Eye level is an imaginary line that extends forward from your eyes when you?re looking straight ahead. It establishes your position relative to the scene and serves as a guide to the placement of objects and the perspective used throughout the rest of the drawing. For example, if you?re standing on level ground, drawing an object directly in front of you, the resulting sketch would look similar to the barn at right. But if you change your position?perhaps climbing a hill or a ladder or kneeling on the ground?your eye level moves with you. This can be seen in the sketch above, where I adopted a high eye level, and thus created almost an aerial view of the scene. In such cases, the horizon line, if it?s visible, moves higher in the picture plane. Conversely, the lower your eye level, the more you?ll have the sensation of looking up at the elements in your scene, and the horizon line will be lower in the picture plane. The perspective drawing of the cubes below shows how this works. Notice that no matter what eye level you choose, the lines that describe the boxes converge somewhere along the horizon line. This remains true even if the horizon line falls outside of the picture plane, as it does if you adopt either an extremely high or low eye level.
A Question of Elevation
This group of boxes demonstrates the principle behind the term “eye level.” In all cases, you?re looking directly at the boxes, but the boxes take on a different appearance depending on whether you?re above or below them. Notice that no matter whether your eye level moves up or down, the lines describing the boxes converge at a point on the horizon line. If you adopt an extremely high eye level, the horizon line may move completely out of the top of the picture plane. Likewise, if you?re looking up at an object, the horizon line may disappear off the bottom of the picture plane.
Heather Galloway is a freelance conservator in Ohio.