Introduction: How to Draw - Basic Linear Perspective

Picture of How to Draw - Basic Linear Perspective

In this first installment of my ongoing series of "How to Draw" Instructables, I will show you how to create real-looking three dimensional shapes.

Linear Perspective is the most basic form of perspective in which all objects with faces parallel to the horizon, appear to converge in the distance at a single point on the horizon (the vanishing point).

To learn what on Earth this possibly means, grab yourself:

- a few sheets of 18" x 24" paper
- a pencil
- a straight metal ruler
- a white mars plastic eraser

and dare follow me to the next step.

Step 1: Vanishing Horizons.

Picture of Vanishing Horizons.

If you were to stand on a plane and look out into the distance, the imaginary line that demarcates between the Earth and the sky is considered the horizon. For argument's sake, the horizon is a straight line (even though in actual space it is slightly curved).

Now, if you were to stare straight ahead at the horizon, the point on the horizon directly in front of you would be considered the vanishing point. It's called the vanishing point since all objects seem to vanish towards it as they go back into the distance.

Step 2: A Single Point. a Single Perspective.

Picture of A Single Point. a Single Perspective.

One-point perspective is marked by the fact that all objects seem to converge towards one solitary point on the horizon. In order for all objects to converge at a single point, their closest face has to appear to be parallel to horizon.

In other words, if there was a cube between you and the horizon, the face of the cube closest to you would have two horizontal lines parallel to the horizon. In fact, everything viewed in this perspective must have horizontal lines parallel to the horizon.

If horizontal lines are no longer parallel, you have just gained a whole new perspective (but lets not worry about that for now).

Step 3: Your Turn.

Picture of Your Turn.

Turn your paper sideways (landscape) and measure 9" up on each side and make a mark. Connect both marks with a line. You should have just successfully bisected your paper.

Next, you want to find the midpoint on the sheet of paper.

The easiest way to find the midpoint is to connect each opposite corner on the sheet of paper. Where the two lines converge is the center point (the center point of any parallelogram - rectangle, square - can be found this way).

Your center point should fall right in the center of the line you have just drawn. Enlarge this point and label it V.P. for vanishing point.

Erase the diagonal lines, but leave the horizontal line since that is now your horizon.

You should be now left with a horizon with a vanishing point centered on it.

The vanishing point must always be located on the horizon!

Step 4: L7 Square

Picture of L7 Square

Measure 3" from the left edge and make a mark above and below the horizon. Repeat this step now with a measurement of 5".

Connect each set of points with a vertical line so that you have two vertical parallel lines.

Now measure 1" up from the horizon and make a mark on both lines and then measure 1" down from the horizon line and do the same.

Connect both new sets of dots to form a square.

Step 5: The Thirrrrrd Diiiimension!

Picture of The Thirrrrrd Diiiimension!

Right now you should have a two-dimensional box. To make this book look three-dimensional, it has to be appear to have depth.

And of course, anything with depth must appear to travel back towards the vanishing point.

To give your box depth trace the top and bottom right-edges back towards the vanishing point (where they should converge).

You now have a mighty long box. You're probably going to want a box that looks a little more reasonable.

On one the lines you just drew, pick a point that is about half-way between the original square and the vanishing point. Make a small mark and measure how far it is from the left edge of the paper.

Once you know the distance, move your ruler vertically up or down from this point and make another dot.

Connect these two dots and extend the vertical line to fully intersects diagonal lines that you have just drawn.

You should be left with something that resembles a three-dimensional box. Erase all lines until you are left with just a box sitting on the horizon (with a vanishing point).

Step 6: In Good Company

Picture of In Good Company

Now would be a good time to draw four more rectangles on your sheet of paper using the method we used to make the first one in "Step 4".

One rectangle should be above the horizon line (to the right or left of the vanashing point). One rectangle should be below the horizon line (to the right or left of the vanashing point). The third rectangle should be above or below the horizon and positioned so that it is also above or below the vanishing point. The last rectangle should be on the horizon line, but on the opposite side of the vanishing point as the first box. Don't allow any of the rectangles to intersect.

Step 7: A Perspective on Boxing

Picture of A Perspective on Boxing

Place your ruler on the vanishing point and connect lines to all of the corners of the rectangles you just drew that don't require drawing a line over the face of the rectangle (see secondary image). If done correctly, you should have just drawn 10 diagonal lines.

Starting with the rectangle above both the horizon and vanishing point, draw a horizontal line connecting the diagonal lines. This should complete the box. Erase all unnecessary lines.

Next find the rectangle that is also above the horizon (but not above the vanishing point). Draw a horizontal line between the diagonals projecting from the bottom two corners and the vanishing point. At the point where the right diagonal line meets the newly created horizontal line, draw a vertical that connects to the diagonal that has been drawn from the top corner of the square. You should now have something that looks like a box. Erase all excess lines until you have a clean box.

Now, with the rectangle below the horizon, you are going to do similarly. Create a horizontal connecting the diagonals coming off the top corners and then drop a vertical from this intersection to the line drawn from the bottom corner.

The rectangle on the right should be completed in a similar manner to the one shown in "Step 5"

You should now have 4 new three-dimensional boxes.

Step 8: Demystifying the Horizon

Picture of Demystifying the Horizon

Draw a 6th rectangle that contains the vanishing point within it (see below).

From the image below we can now assert a couple of things.

1) All boxes at least have one visible face. This is the closest rectangular face to you, the viewer, and it is parallel to to the horizon line.

2) Any box sitting on the horizon line and is located to the left or right of the vanishing point will have 1 additional visible face that fades into the distance. This additional face is a side-ace. (visible faces in total: 2 - a front face and a side face)

3) Any box sitting above the horizon line and is located to the left or right of the vanishing point will have 2 additional visible faces that fade into the distance. These additional faces are a side-face and a bottom-face. (visible faces in total: 3 - a front face, a side face and a bottom face)

4) Any box sitting below the horizon line and is located to the left or right of the vanishing point will have 2 additional visible faces that fade into the distance. These additional faces are a side-face and a top-face. (visible faces in total: 3 - a front face, a side face and a top face)

5) Any box sitting in front of the vanishing point will only have one visible face. You will be unable to see the top, bottom, left or right-faces since all vanishing lines are hidden from view. (visible faces in total: 1 - a front face)

6) Any box sitting directly above the vanishing point (and horizon) will have 1 additional visible faces that fade into the distance. This additional face is a bottom-face. (visible faces in total: 2 - a front face and a bottom face)

7) Any box sitting directly below the vanishing point (and horizon) will have 1 additional visible faces that fade into the distance. This additional face is a top-face. (visible faces in total: 2 - a front face and a top face)

In strict one-point perspective, no solid object can be drawn and/or viewed outside the parameters just listed.

Using these guidelines, you can accurately (re)present any forward facing three-dimensional object that you may find in life.

Step 9: Moving On

However, before I let you loose into the world to draw advanced shapes and the like, you may want to take a gander at "How to draw - Advanced Linear Perspective"



Parabola949 (author)2010-08-29

Very nice tutorial. I've always been big on perspective, so for an example to others, here's a very small idea of what can be done. The city was from back in middle school, never finished it. The cubicle maze.. Well, that came out when I got into abstracts. I still have it hanging on my wall (made it when I was... 17?) But seriously- good tutorial for anyone wanting to learn this kind of stuff. Sorry- this thing won't let me make the images any larger... so they are kind of hard to see.

That is amazing!

askjerry (author)Parabola9492016-03-06

When you click on them they get bigger... nice job.

d1ndian (author)Parabola9492011-06-12

hi i really would like to learn how to draw perspective drawing of 2d drawing. For example u have been told to convert a 2d birds eye view of buildings into a front view perspective drawing. How would you do that?

That first drawing is amazing.... Made me think of Inception. Well Done!

theadamlevy (author)2007-12-11

everyone is going to want to know how to draw something different if you want to draw then draw study the human anatomy muscle groups things like that practice drawing those specifically for comic books but there will never be a how to that will magically make you become an amazing artist just by reading it but maybe someone could make a 'how to make a how to that will magically make you become an amazing artist just by reading it' then we'd be getting somewhere

jonaha6 (author)theadamlevy2017-10-23

so llllliiiittttttt

stplong1981 (author)2017-08-18

thank you so much for this tutorial! I am totally going to keep doing your perspective lessons

JeromA made it! (author)2016-11-27

I did it. I never could figure out how to do perspective, even after learning about it in humanities. I am going to make some thing super crazy now.

Lreckley1 (author)2016-03-07

trying to wrap my head around it possible you could do a video as well?

KROKKENOSTER (author)2016-03-07

Wish I had this say sixty years ago. Had some of this in the arts class. When I finished school I could draw isometric projections but that was not like doing this Love it!!

jayfields1981 (author)2016-03-06

Awesome tutorial. Wish my highschool art teacher could have explained it that well. Great job!

JoeS170 (author)2016-03-06

Fun to do

TimB2 (author)2016-03-06

In the not to distant past I was always doing perspective artwork to pass the time. I used two 7-foot lengths of an aluminum straight edge for guides. I had anchored pivot pins at the very end so I could elevate the beams to maintain perspective parallels. In essence I had two vanishing points. One on the far left of the paper and one a bit closer to the right side. I used the closest corner of the structure for a vertical scale and reference. The two images I included here are actual structures drawn to reflect the time period they were in use.

xianisreal (author)2015-10-28

Thank you, this helped

TasaS (author)2015-10-16

This is the first time the gears connected. Thank you.

cfrankel (author)2015-01-10

One of the best books to learn perspective and how to draw is called Drawing in 3d by Mark Kistler you can also check out his website.

I highly recommend it! (author)2014-09-26

Hi, I have a micro teaching assessment in two weeks. I have picked one point perspective subject to teach in 15 mins, but for practical task bit not sure what I can ask students to do in 10 mins. Can you help me in this? A simple, quick practice for one point perspective! Many thanks

vincent7520 (author)2014-03-21

Thanks for sharing your talent !

I'de love to enter each morning in an elevator car as well decorated as the one you show on step 1 !… ;)))

Ace Frahm (author)2011-12-22

Where can I find "How to draw - Advanced Linear Perspective"?

vishalapr (author)2011-07-06

I just finished typing up my instructable on perspective drawings on word and then I see this!Now Im wondering wether I should make an instructable or not??

randofo (author)vishalapr2011-07-06

You should totally put up your own. The more the merrier.

I've been wanting to do some more drawing instructables, but never enough time... so much to do... so little time.

vishalapr (author)randofo2011-07-06

I know!I might!But this is so much better explained!

vishalapr (author)2011-07-06

Well explained instructable!
I sooo think that there should be a drawing and an origami contest on!!!

d1ndian (author)2011-06-12

hi i really would like to learn how to draw perspective drawing of 2d drawing. For example u have been told to convert a 2d birds eye view of buildings into a front view perspective drawing. How would you do that?

Parabola949 (author)d1ndian2011-06-14

Not completely sure if that question was for me or Author (randofo), but could you be a little more specific? Not sure what exactly you mean, but I'd like to try to help.

jerryjcepic (author)2011-05-26

love this, would like to learn more on perspective to draw urban landscapes.

how do you go about drawing items to scale and proportionate to where they are on the horizon, are there measurement techniques?

mrfluffy (author)2011-04-14

doing epic perspective drawings when i was thirteen too (even though im now 14) *fist bump*

bertus52x11 (author)2010-12-01

Did you ever make the "How to draw - Advanced Linear Perspective" ? Since your I'ble was so clear, I was eager to see the rest...

beehard44 (author)2010-11-21

ooh, i remember my grade 5 art class

POLARISGREATBEAR (author)2010-09-01

Like most artists, I formally learned to create perspective drawings while in high school. However, I soon found that when drawing products for use in catalogs, a certain amount of “fudging” had to be done. As your drawing recedes back into space, distortion occurs that really messes with the drawings viewability. Back in my studio days, some of the illustrators used a gadget called a rabbit ears. It looked like a goofy type of T-square that was articulated in a way that would allow the artist to utilize vanishing points that would almost have been impossible otherwise. A little digging on the internet should result in an explanation of the construction and use of this handy little gadget. Also, I found that if a drawing “looks right”, it usually is good enough. I’ve personally drawn thousands of product illustrations in perspective, both conventionally and on computer. I have to say this; as a pro, you have to learn to know when to say when, as far as accuracy is concerned. Most clients never know how much effort goes into a piece of art (heck, their clients), but they do know what they want to spend. Usually, there is a wide gulf between the two.

Clayton H. (author)2010-08-27

Reminds me of this...

J-Manoo7 (author)Clayton H.2010-08-29

Less than three, less than three.

Bad Maxx (author)J-Manoo72010-08-30

Less than three what?

J-Manoo7 (author)Bad Maxx2010-09-01


Bad Maxx (author)J-Manoo72010-09-01

LOL Never heard or "saw" that one put quite like that. I do know a teenager who will get a kick out of less than three! Thanks for the reply.

optox (author)Clayton H.2010-08-28

I love XKCD!!!

Bad Maxx (author)2010-08-30

When I learned this in High School Art Class I made many drawings utilizing this technique. I loved how the pictures turned out and was tickled to find I actually had some talent for art. Years later I tried to draw a covered bridge using this technique, it turned out fairly well but was missing the depth I wanted to convey, your ible has shown me what I was missing. Thank you and awesome job!!

Mudbud (author)2010-08-28

Aparently it didnt go well then eh? great ible' though..

rookie1 (author)2009-06-17

Really good instructable! Very easy to understand. It is the one thing I have trouble with. Very good

cd41 (author)2009-02-11

i read something about this being incorperated alot in Da vinci's work

toelle (author)cd412009-02-15

A lot (and i really mean a lot) of artist use perspective in their drawings/paintings.

Sonico (author)2009-02-11

Im off to university end of this year, and have never done perspective drawing before. My course will involve alot of it, and i would just like to say. Your tutorial has been a great help, you've giving me the basics to survive... :) Thankyou very much (:

wenpherd (author)2008-12-05

do you use printing paper

iq_abyss (author)2008-10-31

It has been 410 days since you posted this ible, whet is "How to Draw- Advanced Linear Perspective" going to be published? My art class is working with perspective now, and I'm really into it! Thank you for this ible though.

randofo (author)iq_abyss2008-11-03

Yes, I have to post the follow up. And I want to do a series on two and three point perspective. I'll get back to that in a few weeks once I get some time.

hilmc (author)2008-02-01

I teach drawing--currently at Marshall University--and I'm always looking for new tools for teaching linear perspective that make it more fun and less intimidating. I stumbled on this while searching around. This is a great little tutorial, but there is a problem with the text in step 2. You have used the word "perpendicular" when you should have used "parallel." The horizontal edges of the buildings that face the viewer are PARALLEL to the horizon line, and the facing planes of those buildings are PARALLEL to the picture plane. In the situation shown, any plane or edge that is not parallel to the picture plane (the invisible window that the viewer looks through) is seen in a foreshortened view and will appear in a drawing as a diagonal or a vertical.

randofo (author)hilmc2008-08-09

eek! Thanks. fixed.

royalestel (author)2007-10-29

I approve! Great jorb!

jackfr0st (author)royalestel2007-11-06

you did a great jorb out there homestar!

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Bio: My name is Randy and I am a Community Manager in these here parts. In a previously life I had founded and run the Instructables ... More »
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