This article represents Part 2 of a mini-series that teaches you how to draw in perspective. We look into the drawing rules for the first type of perspective known as the One-Point Perspective.
In my previous article, I explained what 3D space means and how to generally capture the illusion of depth. I illustrated the main 3 types of perspective through simple and engaging drawing exercises using just some cubes.
So make sure you check out Part 1, the introduction article which presents the most important concepts and terminology.
What is one-point perspective?
One Point Perspective is the principle of drawing in three dimensions (a system of rules) that allows us to draw a direct frontal angle from a certain point of view in space. It’s actually the easiest type of perspective drawing that creates the illusion of depth. One point perspective is also known as One Vanishing Point Perspective or as Frontal Perspective
Every time you look straight ahead, sitting or standing, looking up or down, in an indoor or outdoor environment … What you see in front of your eyes it’s simply called One Point Perspective.
Who invented one-point perspective?
Before we start the exercises let’s have a quick art history approach. At least for curiosity without going into the details.
In Renaissance, around the year 1420 in Florence, Italy, Filippo Brunelleschi (1387-1446) trained as a goldsmith and clockmaker solved the big problem that was going on for centuries, artists were struggling to create convincing depth in their paintings, everything was flat or skewed since there wasn’t any universal system of perspective drawing.
However, before coming up with the rules of one-point perspective, Brunelleschi was already known as a genius for his creation of the Red Dome of Florence cathedral, the enormous octagonal dome weighed 25,000 tons, and when it was designed it was the largest one in the world. The dome is a masterpiece of architecture and engineering and even today there are many questions on how the ingenious solutions have been achieved.
Filippo Brunelleschi is the one responsible for creating and demonstrating the laws of linear perspective, the drawing rules of one-point perspective. He basically revolutionized Renaissance art.
Brunelleschi discovered that when you draw a street or a building, all the straight-ahead horizontal lines seem to convert into a common point in space.
He presented the concept of a unified vanishing point, an imaginary construction point placed on the horizon line. This must have been like magic for the 15th century, to perceive a 3D space onto a flat surface, on a canvas with the most accurate precision.
Check out here a short video demonstrating Brunelleschi’s First Experiments in Perspective.
What are one-point perspective drawing rules?
One-point perspective represents a three-dimensional drawing that creates the illusion of depth as a direct frontal view. All objects appear smaller and closer to each other as they recede into the distance.
So the drawing rules for one-point perspective are:
- Eye Level or Horizon Line (HL). The height from which we look straight ahead, sitting, standing or, climbing, represents the Eye Level. We can also look above and below our Eye Level.
- Vanishing Point (VP). The drawing is constructed with only one vanishing point placed on the horizon line. The VP represents the imaginary point to which all lines facing the observer (perpendicular to the observer) converge.
- Convergence. All edges moving towards the observer (or camera) will converge to the only vanishing point
- Parallelism. All horizontal lines will remain horizontal and parallel among them. All vertical lines will remain vertical and parallel with each other.
- Diminution. All objects appear smaller as they recede into the distance, getting farther away from the observer.
Exercise 1. Analyze real photo references
The best way to get started with perspective drawing is by looking at real-life photography and breaking down all the rules. Reverse the engineering to a point that is ridiculous simple to you, to the point of your own personal level of understanding.
Use your own reference, take your own photos, indoor or outdoor, objects or full scenery because this way you can be very specific in your study.
In my analysis, I specifically choose long and short frontal views but also during nighttime since it gives a better contrast between light and shade planes. This way it’s easier to notice the depth or space between the far away plane and the near one.
Start with the far-away plane, and come closer and closer towards the camera using the vanishing lines. You’ll easily recognize all the drawing rules.
So here’s a step-by-step analysis of a photo reference.
- Step 1. Depth. Identify the farthest plane you can clearly see.
- Step 2. Ground Plane. Identify the main convergent lines from each corner point from the distant plane to the nearest plane.
- Step 3. Vanishing Rays. Identify more convergent lines which clearly seem to lead to a certain point in that faraway plane.
- Step 4. Horizontal Lines. Identify the horizontal lines, the closer they are to the viewer, the more spread out in space they are.
- Step 5. Vertical Lines. Identify the vertical lines, the closer they are to the viewer, the more spread out in space they are. Also, the lower the Horizon is the more they converge to a high vertical point.
Exercise 2. Draw objects in one-point perspective. Looking straight ahead, above and below.
What we see in front of our eye is difficult to make it feel real too on paper. Everything seems so complex, right? So you have to fight with that and look for its simplicity, for the way you capture the “illusion” of depth and space.
If you cannot draw large scenes in one-point perspective, draw small objects in a large variety of sizes, shapes, and from different heights.
My 3 recommended exercises are very simple. Practice the 3 different eye levels and just start with individual objects and not full scenery.
- Looking straight ahead (at a door).
- Looking straight and up (at a balcony).
- And Looking straight and down (at sidewalk pavements).
And some general guidelines to follow:
- Pick some familiar props which have an obvious basic construction based on primitives forms (cylinders, cubes, and spheres).
- Start with the horizon line, then with the far-away plane or the near-plane, and then (the one which is more obvious to you), build everything around that with vanishing lines.
- When you finish the construction lines you can then add some subtle sketching details to give some context.
Drawing has always been the method of visual representation, a powerful tool that allows us to capture what we see with an exact precision, just think of an architectural design or any kind of technical blueprint drawings. Architects and engineers are capable of creating drawings with exact mathematical precision.
As artists, we don’t need those mathematical calculations but we need to be able to create a believable illusion of depth and space.
Start where you’re comfortable and then speed up
Stay at a slow speed for a while, like a week or so, practice individual exercises, props, or objects that are familiar to you. Sketch those in perspective until you feel comfortable and then, gradually take it from there, create scenery by adding multiple elements.
Make your drawing style a personal system
Keep your exercise simple and don’t rush the fun of learning the fundamentals. Don’t focus on surface details such as colors, textures, or shading. Only try to get the construction in 3 dimensions with a nice illusion of depth.