The Rules of Perspective Drawing

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

Perspective is a drawing or painting technique. It gives an image on a flat surface a sense of depth. Artists use this tool to make their 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 present when creating the illusion of depth and space. In addition to these, there is also zero-point perspective.

Rules of Perspective

Rules of Perspective drawing
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 where two or more parallel lines converge into each other at “infinity.” A long hallway, railroad track, or road with the viewer positioned face-on and looking down the center is an excellent example of this perspective. As seen 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 into play when a drawing contains two vanishing points positioned arbitrarily along the horizon line. This perspective places the object where the viewer can look at it from an angle and see two sides at one time. That is, looking at one corner, with two sets of parallel lines moving away.

A box, cube, or other geometrically similar objects, such as a house or building, can be used to demonstrate two-point perspective. 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. There is also a vanishing point either above or below the horizon that all vertical lines lead to. This type of perspective is excellent for rendering objects, such as buildings and cityscapes, seen from an aerial or ground view. When the third vanishing point is above the horizon, an image is created from a worm’s perspective, 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 like 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 in the presence of parallel lines. However, a perspective without vanishing points can still create a sense of depth; that’s where zero-point come into 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 may 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. Things lose 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 lines in an image to create a sense of depth.

Additional Reading

Using Atmospheric Perspective To Create Depth in Your Paintings

Using Linear Perspective to Create Depth in Your Paintings

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