How Perspective Affects Your Drawings and Art

Drafting Room Practice

Perspective drawing gives a three-dimensional feeling to a picture. In art, it is a system of representing the way that objects appear to get smaller and closer together the further away they are in the scene.

Perspective is key to almost any drawing or sketch as well as many paintings. It is one of the fundamentals that you need to understand in art in order to create realistic and believable scenes.

What Does Perspective Look Like?

Imagine driving along a very straight open road on a grassy plain. The road, the fences, and power-poles all diminish towards a single spot far ahead of you. That's single-point perspective.

Single- or one-point perspective is the simplest method of making objects look three-dimensional. It is often used for interior views or trompe l'oeil (trick-the-eye) effects. Objects must be placed so that the front sides are parallel to the picture plane, with the side edges receding to a single point.

A perfect example is Da Vinci's Study for Adoration of the Magi. When you see it, notice how the building is placed so that it faces the viewer, with the stairs and side walls diminishing towards a single point in the center.

Is That the Same as Linear Perspective?

When we talk about perspective drawing, we usually mean linear perspective. Linear Perspective is a geometric method of representing the apparent diminishing of scale as the distance from the object to the viewer increases. Each set of horizontal lines has its own vanishing point. For simplicity, artists usually focus on correctly rendering one, two, or three vanishing points.

The invention of linear perspective in art is generally attributed to the Florentine architect Brunelleschi. The ideas continued to be developed and used by Renaissance artists, notably Piero Della Francesca and Andrea Mantegna. The first book to include a treatise on perspective, "On Painting," was published by Leon Battista Alberti in 1436.

One Point Perspective

In one-point perspective, the horizontals and verticals which run across the field of view remain parallel, as their vanishing points are at 'infinity,' Horizontals, which are perpendicular to the viewer, vanish towards a point near the center of the image.

Two Point Perspective

In two-point perspective, the viewer is positioned so that objects (such as boxes or buildings) are viewed from one corner. This creates two sets of horizontals which diminish towards vanishing points at the outer edges of the picture plane, while only verticals remain perpendicular.

It is slightly more complex, as both the front and back edges and the side edges of an object must be diminished towards vanishing points. Two-point perspective is often used when drawing buildings in the landscape.

Three Point Perspective

In three-point perspective, the viewer is looking up or down so that the verticals also converge on a vanishing point at the top or bottom of the image.

Atmospheric Perspective

Atmospheric perspective is not linear perspective. Rather, it attempts to use control of focus, shading, contrast, and detail to duplicate the visual effect of near objects being crisp and clear. At the same time, distant objects may be less distinct and muted.