Linear Perspective Basic Concepts and Terminology

Perspective, or Linear Perspective is a system that helps create the illusion of depth, space and distance in two-dimensions. Understanding the principles and concepts is really essential for depicting three dimensional objects in two dimensions

Basic Linear Perspective

Many people get very nervous when the word ‘perspective’ is mentioned. It seems difficult and mysterious, but it is actually very simple.

Perspective is based on a very simple idea:  objects that are farther from you appear to be smaller.

The objective – or “real” – world exists in three-dimensions: height, width and depth.  Our drawings and painting exist only in two dimensions: height and width.

Perspective, or linear perspective, is a system for representing the illusion of depth on a two-dimensional surface.

 Although it may seem scary, the principles are easy to learn and, really, essential to understand if the goal is to accurately represent objects in a painting or drawing.

It would seem an easy task – just draw what we see.  Our eyes see the objects as they appear, with the apparent distortions of shape and size created by distance (depth).  However, our brains want to compensate for the apparent distortions.

 A Few Important Perspective Terms

There are a few important terms and concepts that are fundamental to Perspective. Understanding them will help as you dive into this important subject.

The Picture Plane

The whole idea of perspective is very obvious every time you stand at a window and look at the scene on the other side of the glass. If you took a marker and drew the outline of the objects you see on the pane of glass, you would be representing the three-dimensional scene in two dimensions. This representation, or drawing, would include the distortions in size, shape, length, etc. that appear based on distance and orientation.

The pane of glass is our Picture Plane– an imaginary plane that represents our two-dimensional paper or canvas.  It is a stationary reference that allows us to accurately place objects with their vertical, horizontal and diagonal edges.

As an artist, you’ll carry this imaginary Picture Plane wherever you go. It will help you transfer the three-dimensional world onto your two-dimensional paper.

 Station Point

The point, or place, from which you observe the subject. It represents that place which will result in that single -and unique – view of the subject. When you move to another spot – that is, change your station point – the view changes. As does the perspective layout and relationships.

Horizon Line

This is the usually imaginary, horizontal line that represents the the edge of your distant vision. It is always the same as your Eye Level and is the line along which Vanishing Points will be found. Note that in the case of three-point perspective, a third vanishing point is located high above the Horizon Line or deep underground below it.

Vanishing Points

There are three basic kinds of Perspective: one-point, two-point, and three-point.  Each refers to the number of Vanishing Points needed to accurately represent a particular view of the subject.

The Station Point determines the kind of Perspective.

Vanishing Points is the point, or set of points, on the Horizon Line where parallel lines and edges seem to merge together.


Related Lessons

Linear Perspective Learning Track

basic two point perspective drawingLearn more about Linear Perspective, the differences between one, two and three point perspective, and the more practical applications in watercolor paint with this group of lessons

It includes eight lessons that will teach you the basics of, and how to apply Linear Perspective in your drawings and paintings. 

Landscape Painting Lessons

rural scene with barn watercolor painting

Seascape Painting Lessons

Still Life & Floral Painting Lessons