Basics of Perspective

The 3 Dimensional World

History: The understanding of Perspective dates back to the Renaissance. This concludes the history lesson; it's all in the past.

We do not live in a flat world (probably going to tick off members the flat earth society). Most everything has shape and volume.

Buildings fall into this category; they are made up of simple geometric shapes filled with empty space (except for people, furniture & other stuff). As you see in this example, when you breakdown this building it is just a collection of boxes, cylinders, pyramids and cones.

You see these shapes everywhere. Remember the shoe box, soda can and funnel from the Developing Your Hand lesson?

When you look at a shoebox straight on, it has two dimensions: width and height. It appears flat and shaped like a rectangle. It's hard to tell if you are looking at a flat piece of cardboard or a box.

Turn the box and you now see it has a side which shows depth (the third dimension). It looks more like a box; it is 3 Dimensional or 3D. Whether this object is solid or empty it is 3D--it takes up space.

Notice since you are not looking at either the front or side of this box straight on, neither appears rectangular anymore. The top and bottom horizontal lines are longer parallel to each other.

If you were to continue these lines they would converge to a point (Vanishing point) which lies on the Horizon Line. If you have ever been to the ocean, this is the line where the sky meets the water. This is actually the edge of the earth where it appears to end because it curves. It appears straight because the earth is so huge and you can not see its curvature unless you go up in a plane or spaceship (trust me the earth is round, I think someone proved that).

Have you ever seen a ship sail away toward the horizon? It gets shorter and smaller in size as it goes farther away. This is what's happening to the shoebox when you look at it at an angle. The edge closest to you is the tallest and the sides of the box going left and right are going away from you and getting shorter and smaller. The two outside edges that are actually the same height as the edge closest to you now look shorter due to the law of perspective. I don't have any cool scientific or metaphysical explanation for this visual phenomenon, it just happens-Ok.

If we converge the top and bottom lines on both sides, they intersect at vanishing points. When you connect the two points this becomes your horizon line. This is called 2 Point Perspective.

Notice this example. This building is pretty close to looking like a shoebox

Take a picture of a simple building (the building you live in or clip a picture from a magazine). Place a piece of tracing paper over it. Converge the lines that you know are horizontal (tops of roofs, balconies, or tops of windows) to vanishing points. Sometimes vanishing points can be far off the paper depending on the angle the building was viewed. Now draw a straight line between the two points. Terrific, there's the horizon line.

Let's go back to the shoebox. Look at it straight on. You know it is a 3D object, you just can't see the sides. Take off the lid, turn it on its side, and look straight into the box. You can now see the sides and the parallel lines are converging. As a matter of fact converge to only one point.

This is called 1 Point Perspective.

The Classic image of looking down a railroad track is an example of 1 point perspective. The tracks eventually converge to one point on the horizon. We will go into more depth on both 1 and 2 point perspective as we progress with future lessons.

Now you have the basics. You're so smart! Let's go draw something.

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Produced by Jim Stilwell, all artwork copyrighted 2020