How to Draw in Linear and Atmospheric Perspective
Updated: 28 Jul 2019
What is Perspective?
Perspective is the way to draw three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface by giving the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other.
In other words, perspective is a technique that simulates on a two-dimensional surface, such as a sheet of paper or a canvas, what the human eye sees.
Linear perspective is effective for representing parallel lines, such as walls of a room, buildings, a row of telephone poles, fences, etc. It is also used to add figures or objects to a painting.
Atmospheric perspective refers to the effect of the atmosphere on far away objects and therefore it is used in landscape painting.
It is recommended to read this article first: 15 Proven Ways to Create the Illusion of Depth.
Each drawing that uses linear perspective will have a horizon line that may be visible or invisible in the final drawing.
In each linear perspective painting, there will be at least one vanishing point.
A vanishing point is a dot on the horizon line. Lines, which are parallel in reality, will meet in a vanishing point when drawn in perspective. To the human eye, although they are parallel, they seem to meet at a great distance.
The most common types of perspective are perspective with one vanishing point, two vanishing points and three vanishing points.
One-point perspective drawing, meaning with one vanishing point, is suitable for cases such as a wall or a building facing the observer or in cases where there are roads, railroad tracks, a row of electricity poles, fences, a corridor etc.
While drawing in one-point perspective, ALL lines representing HEIGHT will be parallel to each other and ALL lines representing WIDTH will be parallel to each other.
Lines that in reality are parallel and represent DEPTH will NOT be parallel in the painting; they will meet at the same vanishing point on the horizon.
How to draw a Room in One-Point Perspective
In the first stage, the horizon line is drawn with one vanishing point.
The second stage is drawing a wall in front of the observer.
All lines representing width will be parallel to each other and to the horizon.
All lines representing height will be parallel to each other and perpendicular to the horizon.
The lines representing depth will meet in the same vanishing point.
When there are several objects at different angles in the space of the room, they may use different vanishing points.
Keep in mind:
It is recommended to use drawing pencils and a ruler when drawing in linear perspective. A technical pen can also be used.
A list for recommended drawing-pencils and supply: Pencil drawing supply review.
For recommended drawing pens, visit my technical pens review.
In perspective drawing, there is an extensive usage of guidelines. These guidelines will not appear in the finished drawing. Therefore, it is advisable not to apply pressure to the drawing-pencil so that these lines can be easily erased later.
How to Add Figures in Perspective
The horizon line will be at eye level.
Mountains or other objects might hide the horizon line. In that case, one can hold a brush or a pencil horizontally, in front of the eyes, in order to know where the horizon line is.
People of the same height as the observer, will be drawn when their eyes are on the horizon line.
People, who are taller or shorter than the observer, will be drawn when their eyes are slightly above or below the horizon.
Although the eyes of distant people will be on the horizon line, the people themselves will be smaller; therefore, their feet will be drawn higher on the painting surface.
Finding the height of the first figure can be done by placing it near a doorway or any other object that the relation between it and the figure's height is known.
Finding the height of one figure in the painting will make it easy to find the height of the other figures in relation to it.
Figures of the same height and same distance from the observer, regardless of their position on the width axis, will be drawn in the same size.
A figure of the same height but farther from the observer will be smaller in the painting.
Once finding the height of the far figure, by drawing lines from the vanishing point, it can be moved to the right or left using horizontal guidelines.
How to Find the Center of a Square in Perspective
To find the center of a square in perspective, two diagonals from the vertices should be drawn.
The encounter between the two diagonals is the center.
In one-point perspective, when there is a need for a row of poles such as lighting poles, telephone poles, fences and so on, they will be positioned within two lines from the vanishing point.
To draw the poles at an equal distance from each other, the nearest and furthest poles should be drawn first.
Then two diagonals are drawn between them. The point where the diagonals meet is the center point, which is the midpoint to add another pole in perspective.
After finding the midpoint for a new pole, two new squares are created and two new midpoints for poles can be found and so on.
The same process is used to find the midpoint of windows, window shutters and so on.
How to draw tiles in perspective
As always in one-point perspective, a horizon line and a vanishing point are drawn.
Between two lines from the vanishing point, a square is drawn.
Drawing two diagonals from the square vertices to find its center point.
From the vanishing point, a third line is drawn through the middle of the square, which divides it into two equal squares.
Then, a line is drawn from one of the square's vertices through the middle of its far side.
The place where this line meets with the continuation of the square right side is the depth of the square adjacent to it in perspective.
Continue in the same way until the column of tiles is completed.
In one-point perspective, the horizontal lines will not be affected by perspective and will be drawn parallel to the horizon.
Measuring the width of one tile with a ruler, no matter which one, can be used to mark the width of the tiles next to it, from the right and left sides, on the same horizontal line.
Through these points, lines from the vanishing point can be drawn, representing depth.
The door, in this case, has the width of two tiles.
Using the width of two tiles and the depth of two tiles as radius to figure out where the open door can be.
In this type of linear perspective, only lines that represent height will be parallel. They will be perpendicular to the horizon.
All other lines, meaning lines representing width and depth, come out of the vanishing points.
In two-point perspective, there will be two vanishing points.
How to Draw a Room in Two-point perspective
Drawing walls from two vanishing points:
All lines that are parallel in reality but in perspective drawing, meet on the right side of the painting will come out from the right vanishing point.
All lines that are parallel in reality but in perspective drawing, meet on the left side of the painting will come out from the left vanishing point.
Where to Place Vanishing Points?
While drawing in perspective helps to create scenes in a realistic way, it can sometimes produce odd or unnatural-looking results.
Depending on an object's size, different positioning of vanishing points on the horizon line will produce different perspectives.
The solution to this problem is to use simple shapes at the planning stage and to test different positioning of vanishing points.
Three-point perspective is suitable for situations such as looking from above or below. For example, a bird's-eye view or a caterpillar view.
In three-point perspective drawing, ALL the lines that are parallel in reality will meet at a vanishing point.
Like one- or two-point perspective, for three-point perspective there is extensive use when drawing comic books.
Sometimes, vanishing points may be outside the painting surface.
To solve this problem, a larger paper sheet can be used below the drawing paper, and lines can be drawn from it.
Another solution is to attach two paper sheets and tape them together.
Perspective Drawing Characteristics
1. The farther an object is from the observer, the smaller it will look.
2. All objects are subject to foreshortening. This means that the height of objects in the direction of vision will be shorter than their width.
In other words:
1. Objects in front of the observer will get smaller with distance, but they will keep the ratio between height and width, meaning there will be no distortion.
2. Objects that are in the direction of vision, for example on the ground, like a lake, will look shorter in height than in width as they are farther away, therefore they will be distorted. The reason is the change in the angle of sight of the viewer.
Foreshortening is one of drawing fundamentals and it is important to understand when drawing from observation. More on that on my article about realistic drawing basics.
Atmospheric perspective in landscape paintings is the effect of the atmosphere on the appearance of the objects in the painting.
As objects are farther away from the observer, the atmosphere will have a stronger effect on them because there will be more atmosphere particles that scatter light.
Atmospheric perspective is the method for creating depth or distance in a painting and the way to paint landscapes in a realistic way.
Climate and weather conditions, including air pollution, location and intensity of the sun, humidity, fog, dust, wind and other atmospheric particles play a major role in the influence of the atmosphere.
The influence of the atmospheric perspective:
- Brightness values: When the sky is clear, the farther an object is, the lighter it will be.
- Saturation: The farther an object is, the less saturated it will be. Meaning its color will be less rich and intense.
- Contrast: The more distant an object is from the observer, the contrast between its light and dark values will decrease; therefore, its texture will start to disappear. In other words, it will have fewer details.
- Edges: The edges of distant objects may be less sharp depending on weather conditions.
- Hue: The color of the sky has a great effect on distant objects. On a clear day when the sky is blue, the hue of distant objects will shift toward blue. At sunset or dawn, the same thing happens with warm hues such as yellow or red, depending on the color of the sky.
- As mentioned above, close objects will be sharper, saturated and have a strong contrast.
- The brightest and darkest areas will be the areas closest to the observer.
Keep in mind: Red is a very strong color that immediately captures attention, therefore not recommended using for the "far" areas of the painting.
Example for an oil painting with the use of atmospheric perspective:
Brightness Values in Landscape Painting
Landscape paintings can be viewed as four planes with different brightness values:
- The sky will be the brightest; it is the light source.
- The ground will be a bit darker but still light in value, because it receives direct light from the sky.
- Any sloping object, like hills or mountains, will be darker than the ground because it gets less direct light.
- Every object perpendicular to the ground will have the darkest values. For example trees, people, animals or buildings. The top of these objects will get light and the rest will be in shadow.
Keep in mind that at different hours of the day, depending on the climate and angle of sunlight, there will be changes in the brightness values between the planes.
In many cases, painting is done from observation. When painting from imagination or when there is a need to add objects to a scene, linear perspective is used.
Linear perspective does not provide a complete solution to painting and should be regarded as an additional tool in a painter's toolbox for realistic drawing or painting.
For painting in a realistic style, visit The 8 Key Factors for Painting Realism.
In atmospheric perspective, the farther away an object is, the contrast between it and the sky will decrease, and, the contrast within the object, meaning its texture, colors, and brightness values will decrease. Its color will shift toward the color of the sky.
You can find MANY tutorials on perspective drawing and painting on my list of 20 best YouTube painting instructors.