vanishing points makes your drawing in your paintings more believable and realistic. Paper has length and width — two dimensions. You're trying to get your audience to believe that there is depth or a third dimension — which is always an illusion. You need every trick you can to make this magic happen.

Part II: Developing a Solid Foundation

To help you think three-dimensionally even though you're working on a two-dimensional surface, picture everything you paint as fitting into a cube.

Looking from a one-point perspective

One-point perspective has all converging lines leading to one location. In Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, all lines lead to the center of the picture or the leading character, Christ. When you look down a road, the sides of the street seem to converge toward each other. Both of these are examples of one-point perspective.

One-point perspective is useful in simple situations. Flat buildings, straight roads, railroad tracks, and telephone lines and poles all follow one-point perspective nicely.

See Figure 8-6 for a visual of one-point perspective.

Figure 8-6:

This rural scene is drawn in one-point perspective.

Figure 8-6:

This rural scene is drawn in one-point perspective.

One Point Perspective Drawing Sky

Draw another cube, but this time use one-point perspective. Just follow these steps and refer to Figure 8-7:

1. Draw a 1-inch square on drawing paper.

2. Draw a horizon line above the square.

3. Make a mark on the horizon line behind the square to serve as the vanishing point.

You can also put the vanishing point to the right or left of the square on the horizon line.

4. Using a ruler, draw a line from each of the square's top corners to the vanishing point on the horizon.

If you put your vanishing point to the side of the box, draw a third line to the vanishing point from the bottom corner of the square that is closest to the vanishing point.

5. Draw a line parallel to the top of the square between the two lines that go to the vanishing point to indicate the top edge of a cube.

You now have two sides of a cube.

If you drew a vanishing point to the left or right of the square, complete the cube's third side. (The top is side two.) From the corner of the top, draw a line parallel to the original square down to the vanishing line.

Figure 8-7:

A cube from one-point perspective.

For a different one-point perspective, do the exercise again but this time move the horizon line behind the square and draw the lines to the vanishing point from the top and bottom corners on one side of the square (see Figure 8-8).

Figure 8-8:

A different one-point perspective.

Figure 8-8:

A different one-point perspective.

Seeing two-point perspective

Two-point perspective uses two vanishing points on the horizon line where all the horizontal lines converge. A three-quarter view of a building where one corner is closest to the viewer and the two visible sides recede back into space uses this perspective. Figure 8-9 could be the beginnings of such a view.

Figure 8-9:

Two-point perspective example.

Figure 8-9:

Two-point perspective example.

Two-point is the most useful of the three types of perspective. Most landscapes are drawn or painted in two-point perspective. You can also use two-point perspective in a still life. This type of perspective helps your drawings look believable, so your paintings will be more realistic.

In this exercise, you draw a cube in two-point perspective.

1. Draw a horizon line.

2. Make a 1-inch vertical line that crosses the horizon line.

3. Make two dots on the horizon line about 3 inches away from the vertical line on either side.

4. Draw lines from the top of the vertical line to the dots, or vanishing points, on the horizon line on both sides.

5. Repeat Step 4 from the bottom of the vertical line.

6. Draw a vertical line on each side of the central vertical line between the lines drawn in Steps 4 and 5.

You should have something resembling Figure 8-9.

This box is the basic shape to most buildings. It could also be a basket in a still life. It could even be the body of a cow. By moving the vanishing points and proportions, you can make any cube-like shape accurately.

Try drawing the box again. This time move the horizon line and vanishing points to resemble Figure 8-10. Your first vertical line can be above, below, or not even touching the horizon line.


When experimenting with two-point perspective, remember that all the vertical sides stay vertical. Only the top and bottom change and recede to the vanishing point.

Figure 8-11:

Three-point perspective example.

Figure 8-11:

Three-point perspective example.

Viewing three-pointperspective

Three-point perspective is sometimes called worm 's-eye or bird's-eye view. If you can imagine what a worm or bird might see from their lowly or lofty positions in the world, you can understand three-point perspective. Look at the cube as it becomes a product of three-point perspective in Figure 8-11. The sides are no longer parallel. They too follow a vanishing point toward the horizon which leaves the cube floating in space.

VP1 H1 VP2

VP1 H1 VP2

Worms Eye View Gesture Drawings

Draw a cube again, using three-point perspective this time:

1. Draw a horizon line across the long side of a piece of S'/2-x-11-inch paper.

Make it fairly high on the paper because you go down 5 inches in Step 3.

2. Lay a ruler on the horizon line and place a point on the horizon line at 0 inches, 5 inches, and 10 inches.

The point at 0 inches is vanishing point #1 (VP1). The point at 10 inches is vanishing point #2 (VP2). Mark the 5-inch point as the center of the horizon line (H1). Label them as such, following Figure 8-12 for guidance.

3. Draw a 5-inch line down from the center (Hl), perpendicular to the horizon line, so this line forms a right angle with the horizon line.

Mark the bottom of the 5-inch line as vanishing point #3 (VP3). Figure 8-12 shows the two lines.

Figure 8-12:

Laying the foundation for a three-point perspective cube.

4. Mark the 2-inch point and the 4-inch point on the line extending from H1 to VP3 (see Figure 8-13).

These are corner 2 (C2) and corner 4 (C4), respectively.

5. Use a ruler to draw two lines from the two outside vanishing points, VP1 and VP2, to connect with C4 (see Figure 8-13).

This is the bottom of the cube.

Figure 8-13:

Starting out with the top and the bottom.

Figure 8-13:

Starting out with the top and the bottom.


6. Use a ruler to draw lines from VP1 and VP2 to C2 (see Figure 8-13).

These form the top of the cube.

7. Measure 1'/2 inches from the center line along the line from VP1 to C2 and make a mark (see Figure 8-13).

This point is corner 1 (C1).

8. Mirror Step 7 by marking 13/4 inches from the center line along the line from VP2 to C2 (see Figure 8-13).

This point is corner 3 (C3).

9. Draw a line from C1 to VP3. Then draw a line from C3 to VP3 (see Figure 8-14).

These are the sides of the cube.

10. Finish the cube by drawing a line from C1 to VP2. Mirror this line by drawing a line from C3 to VP1.

You now have Figure 8-11.

Adjusting to aerial and atmospheric perspectives

A few more rules of perspective. Aerial perspective is about creating the illusion of depth of space with some tricks to make things appear to recede into space. You're using a flat piece of paper after all, so how in the world do you make something look a hundred miles away? Well, you remember these rules about perspective. As things get farther away, they:

^ Get smaller: In the one-point perspective example in Figure 8-6, notice that things get smaller the farther away they get.

Keep in mind that objects get smaller in proportion to vanishing points and distance.

^ Have less detail: Keep the details in the foreground to bring an item closer. As an object goes back into space, it has less detail until no details at all are visible.

Figure 8-14:

Setting up the sides.

Figure 8-14:

Setting up the sides.

i Are less intense in color; they're grayer: Colors are more vibrant or intense the closer they are to the viewer. Layers of atmosphere obstruct the view, and the colors appear grayer in the distance.

i Appear cooler: A blue tint helps the background appear to recede into space. As things come closer they're warmer. A meadow landscape is already set up for this, having hay-colored grasses in the foreground and a blue sky for background. Why fight nature?

Atmospheric perspective refers to layers of atmosphere getting in the way of space to create the illusion of distance. Think of old European paintings that show fog in the air and objects in the distance getting smokier or hazier as they get farther away. To achieve a foggy look, make colors grayer and edges softer. Also simplify details to indicate fog and distance. The term sfumato, which means smoky in Italian, is used to describe the look. Many of da Vinci's paintings incorporate this technique.

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