Linear Perspective

The first step in drawing a scene in linear perspective is to establish a horizon line. As mentioned earlier, this is assumed to be the reader's eye level. If you start out with a high horizon line, the scene will look as if the viewer were flying overhead. A low horizon line will result in a scene in which the scenery and characters tower over the reader.

The concepts of linear perspective were originated by Filippo Brunelleschi. He was a Renaissance architect and engineer who lived in the fifteenth century. The rules you will learn in this chapter come directly from his work — done well over 500 years ago.

All perspective lines will be drawn to some point on the horizon line — a vanishing point. Scenes typically have between one and three major vanishing points. However, depending on the scene, you may be establishing several other points — reference points — to help you draw other objects to their proper perspective.

Raising the horizon line (indicated by the heavy dotted line) raises the viewer's eye level. Lowering the horizon line lowers the viewer's eye level.

One-Point Perspective

This is the easiest composition to arrange in linear perspective. All of the perspective lines converge on one vanishing point on the horizon line. You can use one-point perspective when you illustrate looking down railroad tracks or straight down an elevator shaft.

In one-point perspective, all lines converge on one vanishing point.

One-point perspective is very simple, but it's also powerful — it guides the eye directly to the vanishing point. When used correctly, as in the example of the elevator shaft, it can give the reader a sense of falling down the shaft along with your hapless heroes. However, if the composition of the drawing doesn't have something of importance located there, the illustration will feel awkward.

Two-Point Perspective

Two-point perspective is based on two vanishing points — each at opposite ends of the horizon line. This results in a much more natural-looking scene. The vertical lines do not go to a vanishing point — they remain perpendicular to the horizon line. One way to achieve the illusion of proximity is to put the vanishing points close together. The farther apart the vanishing points, the more you can make the objects in the back recede.

In two-point perspective, lines converge on one of two vanishing points and vertical lines stay vertical.

Three-Point Perspective

Two-point perspective becomes three-point perspective when you establish a vanishing point for vertical lines. In three-point perspective, the formerly vertical lines converge on a point high in the sky or far below on the ground. There's no rule for placing this third point, but the higher or lower you place it, the more striking the perspective.

In a three-point perspective, nonvertical lines converge on one of two vanishing points while the vertical lines vanish toward a third point, off the horizon line.

To draw some scenes — especially landscapes — realistically in two-and three-point perspective, the vanishing points on the horizon line need to be far apart. In some cases, this means placing the points off your paper. In these cases, draw a dot on two small pieces of masking tape. Position your T-square at the horizon line and position the dots accordingly.

Adding a Reference Point

Linear perspective is an excellent way to draw a scene in which all of the items are angled in such a way that they line up with their respective vanishing points. However, things get slightly more difficult when one of those items is angled differently than the others. Look at the two drawings of a living room. In the upper example, the scene is drawn at two-point perspective. All of the furniture is drawn squarely against a wall. Everything fits nicely in two-point perspective.

But what happens when we decide to angle some of the furniture for a more natural composition (as in the second illustration)? Now, some of the furniture is based on lines that don't connect with one of the two vanishing points. In this case, reference points are established on the horizon lines for these “renegade” objects.

Adding reference points makes the scene more natural.

Deciding where to place the reference points takes a little more confidence. It's helpful to rough in the footprint of the furniture first, based on your best guess of the proper perspective. Draw lines out from the footprint to the horizon lines to place your reference point for the item. Then, use these reference points to draw the entire object.

Often, beginners will draw entire scenes in which all of the objects line up with the primary vanishing points. Challenge yourself to draw at least one object in every scene that is referenced from different points on the horizon line.

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