Principles of Linear Perspective with Mark and Mary Willenbrink

Mages and artists entertain with illusions. The assistant uses smoke, mirrors and other accessories. The artist should lean on a flat surface of two dimensions to imply a visual illusion of depth and convince the viewer that it is a three-dimensional scene. One of the ways in which visual depth can be expressed is a linear perspective.

The rail bridge at Argenteuil by Claude Monet, 1873. demonstrate the principles of linear perspective.
The railway bridge in Argenteuil by Claude Monet, 1873.

Basics of Linear Perspective

Linear perspective provides depth through lines and placement of shapes. Although the compositions may vary in complexity, the following tips and basic principles inherent to all drawings in linear perspective.

The linear perspective 1

Horizon: Horizon is the line where the sky meets the earth or water. The height of the horizon influences the placement of the vanishing points and elevation of the scene.

Vanishing Point: A vanishing point is where the parallel lines seem to be joining in the distance. In the previous example, the parallel lines of the backscatter road either move backwards and visually merge to create a single vanishing point on the horizon. There is no limit to the number of point disappearances that a scene can have.

Ground plane: The ground plane is the horizontal surface below the horizon and can be land or water. In the above example, the ground plane is level. However, if the ground plane was sloped or hill, the vanishing point – created by the parallel lines of the shape – is not based on the horizon and could appear as if it were an inclined plane.

Orthogonal lines: lines oriented towards a vanishing point, such as lines parallel to the road above. Orthogonal means right angle. Refers to the angles that are formed by lines such as the corner of a cube is shown in perspective.

Point of view: not to be confused with the vanishing point, the view is where a scene is shown. The investment horizon and vanishing points affect the view.

Principles of Perspective

Four principles that characterize the degree of depth in linear perspective are the size of the forms, the superposed forms, the placement of the forms and the convergence of the lines. The four principles can and should be used together for a better interpretation of the perspective.

Shape size

Most similar forms appear closer to the viewer. With this scenario, the right square appears closer, since it is the largest of the three. The picture on the left seems to be further away as it is the smallest.

The Linear Perspective 2

Overlapping shapes

The upper square appears larger because it overlaps the lower square.

The Linear Perspective 3

Investment forms

The more distant horizon form appears closer to the viewer. The right square is further away from the horizon while the other two boxes, which brings you closer to the viewer, while other boxes are closer to the horizon, so it is the most distant.

The Linear Perspective 4

The converging lines

The parallel lines converge in the distance. In this scene, the lines of the road (orthogonal lines) and then meet with them extend across the distance, giving the appearance of depth. A vanishing point is formed when orthogonal lines meet. The convergent lines actions start the concept of depth expressed by the height at which the width of the path decreases with distance.

The Linear Perspective 5

As you become familiar with the basics of linear perspective, you may already be using it. It simply has not been understood. Using the principles is sure to improve the accuracy of your designs.

The simplified linear perspective

Mark and Mary Willenbrink, the best-selling author of the Absolute Beginner art teaching series, working together as a team in the publishing industry for decades. By sharing the basic principles of art in understandable terms, Mark and Mary like to encourage others to follow their creative potential. His book, Perspective for the Absolute Beginner, provides instructions available in the basic principles of linear perspective as demonstrated by this lesson. Get your copy of Outlook for the absolute beginner now! Enjoy!