What is perspective? We use perspective to create the illusion of space and depth, pictured on a flat surface (like a sheet of paper, or a canvas, or a wall). When we look at an image that uses perspective, our eyes seem to see deep into the distance. Look at some of the images on the following pages to see this effect.
You are looking at examples of “linear perspective”, which we will talk about in this chapter.
We have seen that there are other ways to create a sense of depth: overlapping, where one object is partially in front of another, for example; and we also know that objects in the foreground appear bigger, while objects further away appear to become smaller.
Aerial perspective (sometimes called “atmospheric perspective”) refers to the changes in colour, atmosphere, detail and scale of things as they get further into the distance. We explored these ideas when you drew and painted landscapes.
“Linear” means “to do with line”. Linear perspective works in geometrically defined spaces – such as cities, for example – where buildings, streets, straight rows of trees and suchlike, create an environment of straight parallel lines. Farmers’ perfectly straight ploughed lines or parallel-planted fields will show linear perspective too.
Linear perspective is said to have been discovered by the architect Fillipo Brunelleschi of Florence, in the 14th century. He observed that all parallel lines lead consistently away from the viewer into the distance, eventually coming together to meet at a central point. He also realized that this central point is always at the eye-level of the viewer. From this observation, he could work out a mathematical formula to depict space in this way.
To the Teacher
Linear perspective is a little tricky to teach, but students at middle school, or Senior Phase, are often very ready for it. They understand that this is a meaningful formula for explaining how things appear to become smaller and smaller as they recede away from our eye.
It also helps them create an illusion of deep space on a flat picture surface in a drawing.
Important: Try all these exercises yourself BEFORE you demonstrate this to your students. Make sure you clearly understand the principles yourself (ask someone for help if needed).
Discovering 1-point perspective
Look around your school for good places to observe linear perspective: for example, long, straight passages; covered walkways alongside the building; a big hall, or a straight road.
Stand in the middle of a passageway or a straight walkway. What do you notice about the parallel lines of this space as they get further away from you? This is not simply a theory – it is something you actually experience!
The horizontal lines (edges of the floor, pavement, window sills or ceiling) all converge, or lead towards one meeting point. They look like diagonals, rather than flat horizontal lines.
Vertical lines (street poles, vertical window bars), however, all remain consistently upright.
If the distance is not very long, you will not see the lines actually meet – but you can hold rulers up to judge where those lines would meet if they were extended.
Drawing a 1-point perspective space of your own
Now draw the inside of a simple room, using all the construction lines you have just learnt, to create 1-point perspective. First identify the eye-level (dotted) line, and the vanishing point. Include tables, rugs, windows or doors – all correctly lined up in perspective.
What about 2-point perspective?
One-point perspective is so called, because there is ONE vanishing point. All the parallels converge onto that one point.
But sometimes two sets of parallel lines lead away from your eye, in two
This happens when, for example, we look at the corner edge of a cube or box or building. Then we can see two of its sides, and each side has its own horizontal lines leading away from the eye. Look at these examples to see for yourself.