Posted by: Julie Duell | May 26, 2008

PERSPECTIVE DRAWING HELP

NOTE: A SHORTER, SIMPLER VERSION ON PERSPECTIVE DRAWING CAN BE FOUND ON http://www.kidsfuncorner.com

Hi all!  

First of all I would like to point out that as Artists, we are free to paint and draw what we wish – so unless you are an architectural artist, please don’t feel that guides in drawing in perspective are RULES!  They are simply powerful  guides (or tricks) to use if you wish to create a 3 dimensional illusion on your flat surface. The choice is yours!

First, let’s have a look at how powerful the illusion of perspective drawing can be!  The two blue trees in the drawing below, believe it or not, are the SAME SIZE in reality!  Optical illusion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hard to believe? Let me show you how this illusion works…

Optical-illusion-copy 

 

 

 

Isn’t that amazing!  Just a few perspective lines can create that illusion. After all, we are just looking at a flat surface! 

 Maybe you would like to use this trick in your own drawing!   

 

   

 

 

You might like to draw your own tree shapes on thicker paper or light cardboard so that they are stronger.  First draw one tree and cut it out.  Lay it on your card and draw around it. Now carefully cut out your second tree just INSIDE the line that you drew, so that they will be the same size.  Hold them one on top of the other to check. Colour them black or a strong colour.

 A little blue tack will hold your trees in place and you can move them to see how they look in different places on your drawing. 

Now what about this next picture of the 3 men.  Which of the two SMALL men is the bigger one do you think?   

 

 

Can you believe they really are the same height? Let’s check it out!!! It is really amazing isn’t it!

mens-height-illusion-copy 

 

 

 

 

 

 OK now lets get on to the specifics of the Optical Illusion we call “PERSPECTIVE”. How does it work?

I hope to throw in a few hints that might help explain it- although I certainly don’t profess to be an expert in this.

Firstly, let’s take a look at the most commonly known “trick” for the eye – single point perspective. This is when the alignment of objects in the painting or drawing become smaller  towards a distant point, to create the illusion of distance…as you can see, the “horizon” line in relation to your viewpoint has a dramatic effect on the end result and appearance of things in those converging perspective lines.

9  perspective 520 pix. 

 

  

 

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

 

 

 

It is helpful to draw a single box in perspective if you are new to this.  Here is an example below:  

1 point perspective stages 1-2 box copy

  

 

 

 

 1 point perspective stages 3-4 box

 Construction lines (or guidelines) are usually drawn very lightly in pencil and erased later but without them it is very difficult to sketch things in perspective. Naturally there are countless different shapes of buildings, windows & doors  so this is just a very basic guide and you can create your own variation.

Drawing windows & doors 

 

 

 

  

 

Handling some other tricky situations: 

  PERSPECTIVE DIPS

  

Perspective - RISE

PERSPECTIVE OVERHEAD

 

Below are some examples where I’ve used single point perspective in paintings… the first is called “Bringing them home, Inverell, NSW” painted from a photo taken through the windscreen of our car. 

Inverell NSW Bringing them home -   oils - from photo through windscreen 

 

 

 

 

 

and this one is a semi-abstract cityscape “Spirit of a City”…

SPIRIT OF A CITY  oils

 

It is rarely that you can actually see a flat horizon (except perhaps looking out to sea or in a desert) but most of us have inbuilt in our balance system a feeling for “WHERE THE LEVEL OF THE HORIZON WOULD BE IF WE COULD SEE IT” and it is this “SENSE OF LEVEL” we need, to assess most traditional compositions we might wish to draw or paint.

 Here is one painted on our trip to Venice last year. Note the high placement of the “horizon” (where the perspective lines on each side of the canal would meet if they were shown to converge)…

 

In this country scene, perspective is softly suggested in the dimishing track and fence…

Country Life  Oils  1980s 

 

 

 

 

 

 This next example (a tonal rough) is straight-forward where the street perspective is concerned but look at the crazy angles of those rooves!   How can we analyse those for drawing them into the finished painting?

 

Well, this is what I do if lines do not all merge to a vanishing point!  I pretend each angle I want to draw is coming from the centre of an old fashioned clockface.  I hope you are familiar with clockfaces in this era of digital LED displays? Which number would that angle be pointing to if it were a clock hand in relation to the sides of the paper or canvas? When I decide that, it helps me draw it.

6 Clock angles 

 

 

 

 

It worked pretty well in this study, although I decided along the way to alter some of the roof lines. Here is the finished painting below. I like the “not-so-precise” roof angles-I feel they look more interesting & less architecturally perfect – after all old houses tend to sag a bit as they age, just like us! 

 

Sometimes in single perspective studies we find that the “vanishing point” where the lines converge is way off the edge of the area we are drawing or painting.  Here’s an example…

8 Subtly hidden perspective 

 

 

 

 

 

In some compositions, more than one vanishing point might be in play e.g. a corner of a building. The exaggeration of the perspective becomes less and more gentle the further away each vanishing point is from the  other.

2 Vanishing Points 2 Vanishing pts. + building

 

 

Let’s go to using that clock method again….So how to choose the angles when drawing from an actual subject?  If you look at the corner of your building through a viewfinder (your camera lens works fine), it helps to ask yourself  how the angles of the roof and bottom of the building relate to the angles of a clock…

 

CLOCK METHOD  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice how lines above the level eyeline converge down to the vanishing points and those below converge upward? By drawing a simple box, you can see that above the eye level we can see underneath the base of the box.  Below eye level, we can see into the box looking down.

2 Vanishing points 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is an example of how 2 point perspective can translate into a  semi-abstract painting “Corner Gossip” where I had fun extending all the straight lines to form a semi-abstract design, treating it like a stained glass window with shafts of light…

CORNER GOSSIP oils 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK now – so far we have looked at straight lines in perspective – but what about curves?  Take a look at this chart…then hold a coin in your hand, flat on to your eyelevel.  Slowly turn it away from you and watch what happens to that circle…it becomes more and more elliptical – the side curves becoming more and more pointy… then see how this applies to the ovals in the teacup and saucer.

1 An ellipse in perspective copy 

Teacup

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thus it happens in nature – where the bend in a road or river, or the curve of a bay becomes more pointy or elliptical, the closer to the ground is your viewpoint…(it is so often we see a painting spoiled by a bay of water that appears to “stand up” and not “lay” properly in the landscape.)  Now you will know why!  Large rounded curves belong with a bird’s eye view.

2 Curves in perspective

 

Can you see how the curves are more rounded the higher your viewpoint in relation to the horizon?  As soon as you establish a horizon in a landscape you establish immediately where you are in viewing the scene..the closer to the ground you are the more elliptical or pointed the ovals become.

There may be only one curve in a picture but it needs to be “right”… here’s an example “North Avoca Beach” which was a painting commissions many years ago…notice I have had to do 2 things:  get the overall scallop of the water edge right (each line of waves following suit) and slope the beach down to it (after all that is what is stopping the water from flowing further!)  This was easier to assess because I painted it on location right at the scene…

 

North Avoca - oil commission 1980s 24x36 inches

 

 

 

 

 

In this next painting the perspective is in a road and some houses and I have had to make allowances for the hilly terrain as the road snakes its way up into the hills.  Very often the ground is not level and we have to make adjustments in the drawing through close observation. “Glengariff cottages”  was a small study from our visit to Ireland . 

 

GLENGARRIFF COTTAGES 2 

 

 

 

 

As well as making things appearing smaller as they become further away from you, they become less distinct (less visible detail), making things in the distance  become lighter in tone – so this is a way you can add to your illustion of perspective in a painting – graduating your darks from the foreground softer and softer into the distance.  Here are some demonstrations from my collection, which I pushed a bit to indicate the hazy atmosphere of the day. 

The difficulty of painting from photographs is that the camera tends not to give you this tonal softness or details within shadows (it makes them more black/dk grey)  so we as artists, need to be aware of this and compensate where needed…

City perspective

Bush - misty distancing 

  

Tallow beach perspective 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another thing to realise is that as things become close to you they overlap what lies behind them, covering up part of the shape behind.  Here is a landscape to show you what I mean. First the initial sketch… 

Overlapped terrain 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and now the finished painting…(Gloucester hills). Can you still see the overlapping?

Gloucester hills 520W 

 

 

 

 

 

Now if you are need to do more precise architectural drawing,  there is a formula for spacing uprights towards a vanishing point. It might be fence posts, poles, tenament buildings or similar.  I haven’t had to use it much, but it might be useful for someone to include it here. My chart isn’t exact (my perpendicular lines shouldn’t lean over)  but it should be enough to give you the idea.   You have to judge or measure the first segment at left, then you can find a midway point and by drawing a diagonal line through it you will find where the next segment upright will be.  It can apply to fence posts, telegraph poles, buildings – anything uniform.  Of course the result wil vary depending on your first two lines top and bottom which converge to a vanishing point (in this case, outside the area of the drawing).

4 Architect 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Without being too architecturally exact, I broadly used the above formula in the following painting of Sydney “Rocks” area in autumn…

Autumn - The Rocks, Sydney oils 1980s. After a day sketching there with John. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, there is the difficulty of placing figures in a landscape and getting them the right size for their positioning.  This can be very tricky.   To have some sort of “norm” from which to bounce is about the only way I know of to manage it.  Since the height and shape of different people varies so much, I find it most helpful to establish first where their feet would be so that they are not ‘floating’ in the painting!  

From there I like to put a mark where the top of their head would come to, imagining I were in the painting and how high I would be in relation to other things in the composition.  e.g. a doorway of a building or a tree.

Having put down those two marks for the top of the head and the feet, I then place a midway mark for a standing figure which represents the half-way hip mark.  I can then more easily sketchin the figure in the right proportions, being careful to avoid the common trap of making the head too big. Once figures are placed correctly, a shadow “anchoring” them to the ground level helps complete the illusion.  

Of course, if you were sketching people of much the same height (e.g. soldiers marching etc.) you could use the chart below which puts the “horizon” line through the same part of each person’s body… 

3 Figures sizing in perspective 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 For those of you interested in methods the cartoonists use to achieve the illusion of huge towering buildings or massive chasms – there is 3 point perspective at play!

3 VANISHING POINTS 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Actually the above example is even beginning to take in a 4th vanishing point below the horizon line from 2 to 3!

Here is is a ‘birdseye’ view looking down with 3 vanishing points:

3 VANISHING POINTS DOWN 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now here’s a hard one – supposing you need to draw a pile of boxes all thrown higgled-piggly in a pile! Because they would not be flat a level surface, each would have its own different angles … therefore there could be multiple vanishing points & most of them out of the composition! What could you do then to draw such a subject?

Well,  we can always fall back on the “clock hand” method shown earlier to assess each line as coming from the centre of a clock in relation to the sides of your paper.  If complex and confusing, try segmenting the area into a grid of 4 and deal with each quarter on its own.

Whatever your need  to use this illusion called perspective, I hope something in this Post has helped you. 

One last tip: 

1 Objects in a cube  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In response to a request, here is an example of drawing a Lolly Jar from 3 angles. Because it isn’t a huge object (like a high rise building) there is no need for 3 point perspective but because curves are involved as well as straight lines, it is a good exercise:

the-lolly-jar-exercise

If you would really like to see the illusion of perspective in action, check out the miraculous 3D chalk art by Pavement Artists such as  Julian Beever and Edgar Mueller.   

I hope this Post has been helpful to you.

Cheers! Julie


Responses

  1. Wow Julie! This is terrific information. I loved all your examples and helpful diagrams. Your paintings are terrific too! I was stunned when I learned that the horizon really depends on your own eyes and height, and is seen in a different place depending on the viewer or the viewer’s height.
    Jana

  2. This is really helpful information. I have been trying to get ym head around perspective for a long time now.

  3. Thanks, Julie. Just learning to draw & I’ve seen that 1 of the quickest ways for a drawing to look wrong is to have the perspective off. Very helpful. Jan

  4. Thanks for the feedback. I’m so glad this post is helpful. I’m told that not much about perspective is included in general art courses any more – just in architectural areas – so hopefully this will help fill a niche. Julie

  5. Cool, this is so helpful – especially for a new beginer like me. Thanks a great deal, Julie

  6. Its true that there isn’t much on the web to help with teaching and learning perspective. I introduce one point to my fifth graders and two point to my sixth graders. I was looking for a graphic of circles in perspective and liked what I saw here. You should consider posting on TeacherTube.

  7. Reply to edgarabrown: Thankyou for your feedback and suggestion. TeacherTube seems to be mostly about videos for sale. Can you suggest how I could post my art lessons on TeacherTube? In the meantime I will add it into tags/categories. Julie

  8. Thanks a lot. Your simple explanations were so helpfull for me. Pretty jod explanation, it solved many doubts I had.

    P.D.
    I had the opportunity of watching Beever ina ction at Salamanca, Spain. Certainly he is amazing; but the thing that I most admire about him is the hability of knowing that once the work is done it has fulfilled his purpouse, so you can get rid of it. His paintings are ephimeral, but not his art.

  9. Thanks Jacobo – Yes I too have thought about the transitory nature of some art compared to the relative permanency of oil paintings or sculpted marble/fired clay. The joy is in the doing and the sharing – but if that sharing can reach across the centuries it has to be beneficial too. I admired some ice sculptors in Sydney some time ago. Absolutely wonderful work but they melted in a day or two. That very fact attracted huge crowds to enjoy the moment with them and of course that moment can live on in our memories. It’s food for thought! Glad the perspective post has been helpful to you. It is the most popular post on this website, without exception. Best wishes, Julie

  10. Dear Ma’am,

    Do you recommend a specific book on drawing terrain in perspective? I could really use some help in this area.

    Thank you,
    Patrick

  11. Hello Patrick,

    Sorry, but I am unaware of any such book. I have just added a little more to the post however which may help with the illustion of perspective and distance…overlapped shapes, softened tones & colour intensity in the distance and less detail. The rest is pure observation I believe.
    Good luck, Julie

  12. Patrick – I have just located an excellent book on drawing which may interest you. It covers perspective, along with every other aspect. “The Complete Guide to Drawing & Illustration” by Peter Gray Arcturus Publishing Limited 2008 ISBN 978-1-84193-434-1. Julie

  13. thanks for this!! I’m going to post a link to this in my blog, I’m sure others will find it helpful too!!

  14. i just wanted you to know that your work is incredible and i absolutely loved it…….. the one with the water fall is my favorite.. you are very talented and your work is just oh my god…

  15. Hi Julie, More fabulous information for beginning artists. Interestingly I never see the “clockface” used in any art books these days or fellow artists knowing or using it. I’ve been using it for years obviously learnt from you! It’s such a simple way for people to check their angles and get it right the first time. What a wonderful resource your site is. Congratulations on your successes. Love Jan

    • Thank you Jan. I can’t believe how popular the site is getting and especially this Post on perspective. So glad it is helpful. Julie

  16. dear julie thank you for all the work you have done here it is helping me explain perspective to a 14 yo Home schooled student with out having to draw for hours first to explain it

  17. Dear Mrs Duell,

    we are writing a mathematical book about geometry in german. One of the topics of the book is perspective. For this reason, we are looking for drawings like the one with the violet trees on your webpage.
    We would be pleased to receive your permission to use your pictures for our book. I can send you the page of our book containing this drawing if you could contact me via email.

    Yours sincerely

    Thorsten

  18. hi julie!

    u know……..i jus stepped into drawing classes on perspectives and ur blog here is very useful to me.

  19. dear julie

    your blog has been really helpful, iam able to understand and draw objects in 3 point perspective better now.
    i have been trying to draw ‘ lollipops in a glass jar ‘ both in worms and birds eye but have not been successful could you please help.

    • OK – please have a look at the end of the Post for a new illustration of a lolly jar from 3 different angles. I hope this helps. Julie

  20. dear julie,
    thanks a lot for those diagrams of the lolly jars. they really helped. i’m sorry for the delay in posting this message.
    thanks again and i like your blog a lot :)
    shruti

  21. dear Julie
    I am planing to draw/paint a “view to my garden” on a chimney situated on my terrace (1 floor)
    were should I place the start of my 3 vanishing points (border of the chimney’s walls? or further)

    were should I place the horizon line ?
    in the train example, it seems that we are way over the first floor ?)

    I would like to have a “just” view of “my garden from the 1 floor”?

    I am an amateur but learn a lot from you tutorial and talent
    and I just want to try
    let me know if you need a picture of the chimney
    thanks
    Dom

    • Sorry Dom,
      It would be impossible for me to envisage what you have in mind from afar.
      May I suggest you tape some large sheets of paper to the chimney and try out some rough options in charcoal before drawing or painting on the actual chimney. By standing back to view it you should get an idea if you are on the right track or not.
      I sounds like an ambitious project and I hope you achieve the effect you are after. Julie

  22. Hello Julie
    I will follow your advice and go with the taped sheets first then see what (if) I can do from there.
    thanks for your prompt response
    I will certainly, more than once, go back to your blog to catch some (really needed) info
    Dom

  23. Julie,

    Thanks for this perspective primer. Very helpful. I’ve got a scene looking up from below at a tower and a crane that I’m struggling with. Would you look at it and help me figure it out??

    • Sorry for the delay Nathan. Busy busy here. I’ll get to it tomorrow. May be able to help. Julie

      • Julie,

        I’m back. You helped me with a picture in a book I was doing. I have hit another perspective question. Can I send you a photo that I am using for my inspiration, but just can’t seem to see where the vanishing points are? There is a hay bale elevator dropping down out of a loft that seems to go against where I see the scene’s vanishing points.

      • Hi Nathan – I will reply via email so that you can attach your problem picture.

  24. I do some directed drawing with my kids classes. I’ve been wanting to teach my son’s 6th grade class about perspective and the horizon line – it was my favorite drawing topic when I was in 6th grade – but I’m not sure what kind of picture I could draw with them that wouldn’t be to complicated but fun for them. Do you have any ideas for what I could draw with the 6th graders?

  25. Hello Rani – Glad to help. Sending you step by step suggestion separately and am also adding these to this website for others. Good luck – let me know how it goes. Cheers, Julie

  26. This is a wonderful web. you arew so helpful for person than are begining, Thanks a lot for share your knowledge.

    With person like you , we can confirm that the art does not have different idiom.

    from Colombia my country a lot thanks.

  27. Julie Duell,
    Great info, clearly presented. Thank you RM

  28. cool illusions

  29. thank you very much!!! it’s amazing! it helps me to do my job. thanks,

    • Glad to hear it. May I ask what your job is? Julie

  30. hi Julie
    i wanted to thank u as ur tips was a source of enrichment for me thanks a llllllllllllllllllllllllllooooooooooooooooooooootttttttttttttttttttttttt

  31. This is an excellent post and may be one that is followed up to see what happens

    A pal emailed this link the other day and I will be excitedly hoping for your next piece of writing. Carry on on the top-notch work.

  32. I have enjoyed reading your presentation and it is one of the best “helps” for understanding perspective that I have come across. Thank you for your work and for sharing this with us.

    • Glad to help Tom. Julie

  33. Dear Julie;
    Thanks very much. Excellent description and drawings. I teach an introduction to Art History course and will get my students to visit your site and read more. They will learn much here.
    All teh best
    Derrick

    • Many thanks Derrick – glad to provide some help with this difficult subject. Julie

  34. Struggling with a design for a 6 foot by 28 ft mural of the Bay of Naples – The view is fro a balcony looking down into a town and a harbor – but the owner of the restaurant wants me to also show the distant shore and Mt. vesuvius – Is it possible to have varying vanishing points and keep the same horizon line? The image gets way to static with 2 pts. I want to create a more dynamic view, almost an active view – any thoughts or images to suggest?

    • Hi Paul – yes of course you are free to apply varying vanishing points in your mural. The buildings will no doubt be set at varying angles
      and can therefore be treated individually within the overall scale. I suggest you play with a mock-up to scale, then apply a grid to it when
      you are happy with the plan – then the actual image can be enlarged using the grid design. Perspective lessons are not rules set in concrete but more a starting point to develop & a sense of “right” or “wrong” within the artist when they look at an artwork – so trust your gut feeling and go with it. A good overall design is paramount in a mural and it sounds as though you are on the right track. Don’t forget stronger darks in the foreground graded to lighter shadows in the distance will help if you want to create a feeling of reality, space & distance. In assessing the angles of the houses in your reference you may like to use the “clock” method outlined in the Perspective post.
      Artistic license is the right of every artist so you can exaggerate, interpret, invent and enhance to your heart’s content!

  35. thanks… it helps me looot and
    i think, i can teach my 9 years old son, too…. !
    u really make it sooo easy :)

    • That’s great! Glad to hear it. Perhaps your son might like other drawing ideas on my other site: http://www.kidsfuncorner.com
      There is cartooning fun. painting ideas, drawing games and lots more. Also if he would like to send me an action drawing
      I will animate it for him and put it on the website. Happy arting! Julie

  36. thank uuuu sssoooo much it is very informative n catchy u helped me alot… i hav problem at drawing human shapes helpme ))

    • Click on FIGURE DRAWING in the right hand side column. It may help you with drawing people.

  37. I just wanted to tell you that I appreciate your generousity. You give a great deal of really wonderful information, and advise. I love your Kid’s site as well.
    I only wanted to say… – Thank you
    rich

    • Hi Rich – thank you for your ‘thank you’! It is nice to be usseful. Julie

  38. thank you..you really inspire my art! this website is sooo helpful

  39. I love this! I am teaching an art appreciation class for little ones. These illustrations really helped me out! While I appreciate art, I have very little ability when it comes down to doing art!

    • Thanks for the feedback “hollysfollies”! You might find the lessons on Perspective for littlies even simpler under the “Draw” icon in my http://www.kidsfuncorner.com website as everything there is designed for children. Best wishes, Julie

      • Thank you! That actually is perfect for the ages I am teaching!

  40. Thank you Julie! Tips and tricks are really good informations.

  41. […] ARTWORK FOR THE WEEK: Make a perspective drawing. Read the instructions HERE. […]

    • I hope your son enjoys the Perspective drawing. There are more lessons for children on http://www.kidsfuncorner.com he may like. Julie

  42. […] ARTWORK FOR THE WEEK: Make a perspective drawing. Read the instructions HERE. […]


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