Have You Made These 4 Common Mistakes With Perspective?

Perspective drawing tends to be somewhat rigid in style because the artist is drawing according to a certain set of rules. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a step back from your artwork and take a thorough look at the overall drawing.

Watercolor Building in perspective

Many artists, beginners and experts, make these common mistakes. You’ll want to watch out for them!

Mistake #1: Showing an object’s top above eye level

In a perspective drawing the horizon line represents eye-level; it indicates what we should and shouldn’t see. For example: If the you draw a box-like form and its top is located above the horizon line, you should not be showing the top of that form. In other words, the top-most plane is obscured by the side planes (walls).

This illustration below shows this common error:

Bad box top

Perspective illustrations via HelloArtsy.com

Figure A is incorrectly showing the top of the box! This is a very common mistake made by artists new to perspective drawing. Remember, the horizon line represents eye level and indicates whether or not you can see the tops of your objects.

Mistake #2: Cramming

Drawing in perspective is fairly simple once you get the hang of it. You simply draw to the appropriate point(s) in a methodical way and you typically get great results. Or do you?

It’s important to limit the boundaries of your drawing. I recommend getting into the habit of placing your vanishing points really far away from the scene you are drawing; otherwise, you will get distortions. The things you draw will look strange and unnaturally skewed if they exist too close to your vanishing points.

(Note: This applies only to two-point and three-point perspective, not one-point perspective.)

Doesn’t the drawing below look somewhat off?  It’s just too extreme and skewed to look believable!

Crammed, skewed buildings

Avoid this problem by simply drawing on larger paper and limiting your actual perspective drawing to a small section near the middle of the paper. This will ensure that your vanishing points are way outside of the picture plane, giving your drawing a realistic and proper look.

Some artists even place their vanishing points off their paper and onto a piece of tape that’s stuck to the table they’re working on. If doing this, just remember to also tape your drawing paper down or your vanishing points will keep moving.

Mistake #3: Poorly placed horizon line

Because the horizon line indicates eye-level, you need to pay attention to what you’re trying to convey.  In other words, every perspective drawing tells a story and conveys a feeling of how your viewers are interacting with the scenery.

When beginning a perspective drawing, always ask yourself:

  • What story am I trying to tell?
  • Where is my “viewer” positioned?

If it’s a street scene, are drawing where is the viewer positioned? If you want to convey a scene that makes it look like your viewer is on the street, you have to place your horizon line lower in the picture. If you place it too high and show the tops of buildings, you are telling a different story. It won’t look like we are at street level — if you are walking down a flat street you don’t see onto the tops of buildings.

Take a look at this drawing:

simple street scene from above

There is nothing wrong with the perspective drawing above. However, if your intention is to convey a viewpoint at street level, this drawing is way off. 

Look how high the horizon line is positioned in the picture.  If you wanted to convey a viewpoint at street level you would have to move the horizon line much lower and inline, closer with the tops of the building’s doors.

Before you draw your next perspective drawing really take a moment to think about what it is you want to convey. Then choose a horizon line that exists at the appropriate height to support your drawing’s story!

Mistake #4: Wrong choice of point perspective

The subject matter you are depicting and the viewpoint of that subject matter should largely determine what form of perspective you choose.

One-point perspective

One-point perspective is very elementary in technique and concept, and as a result produces elementary looking results. One-point perspective is appropriate only in situations in which you are directly in front of an object. The classic example is when you’re drawing train tracks and the tracks are getting smaller directly in front of you.

Two-point perspective

Most of the time you will be seeing your scenery from a corner view, even if it’s very slight. This introduces a second vanishing point into the construction of the drawing. This is precisely why two-point perspective is usually the best option for most typical drawing scenarios.

While two-point perspective is great, a very popular drawing mistake made by amateurs is trying to use two-point perspective when three-point perspective should really be used.

Three-point perspective

If you find yourself trying to draw a tall building, you really should be using three-point perspective. Any time you are trying to convey height, you need that third vanishing point to make sure things are getting smaller as they recede away from the viewer.

If you want to convey a scene of distant buildings (ones that are far enough away that we’re not looking up nor looking down at them), two-point perspective is absolutely acceptable. It’s when we want the viewer to feel as if they are looking up or down at the subjects — that’s when you must use three-point perspective!

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