The Rules of Perspective

Perspective Drawing—It’s As Easy As One-, Two-, Three-Point!

Perspective is a technique used in drawing or painting to give an image on a flat surface a sense of depth. An artist uses this nifty tool to make his/her imagery look more realistic and accurate as we see it in real life. Perspective creates the illusion of depth and distance on an otherwise flat surface.

There are three basic types of perspective: one-point, two-point, and three-point. The one-, two-, and three-point refers to the number of vanishing points that are present when creating the illusion of depth and space. In addition to these, there is also zero-point perspective.

national park wall painting“Monument Valley”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
16″ x 12″
Oils on stretched canvas

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One-Point Perspective
One-Point Perspective

One-point perspective is the simplest method of drawing perspective. It uses only a single vanishing point on the horizon line. A vanishing point is were two or more parallel lines converge into each other at “infinity.” A good example of this type perspective is a long hallway, railroad track or road where the viewer is positioned face-on looking down the center. As you can see in the illustration, the two tracks are parallel to each other and you know they will remain the same distance apart, however, the further away they get the closer they appear to be until they eventually disappear at the horizon.

Rule: Use one-point perspective to create the illusion of distance in a drawing or painting.

example of two point perspective
Two-Point Perspective

Two-point perspective comes in to play when a drawing contains two vanishing points positioned arbitrarily along the horizon line. This perspective positions the object where the viewer can look at the object from an angle and see two sides at one time. That is, looking at one corner, with two sets of parallel lines moving away.

An example of two-point perspective can be illustrated with the use of a box,  cube, or other objects with the same geometric shape, such as a house or building. When looking at the object from the corner, one side recedes toward one vanishing point and the other side recedes toward the opposite vanishing point. As can be seen in the illustration, each set of parallel lines has its own vanishing point. Two-point perspective is what gives a geometric object the illusion of 3-D.

Rule: Use two-point perspective to make a geometrical object appear to be three dimensional.

example of three point perspective
Three-Point Perspective

Three-point perspective is a little trickier than the other two because this type deals with three vanishing points. It includes two vanishing points somewhere on the horizon line and there is also a vanishing point either above or below the horizon that all vertical lines lead to. This type perspective is great for rendering objects, such as buildings and cityscapes, that are seen at an aerial or ground view. When the third vanishing point is above the horizon, then an image is created from an ant’s perspective, that is, looking up toward the image from below. When it is below the horizon, a bird’s eye point of view is created where it feels as if you are looking down on the object from above.

Rule: Use three-point perspective when you want to render building scenes, such as cityscapes, complex close-up objects and highly detailed interior scenes.

Zero-point perspective is the technique used to give the illusion of depth when there are no parallel lines in the image and therefore no vanishing points. Vanishing points can only exist with the presence of parallel lines. However, a perspective without vanishing points can still create a sense of depth, that’s where zero-point comes take effect. The most common example of depth without parallel lines or vanishing points is a natural setting, such as a mountain range or a landscape of hills and valleys.

In zero-point perspective, a sense of depth can be created in the following  ways:

  • Objects are larger the closer they are and decrease in size proportionally the further away they are.
  • The closer objects are, the more detailed they are. Objects loose detail the further away they are.
  • Color fades becoming more muted blending into background colors.
  • Objects placed higher on a plane create more of the feeling of depth or distance.
  • Overlapping shapes tend to create a feeling of depth.

Rule: Use zero-point perspective when there are no parallel line in an image to create the sense of depth.