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What Is Perspective In Art? ( For Beginners)

Perspective in art is what gives your work a 3D look rather than a flat painting or drawing. It sounds complicated and boring but it is actually quite simple and is probably something you already understand but just haven’t applied it to your work.

Understanding perspective in art makes your work look real and in proportion. Learning how to use perspective to add distance along with using proper values, will give depth to your painting or drawing and make it so much more interesting and realistic. To learn more about using value you can read my post on Value in Art.

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graphic drawing of looking up from the centre of tall buildings illustrating perspective

Defining Perspective in Art

Lets start with a few definitions and then I will give a more in-depth explanation.

Perspective –a technique that enables artists to add the illusion of depth to a painting or drawing. There are several “types” of perspective as explained below.

Viewpoint – the position from where you view your scene. So a normal viewpoint would be looking at a scene or object at eye level.

You can also have a low viewpoint where you are looking at your subject from below, such as looking up to a balcony. High viewpoint would be looking down on a subject, such as looking down at a beach from a high cliff.

Horizon Line – the imaginary horizontal line in the distance that is eye level.

Vanishing Lines – lines drawn from the object to a point or points on the horizon. The point where these lines meet is called the vanishing point .

I hope these definitions didn’t confuse you too much. It is much easier than it seems and you don’t need to remember the name of these terms to make a good piece of art. You just have to understand what you are seeing.

So, let’s see how to incorporate this information into your artwork.

Finding the Horizon Line

The horizon line is mostly used in landscape drawing or painting but it can also be used in indoor scenes and still life as well.

It’s easy to find the horizon line if you are standing on a beach looking out at the ocean. The horizon line is where the sky meets the sea.

Don’t confuse skyline with horizon line. The horizon line in a mountain scene for example, would most likely be at a point lower than where the peaks meet the sky, probably at the base of the mountains or the banks of a lake. It would depend on your perspective or point of view.

picture of mountains, trees and grassy field with a red horizon line drawn through the center
Horizon line is eye level with the viewer

Draw your horizon line parallel to the top and bottom edges of your paper or canvas. Where you place it will determine whether your viewers are looking at the scene from above, below or directly in front.

The horizon line in your painting or drawing doesn’t have to be in the centre of your paper or canvas, and in fact, most of the time it shouldn’t be. You will give your piece more visual interest if your horizon line is slightly above or below the centre.

Everything above the horizon line would slightly slope down towards the line. Everything below the horizon line would slightly slope up towards the line.

Types of Perspective in Art

picture of a straight road with a red line showing the horizon line and purple lines showing the vanishing lines
One point perspective

One Point Perspective

– when you look down a long, straight road, the edges of the road give the illusion of meeting at a point on the horizon. This is one point perspective because you have one vanishing point.

One point perspective is used when you are looking straight at an object or scene from the front.

drawing of a cube and horizon line showing one point perspective
One vanishing point gives you one point perspective

Two Point Perspective

– when you look at an object from an angle as opposed to directly in front, you will have two vanishing points on the horizon.

drawing of a cube and horizon line showing two point perspective
Two vanishing points give you 2 point perspective

Three Point Perspective

– if you are looking at something very tall such as a skyscraper or very tall tree, you will have a third vanishing point above the object. You can also have a third vanishing point if you are looking down into a deep canyon for example.

drawing of a cube and horizon line showing three point perspective
Three vanishing points gives you a 3 point perspective

Linear Perspective

– the further away an object gets, the smaller it will appear. So if you are drawing or painting a house with a large tree in the distance, the tree would be painted or drawn much smaller than the house.

Linear perspective will give you the illusion of distance.

perspective painting of green trees and white houses in a field
The trees get smaller the further away they are

Aerial or Atmospheric Perspective

– objects in the distance appear less detailed and lighter. They often have a cool blue tone. If you have ever looked at mountains in the distance they appear to be a soft, fuzzy blue tone with no definition of the foliage growing on them.

Acrylic painting of misty mountains and an oriental house in the distance.
Notice how the mountains in the background are less defined as they recede.

Draw or Paint What You See

Always draw what you see, not what you know. If you look at a line of street lights on a straight road, you know that they are all the same height and approximate distance apart.

If you draw them like that, you will have no depth or distance, the drawing will be flat. You need to draw the light poles progressively smaller and closer together in order to give the illusion of distance.

a bridge at night with streetlights on either side
Notice how the lights get smaller and closer together as they go further down the bridge.

Practice drawing perspective in your sketchbook or on paper every day. Hold your thumb or a pencil or other straight object straight out in front of you and compare it to objects closer together and farther away.

Look at a house close to you and a tree further away.  See how the measurements compare. Draw what you see.

Don’t be frustrated when you don’t get it right. That’s how we learn.

Analyze your drawing to see where you might have gone wrong. Make notes in your sketchbook about what you think needs improving or what you are struggling with.

Tracing to See Perspective

A lot of artists frown on tracing your subject using tracing paper. They see it as “cheating”.

I think tracing is a fantastic tool for new artists. It not only enables you to get an accurate drawing quickly but it also teaches you how to draw what you see.

When I first began to draw I bought several pads of tracing paper. I traced every picture I could find and compared the tracing to the original photo.

This gave me a much clearer idea of proportions and how things got smaller as they recede back into the distance.

When you can view a scene without all the color and shading you realize that everything just comes down to basic shapes and lines drawn in proportion.

Try it out and see if it is a technique that helps you. If you need more information on how to use tracing paper, read my post on How to Transfer a Reference Photo.

Over time you will not need the tracing paper and will be able to draw most scenes free hand. I still occasionally using tracing paper when I am drawing or painting a portrait to insure accuracy, since even a tiny discrepancy can change the whole look of a face.

line drawing of a city street with tall buildings and trees showing perspective
Pin for later

When Not To Use Perspective In Art

I always say there are no hard and fast rules in art and that is also true with perspective. If you are going for a realistic drawing or painting it is best to follow these guidelines, but if you want to do a more abstract piece you can ignore them and do your own thing.

Maybe you want to have your central figure or object stand out and draw or paint it out of proportion to the rest of your piece. You could do a whimsical painting full of misshapen, out of proportion buildings or trees.

Anything is possible, you are the creator so use your imagination and have fun.

Thanks for reading.

Digital signature Marilyn with butterfly

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