Perspective drawing

Learn about vanishing points and horizon lines

Have you always wanted to know how to give your illustrations a three-dimensional look? The technique of perspective drawing and vanishing points is used to achieve this. You can find out exactly how this works here.

Architect Kim Kanone has also prepared a step-by-step tutorial on how to draw a house with an urban sketch-style.

Go directly to the tutorial


The theory

Rays of light and the eye

Why does a tree that is 30 feet away appear smaller than one that is only 15 feet away? In order to explain this phenomenon, we first need to use a simple model to understand how our eyes work.

We perceive our surroundings through rays of light that enter our eyes. These always meet the same point in our eye, where they are then refracted and projected onto our retina. Because of this, the rays of light from a tree that is further away reach our eyes at a sharper angle than a tree that is directly in front of us. As a result, we get a mirror image on the retina: A small tree and a large tree. After our brain processes this information, it turns the picture right side up and knows that one of the trees is further away.

A painted picture, however, cannot transport light rays to our eyes at different angles. That’s why it’s necessary for us to create our drawing how it is perceived after it’s processed by our eyes. Perspective drawing helps us with this.

The basic elements of perspective drawing

In order to understand human perception, there are three important tools for perspective drawing: The horizon line, vanishing points, and vanishing lines.

The horizon line

Although the earth is round, the horizon line appears to us as a clear separation between the ground and the sky. Usually it is covered by trees, hills, or buildings and we don’t consciously notice it. Only looking at the ocean clearly shows us the horizon line. The horizon line plays an important role in drawings. It demarcates the ground, which represents the foundation for us. If we want to convey three-dimensionality, we always need to use this foundation as a reference. 

The horizon line is always at the eye level of the viewer. However, viewers can have different heights, which means the height of the horizon line will shift. That is why a distinction is made among three different perspectives: The bird’s-eye view, the normal perspective (based on ourselves), and worm’s-eye view.

The vanishing points and vanishing lines

The vanishing point is where all parallel lines intersect and is always on the horizon line. Using the example of a straight road clearly illustrates what this means. Imagine a street with a consistent width that stretches into the distance. If you look directly at the street from above, both sides form parallel lines. However, if you stand on the street and look into the distance, the two lines seem to converge.

Just as with the horizon line, there are different perspectives for the vanishing points. However, it is important to know that both variants can be combined with each other.

Single point perspective

All vanishing lines lead to a central point. The horizontal and vertical lines, however, remain parallel to each other.

Two-point perspective

In the two-point perspective, also known as the corner perspective, there are two vanishing points along the horizon line. This is usually used when the viewer looks at the corner of an object. This corner divides the picture. Each side follows its own vanishing point.

The perspectives of the vanishing points can be combined with the perspectives of the horizon lines. In our example you see all three horizon line perspectives combined with the two-point perspective.

Three-point perspective

If you want to give the viewer of your picture the feeling of height and depth, you can add another vanishing point. All vertical lines lead to this point. It is an extension of the two-point perspective.


Perspectives in use

Architect Kim Kanone shows you how to put the theory of two-point perspective into practice using a house with people and a landscape.

You will need the following materials for urban sketches:


Step 1: The guidelines

First draw a horizon line. Instead of aligning it with the middle of the page, as in the normal perspective, set it a little lower.
Two vanishing points are set on the left and right of the horizon line.

Step 2: The layout of the house

In the two-point perspective, the viewer looks at the corner of the house. Use an X to establish the bottom edge of the house and draw two guidelines to the vanishing points. These guidelines are also called vanishing lines.

A vertical line represents the front edge of the house. At the top of this edge, draw two additional lines to the vanishing points.

Now you can decide how long the sides of your house should be. Simply place two additional points on your vanishing line. From these points, draw parallel vertical lines. When all points are connected, you will have the basic structure of your house.

Step 3: The roof terrace

To make your house more interesting, you can also draw a roof terrace. For this, mark a point along the edge of the house once again and connect it to the vanishing points. Use vertical lines between the vanishing lines to define the walls.

Step 4: Details

The house is finished and you can now decorate it with additional details. For this, you can draw doors. Make sure that the top edge of each door is on the vanishing lines. You can then add trees and bushes as rough sketches.

Use hatching to indicate shadows and make the sketch appear more vivid. For this, you can use a fineliner with various line widths. The people are only represented with contours. This abstraction blends into the rest and is a technique that is suitable for beginners.

Your urban sketch of a house with its surroundings is now finished.

Show us your own perspective drawings and share them with the Tombow family under #tombowinspiration.

About the author

Kiyeon Kim

- Kim Kanone

Kiyeon Kim is an architect and urban sketcher. He has been documenting his life in Germany in Urban Sketches for the past three years. He encourages his followers to create their own urban sketches and provides helpful tips on his YouTube channel and Instagram page.

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