Perspective drawing basics

Understanding 1-point, 2-point and 3-point perspective drawings.

Basic principles of drawing perspective.

Fundamentals and perspective basics for the technical illustrator.

Perspective Basics | 2 Point Perspective | 3 Point Perspective | Foreshortening | Ellipse Perspective | Isometric Drawings

All Tutorial Text & Images - Copyright © 2011 KHI, Inc.

A thorough understanding of the principles of perspective drawing is essential to creating an accurate, and visually appealing piece of art. A lay-person with no technical understanding of the principles of perspective drawing will nonetheless have an intuitive negative reaction to a piece of art in which something is amiss. Using the perspective techniques shown in the preceding tutorials, the mental impression they will make on a viewer will be so strong that once mastered, the illusion of 3-dimensional depth will remain, even when the visual trickery involved in the process has been revealed.

Any good technical illustration starts with well executed line art. If you are working from any type of reference other than a CAD output in the desired angle, you will need to have a strong fundamental understanding of the principles of perspective drawing. This page will cover the various types of perspective angles you will encounter. In the tutorial lessons that follow this page, you will be given the tools needed to map out a perspective grid for any s-dimensional situation. From this grid, you will be able to create realistic three dimensional drawings from flat or "Off Angle" reference.

Deconstructing Drawing Perspective from Photography

The three photos below demonstrate the difference between 1-Point Perspective, 2-Point Perspective and 3-Point Perspective. The first photograph (Fig. 1) is an example of one-point perspective, where all of the major vanishing points for the buildings in the foreground of Fig. 1 converge at one central location (1 point) on the horizon line. The angle of view or Point Of View (POV) in Fig. 1 is referred to as Normal View perspective. In Fig. 2, the vanishing points for the two opposing faces of the center foreground building project towards two different vanishing points on the left and right sides of the horizon line. In Fig. 3 we see that the horizontal building elements project to the left and right horizon and the vertical building elements project to a central vanishing point in the sky. This upper vanishing point is called the zenith, or "highest point." If one were looking down on the object from a Bird's Eye perspective, the vanishing point below the horizon and would be called the nadir, or "lowest point."

Basic perspective types

In the next three diagrams, you will see the same three photographs with Vanishing Point trajectory lines (magenta) and Horizon Lines (blue) traced over the subject matter. Fig. 4 and Fig. 5 are both examples of Normal View perspective. A Normal View angle places the Horizon Line at a natural height as if the viewer was looking straight forward without tilting the head/camera up or down. In these two examples, you will notice that all of the vertical features of the buildings are straight up and down.

In Fig. 6 (below, right) you see an example of a "worm's eye" perspective, where the head/eyes or camera is tilted upward placing the horizon below the picture plane. This is the opposite of a "bird's eye" perspective where the viewer is looking down on the scene. In a worm's eye perspective view where the viewer's eyes or camera is tilted in an upward direction, this creates a third vanishing point at the zenith. All of the vertical building features will converge at this upper vanishing point. If we were looking down on a subject in a bird's eye view the vertical details would converge at the nadir.

Photos with perspective grid overlay

This technique of tracing parallel lines to their convergence point would be used to construct a Perspective Grid from exiting photographic material. Each convergence point will represent the exact location of the Horizon line, Zenith, or Nadir in that photograph, and this information can then be used to extrapolate the correct perspective for any new additions to the photo. Of course, this assumes that any new addition has vertical and horizontal lines which are parallel and/or perpendicular to those in the existing photo.

The Illusion of Depth

In the preceding photographic examples you will notice that as an object recedes towards a Vanishing Point (infinity) it appears to get smaller. This phenomenon is due to the fact that the "viewer" is at a steeper angle of view when looking an object that is in close proximity as opposed to an object of the same size that is farther away and therefor, viewed at a shallower angle. This phenomenon was first observed during the 16th century, when a German painter and printmaker named Albrecht Dürer began drawing observed objects onto a sheet of glass (below, left), later known as the 'picture plane.' Prior to the discovery of the picture-plane, artists used their best guess to determine perspective (below, right).

Albrecht Dürer and perspective drawing history

Albrecht Dürer drawing on glass 'picture plane' c. 1520 (left), Cappella Tornabuoni fresco in Florence c. 1490 (right)

The picture-plane shown in the diagram below represents the point where the observer perceives perspective. In the physical world, the "picture plane" (as shown below) represents the point at which the observer perceives perspective as interpreted by the lens of the eye. In the world of illustration, the "picture plane" is actually the flat surface of the paper or computer screen, and the perception of 3 dimensional depth or perspective is an artificial illusion.

Location of the picture plane

Drawing in Perspective

The following diagram Fig. 7 is a sample of the typical reference material you might expect to receive on a technical illustration project. All of the major plan and elevation views are represented here as well as an Isometric view. From this reference, we will construct a variety of perspective views in the tutorials that follow this page.

Reference sample

In the following six examples, you will see a perspective grid and our subject in various aspects discussed in the previous paragraph. Fig. 8 is a Normal View 1 Point Perspective drawing. Fig. 9 is a Worm's Eye View 1 Point Perspective drawing. Fig. 10 is a Bird's Eye 1 Point Perspective drawing. Fig. 11 is a Bird's Eye or High 3/4 View 2 Point Perspective drawing. Fig. 12 is a Bird's Eye 3 Point Perspective drawing. If you were to extend the vertical vanishing point lines downward, they would converge at the Nadir Station point.

High, low and ground level perspective grids

2 Point vs 3 Point Perspective

Perspective grids

Perspective vs Isometric Drawing

By now you may have noticed that perspective drawing techniques differ from other types of commonly seen technical imagery. In Fig. 13 you have three examples of 3/4 view illustrations that are not in perspective view. They are classified as Isometric, Dimetric, and Trimetric drawings. In these types of illustrations all parallel lines remain parallel and therefor, never converge at a single point. Although they can be very useful for conveying technical information, they lack the quality of realism when compared to the perspective view drawing example in Fig. 14.

Perspective vs isometric drawing

Note: The following hardware and software was used in this tutorial: Apple Mac Pro, a Wacom Intuos 6x8 drawing tablet and Adobe Illustrator CS-CS5 or CorelDRAW vector drawing software.

Continue to: 2 Point Perspective Drawing Tutorial

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