Linear & Atmospheric Perspective

Updated: 13 Oct 2021

How to draw in perspective

In this guide I will explain (& demonstrate) the basics for drawing in 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.

Linear perspective is one of drawing's fundamentals, and it is crucial for drawing from imagination.

Atmospheric perspective refers to the effect of the atmosphere on far away objects, and therefore it is used in landscape painting.

Table of contents:

Linear Perspective

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 drawing (or painting), there will be at least one vanishing point (VP).

A vanishing point is a dot on the horizon line (in most cases, more on that later).

Lines, which are parallel in reality, will meet at a vanishing point when drawn in perspective. To the human eye, although they are parallel, they seem to meet at a great distance.

Train railway drawing in perspective

The most common types of perspective are with one vanishing point, two vanishing points, and three vanishing points.

Where to Draw the Horizon Line?

When drawing or painting, the horizon-line's placement has a significant effect on the outcome.

You can use your "artistic license" to build different compositions with different horizon line placement.

More on that you can find in my guide on composition drawing for beginners.

In general:

Examples of horizon line placements in my paintings:

Different placement of horizon lines in paintings

In other words, we can see the bottom of objects that are above the horizon line, and vice versa, the top part of objects that are below the horizon line.

Objects above and below a horizon line

Tip:

When an obstacle blocks the horizon (like a wall, buildings, mountains, trees, etc.), hold your drawing tool (pencil, pen, paintbrush, etc.) at eye level, to find the horizon line.

Finding the horizon using a pencil

Perspective Drawing Characteristics

There are two important rules to pay attention to when drawing in perspective.

1. Objects Look Smaller with Distance

The farther an object is from the observer, the smaller it will look!

In other words:

Objects in front of the observer look smaller with distance, but they keep the ratio between height and width, meaning there will be no distortion.

Visualization:

How we see in perspective

Explanation:

The farther away an object is, it takes less of our field of view, and therefore looks smaller.

In the illustration above, the farther tree looks smaller, although the trees are identical.

2. Foreshortening

All objects are subject to foreshortening!

When objects are along our line of sight, they look shorter.

In other words:

Objects that are in the direction of our vision (meaning continuous), 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.

Visualization:

Illustration of how we see foreshortening

Explanation:

In the illustration above, we can see two flat circles (they can represent a lake or a biscuit).

When they are flat on the ground, their width will get smaller with distance like in the first rule, but their depth is getting much smaller (depth, in this case, is represented as height, since the drawing paper is flat).

Remember:

The closer an object is to the horizon (or the vanishing point), the more it will be foreshortened.

Foreshortening of a swimming pool diving

For a better understanding of foreshortening, visit my guide for drawing from imagination.

One-Point Perspective

Boxes drawn in 1 point perspective Boxes in 1-point perspective

One-point perspective is used for drawing objects that are in front of the observer and in reality their width lines are parallel to the horizon, and their height lines are perpendicular to the horizon.

Lines representing height will be parallel to each other, and lines representing width will be parallel to each other.

Lines that in reality are parallel and represent DEPTH will NOT be parallel when drawing; they will meet at the same vanishing point on the horizon.

How to Start?

Start by drawing a horizon line (with a ruler), and one vanishing point.

The horizon line helps as a guideline to draw other parallel width lines.

Drawing a horizon line and one vanishing point

Next, draw a rectangle.

Remember:

In one-point perspective, width lines are parallel to the horizon, and height lines are perpendicular to the horizon.

Drawing a square in one-point perspective

Now draw depth lines from the rectangle's vertices.

Depth lines will meet at the vanishing point:

Drawing depth lines in one-point perspective

Finish drawing a box in perspective:

Drawing a box in one-point perspective

Exercise:

Draw boxes above, on, and below the horizon line. Draw more boxes, close to, and far from the vanishing point, to see different effects.

Exercise 2:

Try a more complex object. A chair is a good candidate. Here is an example for a chair in one-point perspective, and another in two-point perspective (which I will cover later):

Chairs drawing in perspective

Good to know:

Objects above the horizon-line, will be objects we need to look up to see, like planes, birds etc.

Objects below the horizon-line, will be objects we see from above. For example, looking down from an airplane or a tall building. Or, just looking at objects on the floor, down at an angle.

Objects on the horizon, are when we are in front of the horizon line, but they can be higher on the horizon line, center to it or lower, depending on the angle we look at them:

Boxes on the horizon line, in one-point perspective

Interior Design in One-Point Perspective

Draw a horizon line with one vanishing point.

Then, draw a back wall (a rectangle).

Lastly, draw lines from the vanishing point, for the walls.

Back wall drawing as first stage for room

For a guide on materials, visit my drawing supply review.

Next, draw some pictures and windows on the wall. Depth lines will go to the vanishing point.

Pay attention to foreshortening. The closer objects are to the horizon line (or to a vanishing point), the more they are foreshortened.

Drawing in perspective, pictures on wall

To find the center of ANY rectangle, draw two diagonals from the vertices.

Instead of guessing how small the back part (of a rectangle) is, compared to the front part, this method will do it accurately.

How to find the center of a rectangle

Use it to find the center point for your windows.

Drawing in perspective, window on wall

Draw softly, so it is easy to erase guidelines and parts that are hidden by overlapping.

Otherwise, too many guidelines will look messy and confusing.

For box-shaped objects, start with the front rectangle.

Drawing the front of a box in perspective

Then, draw depth lines toward the vanishing point, and determine the amount of foreshortening, depending on the length you want for the box.

Drawing boxes in a room, one-point perspective

Finally, find the center point for doors and drawers.

The same center point will help with handles position.

Cupboard and nightstand in a room, in perspective

Once you practice drawing some rooms from imagination (and observation), in perspective, you can render them in many styles.

Sometimes line-drawing (with a pen or pencil) is very nice. I usually prefer realistic drawing.

One-point perspective living room drawing

If you are new to realism, read my guide on realistic drawing basics.

Exercise:

Create different rooms from imagination (like a kitchen, living room, bedroom, etc.) and fill them with furniture like a television set, pictures, bed, sound-system, refrigerator and so on.

Exercise 2:

Look at some reference images for a room, and try to recreate it in one-point perspective.

Something to consider:

While it is fast to draw a picture on the wall using a rectangle, in reality a picture has volume.

You can use lines (for cupboards, windows, pictures, tables, etc.), but once you understand linear perspective, it is time to pay attention to volume and details.

How to add volume when drawing in perspective

The same goes for tables, or any other object.

How to draw a table in perspective

I use the division method regularly, when I draw from imagination.

Using perspective to draw from imagination

Exterior Road Using the Divide Method

For a straight road (later I will demonstrate how to draw a curved road), draw some lines from the vanishing point.

Lines from the vanishing point for road

Remember that in one-point perspective, width lines are parallel to the horizon, and height lines are perpendicular to the horizon.

Now you can draw a sidewalk.

Horizontal and vertical lines for a sidewalk curb

One way to draw utility poles, is the divide method (finding the center).

Draw the near pole, and draw lines from its top and bottom to the vanishing point.

Next, select the distance of a far away pole.

Drawing a front and back lines for poles

Lastly, for a pole between them, find the middle by drawing two diagonals (divide method).

You can keep dividing to add more poles.

Divide method to find a center pole

Now you can draw some roads with utility poles, fences, etc.

Road and telephone poles in one-point perspective

How to Draw a Winding Road

Sometimes, a road that twists and turns, a river that curls, or any path that bends and curves, is interesting.

Start by drawing a straight road, and draw a width line in the place you want it to curve.

Drawing lines for a road

Draw a new vanishing point for the direction you want it to curve.

Then, draw another width line for a new curve.

Drawing a new vanishing point on the horizon

Keep adding vanishing points in the direction you desire, and new width lines for places the road curves.

Drawing many vanishing points for road curves

Lastly, draw a curvy line between the curve points.

Simple winding road drawing with multiple vanishing points

How to Add Figures in One-Point Perspective

Knowledge in linear perspective gives us (almost) unlimited power.

It is helpful for architecture, interior design, as a basis for drawing from imagination, and much more.

Another benefit of perspective-drawing, is the ability to add objects to our scene, in an accurate way regarding size and location.

To add characters (or any type of object), look for something in your scene that can help. For example a door.

You can estimate the character size compared to a door. It should be shorter.

Estimating character size using a door

In one point perspective, you can move objects from left to right (and vice versa), without a change to their size.

Using perspective to move a character to the side

Once you find the character's height, use the vanishing point to find its height in ANY depth.

Now you can move it front or back using lines from the vanishing point, with accurate change to its height.

Using the vanishing point for character height

To place the figure in a new location, first move its bottom part to the bottom of a known figure size.

Then check for its height for that location, and move the top part of the known figure to the new location.

Checking figure height by its location

Now you can add characters and objects to your drawings, in perspective.

Town with characters in one point perspective

The Duplication Technique

Finding the center point is super helpful, if you want to divide a plane.

You can divide a plane into two equal parts, divide them again to four equal parts, then eight, and so on.

Dividing a plane into two equal parts

If you want three equal parts (for example, three drawers), or five, you can use the duplication method.

Start by finding the center of a plane (rectangle).

Next, draw lines from the sides (in the direction you want to duplicate), AND from the center point.

Drawing lines from the side of a rectangle

Then, draw a line from one of the far corners, through the center of the opposite side.

The end of this line will be the length of the duplicated plane.

Drawing a line to determine length of duplicated plane

Finally, draw the height line from that point.

Drawing the height line to form a duplicated rectangle

You can continue to duplicate the rectangle as many times as you want, and to any direction.

The next example is in perspective.

Draw a box, and find the center point for the plane you want to duplicate.

In this case (depth), the center line goes to the vanishing point.

Drawing lines to the vanishing point

Draw a line from one corner to the center of the opposite side, to duplicate that plane.

Continue to duplicate as many times as needed.

How to duplicate a box in one-point-perspective

Use this technique to draw tiles or checkerboard in perspective.

Bedroom with checker tiles in one-point perspective

Two-Point Perspective

Boxes in two-point perspective Boxes in 2-point perspective

In one-point perspective, lines that represent height are parallel. They are perpendicular to the horizon.

Lines that represent width are parallel to the horizon.

Only lines that represent depth meet at the vanishing points.

Example for box in one-point perspective

In two-point perspective, only lines that represent height are parallel. They are perpendicular to the horizon.

Lines representing width and depth, meet at vanishing points.

In two-point perspective, there are two vanishing points.

Example for box in two-point perspective

How to Draw a Room in Two-Point Perspective

To draw a room, first practice drawing full boxes. A room is the back part of a box.

Drawing full boxes with two-point-perspective

Use the same methods (like divide, or duplication), as you did for one-point perspective.

Two-point perspective bedroom drawing

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.

If the outcome looks too pointy, move the vanishing points farther away.

Placing vanishing points on the horizon line Vanishing points placement

Good to know:

When there are several objects at different angles, they may use different vanishing points.

Three-Point Perspective

Boxes in three-point perspective Boxes in 3-point perspective

Use Three-point perspective when looking at an object from above or below. For example, a bird's-eye view or a caterpillar view.

In three-point perspective, ALL lines that are parallel in reality, will meet at a vanishing point.

A box vied from above and below

Atmospheric Perspective

Atmospheric perspective, in landscape painting, is the effect of the atmosphere on the appearance of objects.

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 when painting landscapes.

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 atmospheric perspective:

Brightness value in atmosphereic perspective Faraway mountains are lighter
Atomospheric perspective effect with distance Distant mountains: less saturated, fewer details, soft edges, hue shifts toward blue
Atmospheric perspective contrast Strong contrast for close objects

Example for an oil painting with the use of atmospheric perspective:

Realistic seashore oil painting Oil painting 70/40 cm Seashore

Summary

For more tutorials on perspective, visit the perspective category in my guide for best YouTube drawing instructors.

For painting in a realistic style, visit The 8 Key Factors for Painting Realism.

I highly recommend reading my article on drawing the illusion of depth; it has 15 proven methods to add depth, with many examples.