Understanding Drawing Perspective


Are you an artist and have been wanting to better understand drawing perspective?

Would you like the basic fundamentals of drawing perspective explained in clear terms?

This blog post will be devoted entirely to understanding drawing perspective.

This is a drawing topic that is very important for artists and sometimes not covered adequately or completely.

What is Drawing Perspective?

Perspective is an optical illusion that occurs as a plane (or shape) moving in space recedes from the viewers eye toward a vanishing point.

The Vanishing Point, Eye Level or Horizon as it is sometimes called, is always at the eye level of the primary viewer.

If I am standing on a ladder three feet above you, my Perspective, Eye Level, Vanishing Point or Horizon is different from yours if you are standing on the ground below me.


This is why it’s called Perspective, because it is one view of one viewer.  In the same way that your religious or political perspective may be different from mine, so too, your visual perspective may be different from mine as well, even if we are standing near to each other in the same room.

Notice that I said perspective is an optical illusion.  Think about this for a moment: Sculptors do not really need to know about perspective because they only deal with real three-dimensional shapes in space. They do not work with illusions.

But as a painter or draftsman, you certainly need to know about the optical illusion of perspective in order to translate the real, three-dimensional world into a believable two-dimensional image on paper or canvas.

Drawing Perspective (One-Point)

drawing perspective
Simple line drawing demonstrating one point perspective

There are One Point, Two Point, and Three Point Perspectives to understand.

One Point Perspective deals with one Vanishing Point on the Horizon or Eye Level.

In the diagram, the Horizon denotes the Eye Level of the viewer.

The Railroad tracks, Telegraph poles and dirt road all recede toward a single Vanishing point on the Horizon.

Thus, One Point Perspective is established in this simple diagram.

Notice that Foreshortening of the Planes occur as they move toward the vanishing point. Foreshortening is a shortening or narrowing of the planes as they recede away to the Horizon.

drawing perspective

Again, we see One Point Perspective in the diagram to the right.

The Vanishing Point occurs on the Horizon, which is at the Eye Level of the viewer.

The side and top planes of the lower boxes and the bottom plane of the upper box all recede toward the Vanishing Point on the Horizon.

And again, Foreshortening of all planes occur as they recede toward the Vanishing Point on the Horizon

Planes that are above the Horizon recede downward toward the Vanishing Point.

And Planes that are below the Horizon recede upward toward the Vanishing Point.

 Drawing Perspective (Two-Point)

Two Point Perspective occurs when there are two Vanishing Points on the Horizon Line or Eye Level.

Keep in mind that there can be many Vanishing Points residing on the Horizon. This occurs when you have many objects that are both above and below the Horizon Line and are included in the same drawing.

drawing perspective

Two Point Perspective is demonstrated in the diagram to the right.

Notice that there are two Vanishing Points on the Horizon Line.

Also, notice that the vertical lines in all of the cubes are parallel regardless of whether they are above or below the Horizon Line.

You have a Bird’s Eye View of all the objects below the Horizon Line.

And you have a Worm’s Eye View of all objects above the Horizon Line.

Drawing Perspective (Three-Point)

drawing perspectiveThree-Point Perspective occurs when there is an upper (or lower) vanishing point that is not associated with the Horizon Line or Eye Level of the viewer.

This is usually caused when the side planes (vertical lines) of an object are not parallel.

Notice the side planes (vertical lines) of the cube in the diagram.

They are not parallel and converge at Point Y, which is an upper vanishing point above the Horizon Line of the viewer.  And, of course, Point Y could also converge below the Horizon line as well.

Please take a moment to compare the vertical lines in the cubes shown in Two-Point Perspective to this diagram. Notice that those vertical lines are parallel and do not converge to a vanishing point.

So be aware of the differences in these types of situations, especially when you find vertical lines that are not parallel in your subjects.

Drawing Perspective (Multi-Point)

Many times when you are drawing or oil painting from real life you are going to encounter situations that have many objects with multiple vanishing points across, above, and below the Horizon Line.

In the diagram below, there are many different cube shapes that are at different angles to the viewer. This creates many different vanishing points on the Horizon or Eye Level.

Be aware that vanishing points occur any time that a plane recedes toward the Horizon, and this can happen at multiple points on your drawing.

Also, remember that if any vertical lines are not parallel, then they will converge either below or above the Horizon and sometimes completely off of the drawing paper.  drawing perspective

So far, we have covered Linear Perspective in our lessons.

But there is one more type of Perspective that I haven’t mentioned.  This is called Atmospheric or Aerial Perspective and deals with the way light and color react as they recede to a vanishing point.

We will turn our attention to Atmospheric Perspective.

Atmospheric Perspective

So far you have learned about all the aspects of Linear Perspective. Linear, of course, meaning having to do with only the Line in drawing.

But there is another type of Perspective that you need to fully understand. This is called Atmospheric Perspective.

Atmospheric in this context means how the Atmosphere affects color and value in your drawing and paintings.

Let’s look at these two individually.

The Effects of Atmospheric Perspective on Color

As Color recedes toward a vanishing point, two important things happen.

First, it becomes weaker, meaning it is diluted with white, or moves toward pure white on the value scale.

And second, it becomes Cooler, meaning it moves toward Cool Blue on the Color Scale.

As color moves infinitely away from the viewer it ultimately loses intensity until it becomes almost pure gray (just moving into the value scale range). This greying of color can be achieved by mixing compliments of blue into your color mix.

(Important Note: White always dilutes both color and value, making them weaker and less potent.)

It is important to understand that these two effects happen simultaneously to color as it recedes into the distance toward a vanishing point.

So you would simply add white and blue to your colors as they recede into the distance.  You would start with warm blue (Ultramarine Blue) first for objects in the foreground, and then slowly transition over to cool blue (Cerulean Blue) for the objects in the far distance.

For objects very far in the distance, you would begin to grey your cerulean blue with a touch of orange, which is the compliment.

Let’s look at an example of Atmospheric Perspective affecting color.drawing perspective

The photo to the right illustrates how color moves to the blue range and gets weaker as it recedes into the distance.

Notice that the trees in the foreground closest to you in the picture are warmer yellowish greens.

The colors in the closer objects are stronger in value as well as color intensity.

Now notice the trees on the hills in the middle ground.

Those colors are far less yellowish and have now moved more to just an ultramarine blue with a touch of yellow.

They are becoming more neutral in color.

Now look at the mountains in the very far distance. Their colors have shifted to cool blues, almost all cerulean blues.  They are also somewhat grayer and certainly less intense both from color and value.

Do you see the differences in these three areas of the photo, foreground, middle ground, background?

The Effects of Atmospheric Perspective on Value

As Values recede into the distance toward a vanishing point, they become weaker, meaning they move toward white on the value scale.

So you would simply add white to your objects in painting. Or just use lighter values in your pencil or charcoal drawings.

drawing perspectiveLet’s look at an example of how value is affected by atmospheric perspective.

The photo to the left shows how values become weaker as they move into the distance.

Notice that the trees in the foreground closest to you are darker and have more intensity.

There is also more sharpness of detail and clarity of focus.

Now look at the trees in the middle ground of the photo.

There are fewer darker values in this region as now there is a weakening of the value scale happening here.

There is also less sharpness of detail and clarity of focus in this region.

Now look at the mountains in the very far distance or background. The values are certainly weaker, or closer to white on the value scale.  And at this point, there is no sharpness of detail or clarity of focus.  Objects are almost without edges and more blurred.

I would rate the objects in the foreground closer to you at about 5 to 7 on the Value Scale. The objects in the background farthest away would be rated around 2 to 4 on the Value Scale.

Do you see the differences here?

Let us know in the comments below if you have any more ideas about drawing perspective.

Suggested Drawing Perspective Exercises

In this exercise, I want you to practice drawing in perspective for the entire week.  For the next seven days, I want each of your daily drawings to include perspective, foreshortening and vanishing points.

Cardboard boxes, books, or anything that you can put together quickly on a table for your subject will do fine here.

For this exercise, draw the Horizon Line just like in the example diagrams above.  And then put in the cubes or boxes with their vanishing points.

And yes, just like the diagram above, include the vanishing points and guidelines. These drawings are not to keep or show anyone, but just for your own benefit in understanding this concept.

Make at least one 10 to 15-minute drawing a day for the next seven days.  This will help reinforce your understanding of perspective and make it part of your unconscious drawing skills.

Atmospheric Perspective Drawing 

This exercise is to help you better understand Atmospheric Perspective.

Use the medium of your choice, either pencil or charcoal for drawing your daily quick drawing.  Make small, thumbnail sketches of landscapes similar to the pictures above.

Do four days of drawing with either pencil or charcoal. Then three days of color mixing following the directions below.

If you’re drawing with pencil, use the 6B and 4B pencil to draw darker objects in the foreground. Use the 2H pencil to render objects in Middle ground and Background.

If you use charcoal, vary the intensity from darker to lighter in your studies. You can rub out the areas in the background and middle ground with your finger to give them a softer, more blurred effect. Charcoal is great for studies like these.

For the color exercise, all I want you to do is mix three blues on your palette and then block in some masses of color on a small piece of canvas paper or just regular paper.  You can do a very quick landscape sketch copying the gray-scale photo above.

Mix a small amount of pure ultramarine blue.  Then take half of your ultramarine blue and mix it with a small amount of white and a touch of cadmium orange, just enough to grey slightly and weaken.  Then mix a small amount of cerulean blue with a touch of white.

Just block in the darker colors in the foreground and the weaker, greyer colors in the middle ground and distance. No need to do a finished painting for this exercise.  Just block in the colors and then play around with them to get the feel how to create the illusion of receding colors.

Recommended Art Supplies for this Exercise

Are you ready to be a better draftsman and painter?

Then pick up your pencils, charcoals, paper and join us.

Do you need some art supplies?

I recommend two things to get you started:

  1. A nice set of pencils, charcoals and erasers
  2. A small sketchbook, 9 x 12 inches or smaller

For the pencil sketch set, try this 18 piece drawing set by Pro Art. It has all the pencils, charcoals, erasers and sharpeners that you will need.

It is perfect for beginners. And perfect for this challenge.

You will want to experiment with different drawing medium from pencils to charcoal. That way you can learn what works best for you.

Some people are better drawing with charcoal. Some people are better drawing with pencils. Again, experimentation is the key here.

Here is what you get in this set:

  • 8 graphite pencils (2H to 6B)
  • 3 charcoal pencils
  • 2 charcoal sticks
  • 1 sketch stick
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Charcoal sharpener
  • 1 kneaded eraser
  • 1 White Pro art plastic erase
  • Great for beginners
  • Holding and toggle clamps included to keep wood steady and ensure precise cuts every time
  • Additional two sharpeners and two erasers

I recommend a small sketch pad  for this challenge. Try a 9 x 12 inch or smaller spiral bound.

drawing and painting
This smaller size 9 x 12 inch sketch pad allows you to take it with you on the go. That way you have it with you anytime inspiration strikes. It's a sure way to make sure you get your daily drawings going.

The smaller size allows you to take it with you on the go.

That way you can sketch whenever you see an object that inspires you.

Being able to quickly take out your sketch book and start drawing is an important aspect to this challenge.

The convenience of having it with you at all times is what keeps you on track and able to do the daily drawing, regardless of your schedule.

Does that make sense?

Here's why I like this sketch book:

  • BUY ONE GET ONE FREE - 2 Pack of 75 Page Sketchpads. 50% More than the Competition
  • High QUALITY 60lb (90GSMS) Paper - 100% Acid-Free and Neutral PH. Perfectly Textured for a Smooth Non-Reflective Finish
  • DURABLE SPIRALED BINDING - Each Page has a Perforated Edging for Easy Tearing. Ideal for Framing or Presenting!
  • IDEAL FOR ARTISTS, WRITERS, & ILLUSTRATORS - Highly Universal Product for Beginners or Professionals. Can also be used as a Journal, Diary, or Watercolor Canvas
  • FULL 100% MANUFACTURER MONEY BACK GUARANTEE - If you find any flaw with this book, or any of our products, you get a free replacement or a full refund.

Just to let you know, all of the product links in this article are affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy anything, but it doesn’t cost you any extra. Don’t worry, I’m always honest, open, impartial with my reviews – I only recommend the good stuff – but this affiliate income helps keep the site running.

Join our perspective drawing challenge today and start capturing the magic of your everyday on paper.​

Please share your images on Instagram and Twitter by using the hashtag #PerspectiveDrawingChallenge. I can't wait to watch your journey!

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