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How to draw perspective

Updated on July 22, 2017
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Katherine's writes about drawing and sketching. Her book about tips and techniques for drawing and sketching was published in 2015.

One of the colonnades of the former Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich
One of the colonnades of the former Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich | Source

Learn about how to draw perspective - from online resources and instruction books

  • Do you want to learn how to draw perspective?
  • Ever wondered about the natural and technical aspects of perspective?

This is a guide to some of the best resources online about drawing perspective - including the best instruction books about drawing perspective for artists, illustrators, architects and comic book artists.

Also, if you're interested in drawing more generally, do please check out my top site - The Best Books about Drawing and Sketching

Find out about Perspective Drawing

What is it about perspective drawing which creates a complete mental block for a number of people?

  • Is it because it appears to be very technical?
  • Is it something associated with architects - not artists?
  • Or maybe it's something only "proper artists" know how to do?

Did you know?

  • there are aspects of perspective which are visual - but don't involve a ruler or straight lines!
  • while some aspects of perspective are very technical - there are also aspects which are very simple.

It's not that difficult to learn some of the basic principles and it's well worth the effort in terms of its impact on all your drawings of the real world.

Below you'll find TWO kinds of resources:

  • recommended books about LEARNING HOW TO DRAW PERSPECTIVE - which take you through the subject in a systematic way. I find this is an area where people can respond well to different approaches. All of the books listed below have a 'look inside' option on Amazon - so do check this out and work out which book is likely to suit you best in terms of your own personal learning style.
  • inks to websites which provide ONLINE INFORMATION ABOUT PERSPECTIVE DRAWING - the different aspects, the terminology and how to tackle simple perspective


What is Perspective Drawing?

A perspective drawing translates the shapes and lines of a 3D object into shapes and lines in a 2D space.

Perspective has two key characteristics:

  • objects look smaller as the distance between the object and the person looking at it increases
  • perception of how things are can be affected by the phenomenon of foreshortening. This means the distance between the object and the person looking at it can appear much shorter than in reality if the object is angled towards the viewer.

"The importance of knowing perspective" (1753) by William Hogarth Satire on "False Perspective": Whoever makes a Design without the knowledge of Perspective will be liable to such absurdities as are shewn in this Frontispiece.
"The importance of knowing perspective" (1753) by William Hogarth Satire on "False Perspective": Whoever makes a Design without the knowledge of Perspective will be liable to such absurdities as are shewn in this Frontispiece. | Source
Left: Image of Kepler's House in Linz, Austria, taken with 8mm Peleng fisheye lens on a Canon EOS 300D showing typical distortions of a fisheye lens. Right: Same image, remapped to rectilinear projection using software
Left: Image of Kepler's House in Linz, Austria, taken with 8mm Peleng fisheye lens on a Canon EOS 300D showing typical distortions of a fisheye lens. Right: Same image, remapped to rectilinear projection using software | Source
The Art of Perspective: The Ultimate Guide for Artists in Every Medium
The Art of Perspective: The Ultimate Guide for Artists in Every Medium

Paperback: 206 pagesPublisher: North Light Books (June 12, 2007)

 

The Most Popular Book on Perspective - "The Art of Perspective"

The Art of Perspective: The Ultimate Guide for Artists in Every Medium
by Phil Metzger

The book with the highest rating from the most people!
Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars (55 customer reviews)

This is a top rated book by people who have bought it. Available as paperback and Kindle

This book covers:

  • Natural Perspective: highlighting the value of how colour, values, fuzzy edges and overlaps can all help to demonstrate distance
  • Linear Perspective: examines one-point, two-point and three-point perspective in detail. It also looks at how curves become ellipses in perspective and how the perspective of shadows can fool people
  • Special Problems of Perspective: The third section tackles the particular objects which can cause people problems in perspective drawings. These include (amongst others) dormer windows, tiled floors, stairs and extreme views.

The book also includes a useful glossary.

The paintings are adequate rather than great - but they're all you need to understand the points being demonstrated. Finishes with an epic painting of all the perspective issues in one picture!

Perspective Without Pain (North Light 20th Anniversary Classic Editions)
Perspective Without Pain (North Light 20th Anniversary Classic Editions)

KINDLE EDITION

Format: Kindle Edition File Size: 3884 KB

Print Length: 144 pages

Publisher: North Light Books (May 2, 2011)

Available in Kindle and paperback

 

Perspective Without Pain - by Phil Metzger

Rated an average of 4.4 out of 5 stars (38 customer reviews)

This is also a popular popular book which sets out to teach you to create the illusion of depth in drawings and paintings through well established methods e.g. gradually diminishing the size of similar objects; reduction in definition and detail of objects in the background to make them seem farther away; using and colour and value to indicate recession.

It also considers how to draw perspective from different viewpoints and how draw accurate angles without complicated measuring devices.

Books About Perspective - for Artists & Illustrators

More of an emphasis on people creating pictures and remembering that perspective is not just about buildings

The Complete Guide to Perspective
The Complete Guide to Perspective

Paperback: 160 pagesPublisher: North Light Books (April 10, 2005)

 

BOOK: The Complete Guide to Perspective - by John Raynes

Rated an average of 4.3 out of 5 stars by 9 customer reviews

John Raynes is a UK author who is an established author of a number of art instruction books - and I own a number of these. He's good at taking complex technical subjects and making them simple without dumbing down too much.

As well as the more straightforward basic content of one, two and three point perspective, it also covers ellipses, inclined planes reflections, shadows and irregular shapes

Sketching - from Square One to Trafalgar Square
Sketching - from Square One to Trafalgar Square

Paperback: 192 pagesPublisher: Sierra Madre Press (2013)

 

Sketching - from Square One ... to Trafalgar Square - by Richard E. Scott

Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5.0 stars (3 customer reviews)

I've been sent this book to review and although I've not gone through it thoroughly yet, I'm sufficiently impressed by what I've seen to include it in this listing.

The book is written by an architectural illustrator and art teacher. Although ostensibly about sketching generally it focuses a lot of drawing buildings and perspective. It has some very detailed step by step and annotated image explanations of how to see and how to measure which struck me as very useful.

Not a book which will appeal to everybody (it's slightly on the too technical side) but will doubtless be welcomed by those who like sketching buildings and would like to be able to do this better.

The book has 419 illustrations in total (lots of pencil sketches, step by step diagrams and photographs)

Books on Perspective - from the Past

There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to perspective - which is why old books can provide as good instruction as new books. Some have been republished - and keep their old format.

Perspective Made Easy (Dover Art Instruction)
Perspective Made Easy (Dover Art Instruction)

Paperback: 224 pagesPublisher: Dover Publications (January 19, 1999)

(Also available as a Kindle ebook - just click the link and find the Kindle version)

 

Perspective Made Easy - A Dover Art Instruction Paperback by Ernest R. Norling

This is a classical manual about how to draw perspective. This is a very popular book - not least because it's not expensive in paperback. Plus it was recommended by Andrew Loomis!

  • Rated #15 in books about Drawing
  • Rated an average of 4.4 out of 5 stars by 77 customer reviews

The current publication is an unabridged republication of a book first published in 1939. There are various editions by different publishers in hardback, paperback and Kindle - this is a Dover Publications paperback.

The book takes a very simple and direct approach to working its way through all of the various laws of perspective - so as to make them easier to understand. It explains the basics and keeps things simple. It also goes beyond some other books and also deals with shapes which are not square or rectangular.


Perspective for Artists (Dover Art Instruction)
Perspective for Artists (Dover Art Instruction)

Paperback: 288 pagesPublisher: Dover Publications (June 1, 1976)

 

Perspective for Artists - A Dover Art InstructionPaperback by Rex Vicat Cole

Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars (25 customer reviews)

As with all Dover Publications this is an unabridged and unaltered reproduction of a book originally published in 1921.

If you prefer art instruction books of today rather than those of yesteryear this probably isn't the book for you - although it is very helpful.

The book includes 391 diagrams to illustrate the points made in the text. It also includes 80 illustrations - paintings and drawings - to amplify the concepts discussed covering artwork made by a huge range of different artists and past Masters.

Books for Architects & Technical Illustrators

More of an emphasis on straight lines and geometry

Architectural Graphics
Architectural Graphics

Paperback: 256 pagesPublisher: Wiley; 5 edition (November 23, 2009)

 

BOOK: Architectural Graphics - by Francis D K Ching

This is a "standard" in the world of architectural graphics - written by the man who is a world authority on how to draw buildings - both inside and out. He's the author of very many books on this subject for an audience interested in the technical design aspects of architecture and interior design.

First published in 1975 it has sold over 500,000 copies of editions 1-4.5th edition (2009) Rated an average of 4.6 out of 5 stars by 15 customer reviews

Now in its 5th edition, it has been updated to reflect the latest techniques in drawing - including digital drawing. Although concerned with various aspects of drawing architecture it necessarily has a chunky 40 page section on perspective drawings and another chunky section on how to render tonal values to create the right spatial and visual relationships as to context and depth. More advanced students of perspective might find it more useful.It starts with an excellent section on drawing tools for those needing to render graphical drawings of buildings and interiors.

The book

  • "illustrates how to use graphic tools and drafting conventions to translate architectural ideas into effective visual presentation."
  • "has all the best tips in one volume"

Freehand Drawing and Discovery: Urban Sketching and Concept Drawing for Designers
Freehand Drawing and Discovery: Urban Sketching and Concept Drawing for Designers

Hardcover: 288 pagesPublisher: Wiley; 1 edition (January 29, 2013)

 

BOOK: Freehand Drawing and Discovery: Urban Sketching and Concept Drawing for Designers - by James Richards

Rated an average of 4.9 out of 5 stars by 36 customer reviews

READ a review "Freehand Drawing and Discovery by James Richards" by architect and urban sketcher Liz Steel on her blog Sketching Architecture

With the advent of computer software for drawing, a lot of people who produce technical drawings stopped freehand drawing. Currently there is a renaissance - partly due to the urban sketching movement - of the freehand drawing of buildings. This book focuses on this for an audience which is intended to be architects and designers and those who support them in producing design sketches and drawings.

It's certainly not all about perspective - but perspective drawing is there throughout - and it also emphasises the opening up of our personal perspectives about how buildings can be drawn.

The book also explores the notions of how freehand drawing connects with the creative aspects and spatial awareness and looks at how the freehand can connect with the digital. The diverse drawings - including ones by people I know personally - are a joy! No wonder its getting such top ratings from its readers.

The disciplines it will appeal to include: architecture, urban planning, landscape architecture plus the widely diverse Urban Sketching community - of which I am a member (and a founder member of Urban Sketchers London!)

Basic Perspective Drawing: A Visual Approach
Basic Perspective Drawing: A Visual Approach

Paperback: 288 pagesPublisher: Wiley; 6 edition (January 29, 2013)

 

BOOK: Basic Perspective Drawing: A Visual Approach, 5th Edition - by John Montague

  • Rated an average of Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars by 5 customer reviews
  • (5th edition: Rated an average of 4.3 out of 5 stars by 6 customer reviews
  • 4th edition: rated an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars by 11 customer reviews)

This book is now in its sixth edition.

The target audience for this book is more technically oriented i.e. students and instructors in art and design, architecture, and interior design programs. It's essentially intended to be a textbook to support lessons plans for teaching perspective to adults.

The emphasis of the book is on its illustrations - as the title suggests. The main criticism is that the drawings could do with a bit more explanation - it shows how but not why. It's probably very good for people who deal with pictures rather better than they absorb the meanings of words and sentences

The 5th edition adds in chapters about freehand sketching and rapid visualization, additional step-by-step examples, and new material demonstrating three-point views and methods of setting figures into perspective spaces.

This new 6th edition has seen illustrations updated for contemporary drawing styles.It also includes notes for those studying and teaching perspective

BOOKS on ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE

Oblique Drawing: A History of Anti-Perspective (Writing Architecture)
Oblique Drawing: A History of Anti-Perspective (Writing Architecture)

Series: Writing ArchitectureHardcover: 408 pagesPublisher: The MIT Press (October 5, 2012)

 

Oblique Drawing: A History of Anti-Perspective - by Massimo Scolari (Author) , Jenny Condie Palandri (Translator

A book written from after scholarly research which suggests that images are not just a form of art but a form of thought, a projection of a way of life.

The book analyses different ways of representing objects in space and the use of nonperspectival representations Massimo Scolari is the Davenport Visiting Professor at the Yale School of Architecture. He's also a prominent architectural historian and an artist, writer, and teacher.

Books on Perspective - for Comic Book Artists

Vanishing Point: Perspective for Comics from the Ground Up
Vanishing Point: Perspective for Comics from the Ground Up

Paperback: 128 pagesPublisher: Impact (December 8, 2007)

 

BOOK: Vanishing Point: Perspective for Comics from the Ground Up - by Jason Cheeseman-Meyer

Rated an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars by 52 customer reviews

This paperback book is very popular with artists who want to draw for comics. It includes instruction on how to draw using five-point curvilinear perspective - which is particularly relevant to comic book artists

Perspective! for Comic Book Artists: How to Achieve a Professional Look in your Artwork
Perspective! for Comic Book Artists: How to Achieve a Professional Look in your Artwork

Paperback: 224 pagesPublisher: Dover Publications (January 19, 1999)

 

BOOK: Perspective! for Comic Book Artists: How to Achieve a Professional Look in your Artwork - by David Chelsea

Rated an average of 4.2 out of 5 stars by 46 customer reviews

This book is written in a comic book format - which has pros and cons. Good for the target audience as it's a format they like to read; not so good when it comes to trying find the bit you want to reference fast.It explains the reasons behind the principles underpinning perspective drawing as well as demonstrating them with diagrams.

How to Draw: drawing and sketching objects and environments from your imagination
How to Draw: drawing and sketching objects and environments from your imagination

Paperback: 208 pagesPublisher: Design Studio Press (December 15, 2013)

 

BOOK: How to Draw: drawing and sketching objects and environments from your imagination - by Scott Robertson

A new book in 2013 - and recommended by James Gurney no less!

Read his Book Review: How to Draw, by Scott Robertson

Rated an average of 4.9 out of 5 stars (58 customer reviews)

The author is the Former Chair of Entertainment Design: Art Center College of DesignDesigner / Author / Educator / Co-Producer. His corporate clients have included makers of both games hardware and software.

All About Perspective - Online Resources

This section will grown over time. Why not bookmark this resource for artists for future reference?

The Horizon Line

The horizon line - where the eye and the earth appear to meet - is critical to the calculation of perspective. It's not a set place. It's most often commonly called "eye level".

One of the big issues for an artist is where to position the eye level in a drawing or painting - with the consequential impact this has on perspective.

The Ground Plane

The Ground - technically known as the "ground plane" is the ground on which the observer is standing.

The type of perspective being used depends on the nature of the relationship between the horizon and the ground plane

The Picture Plane

The Picture Plane (PP) is the space inside the lines which represent the boundaries of the image.

Conventionally people think of this as being rectangular but it could be any flat shape.

A useful metaphor is to think of standing in front of a window so that the whole window is in view - and looking out at a view. The window glass is the picture plane and its boundaries are determined by the window frame.

Stationary point / spectator point (SP)

All perspective drawings need one fixed point - the place where the person viewing the scene is standing (or sitting).

The Centre of Vision

The centre of vision is normally a point on the horizon line in front of the viewer

Vanishing Points

The description of what a vanishing point is in some textbooks will send your brain cells reeling!

Just take a look at the Wikipedia entry is you don't believe me.

In simple terms, the vanishing point is the place on the horizon where all the receding lines go. If you drew imaginary lines for all the angles you can see, of the edges of planes which are angled away from you, they would all end up at the vanishing point.

Ways to create a sense of distance and depth

There are various ways to create a sense of depth which don't involve getting out a ruler:

  • overlap items so it's easier to judge relative size and position in the picture plane
  • use a pencil held by your extended arm to measure for relative scale - it's easy to misjudge the size of one thing relative to another - and yet it's often the reason "something" looks wrong in a drawing

One Point Perspective - Learn about drawing from a one-point perspective

In one-point perspective there is only one vanishing point - all the parallel lines recede to the same point on the horizon.

What is foreshortening?

Foreshortening is a very important concept in art - in terms of how objects are represented. Indeed there are some important paintings which play with the tricks caused by foreshortening.

Two - Point Perspective - Learn about drawing from a two-point perspective

There are two vanishing points on the horizon in a two-point perspective drawing

Three - point perspective - Developing "a birds-eye view"

This is the type of perspective used for views of buildings from above - or below. One use is when drawing a panorama of a city

Aerial Perspective - sometimes called atmospheric perspective

Aerial perspective is the reason hills in the distance look blue.

As the distance increases between you and the objects in a landscape that you are looking at the effect of the atmosphere also increases and the colours you see change.

Colours generally desaturate and, in general shift towards tints of a blue or neutral shadeIn art, artists frequently depict distance by painting distance as paler and with less detail.

Drawing reflections in perspective

A reflection is seen in any surface which has a shiny or reflective surface. In essence the surface provides a mirror image of the object.

One of the best way to learn about reflections is to use a mirror and observe that happens when it is laid flat or vertical next to an object with planes at different angles. Next try looking at what happens to reflections if the shiny or reflective surface is curved.

Note also that reflections are ALWAYS darker than the object they are reflecting. Or you could try reading the links below!

Drawing shadows in perspective

In drawing shadows in perspective, first one has to identify the type of shadow - is the shadow cast by a point, a line, a plane or an object?

How to draw an Archway Opening

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© 2013 Katherine Tyrrell

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    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i am not good at drawing angles, but would love to try again

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I am having this urge to draw again as this is another easy thing to do when travelling. Perspective always fascinate me so I want to be really good at it. Thank you for this hub. This will be a great reference.

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