It is critical for artists of all levels to understand and feel comfortable using linear perspective.
by Stephanie Kaplan
Understanding linear perspective is important for all artists, beginners included, regardless of their medium or subject matter, as the concept of linear perspective has revolutionized the way artists perceive and incorporate spatial depth in their work. Established in solid, mathematical terms in the 15th century, linear perspective creates the illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface, such as a piece of paper or canvas. Linear perspective is also based on the illusion that when parallel lines recede into the distance, they appear to get closer together. To create effective linear perspective, artists establish a horizon line, a vanishing point on that line, and multiple orthogonal, or vanishing, lines. The horizon line is a horizontal line that runs across the paper or canvas to represent the viewer’s eye level and delineate where the sky meets the ground. The orthogonal lines, which distort objects by foreshortening them, create the optical illusion that objects grow smaller and closer together as they get farther away. These imaginary lines recede on the paper to meet at one point on the horizon called the vanishing point.
When first learning how to incorporate perspective into your composition, it is best to concentrate on one-point perspective with the use of one vanishing point (two- and three-point perspective use two and three vanishing points, respectively). One-point perspective is helpful when drawing or painting roads, railroad tracks, or buildings that directly face the viewer. According to Patrick Connors, an adjunct professor at the New York Academy of Art, in Manhattan, who teaches a graduate class on linear perspective, “The components of perspective are three: the eye (the artist or viewer), the picture plane, and the figure (or object). The science is about the relationship among the three. An introduction to perspective is necessary for the representational artist,” he continues. “Even a basic understanding of linear perspective will, at least, enhance an artist’s appreciation for the perceptual underpinnings of the illusions of space,” regardless of whether he or she is painting a landscape, a still life, or creating a sculpture. To help his students learn the basics of linear perspective, Connors instructs them to complete the following linear perspective exercise:
What You Will Need
- 16”-x-20” sheet of paper
- straight edge (a 30°– 60°– 90° triangle is recommended)
- pencil (Connors recommends an H graphite pencil)
- red pencil
- blue pencil
- optional: a drawing board or drafting table with true 90° edges
For students who do not immediately catch on to linear perspective, Connors has this encouragement: “Those who want to use it can work independently with it. Those for whom it is helpful can do great things with it.”