Let’s Build a House
Learn the basics of two-point perspective: eye level, vanishing points and perspective centers.
by Phil Metzger
In the November 2009 issue of The Artist’s Magazine, Phil Metzger teaches the basics of two-point perspective drawing by constructing a simple house together step by step. We’ll imagine the house is on a little hill and we’re viewing it from somewhere down the hill; that is, our eye level is below the house. The structure is turned so that it’s in two-point perspective—we can see two sides of it. Everything about this house is symmetrical except for the chimney located at one end rather than in the center.
What is two-point perspective?
Two-point perspective is a type of linear perspective in which one set of receding lines meets at one vanishing point and another set meets at a second vanishing point, both at eye level.
Getting the Angles Right
I’ll tell you a secret: You never have to bother with vanishing points if you get all the angles right in the first place. If a line recedes toward the horizon and you draw it accurately, it will automatically cross the horizon right at the vanishing point. So, although we typically discuss vanishing points as a handy way of visualizing what’s going on in linear perspective, it’s those slants, or angles, we’re really after. Art stores offer a number of gadgets to help get angles right, but you can do just as well with two simple measuring techniques that don’t cost anything.
- Pencil: Hold a pencil (or any straightedge) at arm’s length, elbow locked, and with the pencil parallel to the picture plane. Swivel your wrist to align the pencil with an edge of the object you want to draw. Keeping the pencil at that same slant, move it to your drawing surface and with another pencil copy the angle onto your paper.
- Perspective jaws: This is my favorite way of getting angles right. It requires a set of “jaws”: two strips of cardboard fastened snugly at one end so you can move the strips apart at any angle you wish. Hold the jaws at arm’s length, elbow locked, and align one jaw with any edge of your subject. Then rotate the other jaw to line up with some other edge; now you’ve got the angle between the two edges. Lower the jaws to your paper and copy the angle. It’s practically foolproof!
1. Draw Eye-Level Line, Then Nearest Vertical Edge
First draw a horizontal line indicating eye level. Then establish the nearest vertical edge of the house (A). You could start the house anywhere, but the nearest vertical edge is a convenient place to begin. Since the house is on a hill, let the bottom of the vertical edge end a bit above eye level.
2. Draw One Slope
With a straightedge, try various slopes for the top edge of the box (the house without the gables) until you think the slope looks right. For this exercise, don’t worry that the slope you choose might not be quite realistic; if you were drawing from a real house, you would measure the real slope by eye or by using a set of perspective jaws.
3. Draw Other Slope and Mark Vanishing Points
Now draw a slanting line representing the slope on the other face of the box (again, the house without the gables). Where each of the sloping lines crosses the eye-level line, mark a vanishing point. We’ll call them VPL (vanishing point left) and VPR (vanishing point right). Those two vanishing points will guide all the rest of the drawing.
4. Draw Bottom Edges of House
Connect the bottom end of the vertical edge A to each of the vanishing points. The walls of the house lie between the pairs of slanted construction lines.
5. Establish Length of Each Side of House
Decide how wide each face of the house should be; then draw vertical lines representing the outer corners. If you were drawing from a real-life subject, you would sight-measure the two sides using the thumb-and-pencil method and compare the widths of the sides to each other and to some other dimension, such as the height (A).
6. Find Perspective Center of Front Wall
Now we have the two walls established (I’ve colored them for clarity). Next, you’ll add the gable. To do this, first find the perspective center of the rectangular wall to which the gable will be added. Do that by finding where the wall’s diagonals intersect.
7. Draw Gable
Sight-measure your subject and decide how high the tip of the gable should be. The gable seems a little more than half the height of the wall. Mark the appropriate height along the vertical centerline and connect that point to the two corners of the wall to form the gable in perspective.
8. Add Door
Add a door at the perspective center of the front wall. Start by marking how high you want the door to be (in these illustrations I’ve made the door and windows large to make the picture clearer). The door should be “centered” around the centerline of the wall—but don’t forget that the door itself is in perspective. So just as there is a little less wall to the left of the centerline than to the right, there is also a little less door to the left than to the right. There are complicated constructions to get this exactly right, but for the sake of sanity, just eyeball your drawing and make sure there’s a little more door showing to the right of the centerline than to the left.
9. Add Windows
The tops of the windows in the side of this house are at the same height as the door, so draw a line from the door-height line at the corner of the building to VPR. Draw a line for the bottoms of the windows to VPR. The windows fit between these two lines. Because of our perspective, the left window appears a little wider than the right one and space W appears wider than space X. Draw the small window above the door the same way you drew the door.
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10. Draw Roof Overhang on Near Side
So far the house has only the foundation for a roof; it needs a roof cap. The roof cap overhangs the house in front and back and on both sides. Such details are important; without them, the house drawing may look like a toy.
First, extend the roof’s ridgeline front and rear. Next, draw a line representing the overhang at the side of the house. Draw lines for the overhangs at the front and rear of the house. For our purposes, all these lines may be drawn parallel to their respective nearby basic roof edges. The overhang at the rear should be a little shorter than that at the front since it’s in the distance.
11. Draw Roof Overhang on Far Side
To get the other side of the front overhang, draw line H through the tip of the roof cap parallel to the edge of the gable. The question is, how far down does that overhang extend? Take a look at the inset. Imagine a line connecting A and B in the inset and then draw that line (in perspective) on your drawing, again connecting points A and B. Now you know how far down the overhang extends.
12. Finish Roof Overhang
All that remains is to finish the overhang by drawing the (short) line from point A toward VPR. This little line is often drawn incorrectly; many people aim it toward the wrong vanishing point.
13. Draw Side Face of Chimney
Draw a construction line for the height of the chimney and aim it toward VPR. Draw another line for the base of the chimney and aim it also toward VPR. Draw two verticals to define the thickness of the chimney. This completes the side of the chimney facing us. Notice the top edges of the chimney are the highest edges above eye level, so they have the steepest slopes of all the receding horizontal lines.
14. Draw Front Face of Chimney
Draw construction line A toward VPL—this is the top edge of the front face of the chimney. Draw line B parallel to the edge of the roof—this is where the chimney intersects the roof. Where B crosses the ridgeline, draw vertical (dotted) line C. What you have so far is the part of the chimney on the near side of the roof.
15. Finish Chimney and Add Some Edges
Finish the chimney by drawing its far vertical edge. Like anything in perspective, the part of the chimney farther away should be slightly narrower than the nearer part (just as we saw in the door and windows). Add a few edges to help give the windows, door and roof a bit of thickness.
Phil Metzger has been painting and selling his artwork for more than 30 years. His work is included in thousands of private and public collections and has earned him honors in national and regional exhibitions. He teaches watercolor and perspective drawing and has written many popular North Light books.
This article is excerpted from his book The Art of Perspective: The Ultimate Guide for Artists in Every Medium. © 2007 by Phil Metzger, used with permission of North Light Books, an imprint of F+W Media Inc. Visit your local bookseller, call 800/448-0915, or visit www.northlightshop.com to obtain a copy.
Click here to find this article and more in the November 2009 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.
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