When you’re learning to draw, one of the essential skills to learn is how to use perspective correctly. If perspective is incorrect in a drawing, objects will appear to be different shapes than they are, at different distances from the viewer than intended.
When correcting issues with perspective, it’s essential to learn how to trace objects in your pictures back to the same vanishing points on the horizon line. But is it necessary to be mathematically precise with your ruler every time you draw?
Let us draw a simple house, once with a ruler and once without, to compare the results.
Drawing With a Ruler
Step 1: The Horizon Line
Draw the horizon line first. The horizon line is what it sounds like: it’s the line where the ground appears to meet the sky when you’re looking at things outdoors. The horizon line will always appear exactly at your eye level, so keep the viewer’s intended eye level in mind whenever you draw a horizon line.
Draw a dot for the vanishing point, where objects become too far away to see. The vanishing point represents the direction the viewer is gazing, so just imagine the viewer standing directly across from wherever you place the vanishing point.
Step 2: The Box
For one-point perspective, the front of an object faces the viewer directly, and the rest of it recedes to the one vanishing point. Use the ruler to get precise angles on the front of the box, which will become our house. Then, trace lines from the box's corners towards the vanishing point.
Step 3: Adding a Roof
To centre the roof's peak, we will use a little trick. Trace diagonal lines from one box corner to its opposite, making an X. Then, make a vertical line that goes through the centre of the X.
This line will be directly in the middle of the box, showing where the roof's peak should go! It's up to you how steep you want the roof to be.
Step 4: Making Both Ends Match
To make sure I was tracing the peak of the back end of the roof correctly, I traced out the back of the box shape and made the X there. Doing this was a bit tricky even for me as an experienced artist because of the overlapping lines.
Don’t be intimidated! If you go at a slow pace that’s comfortable for you, you will succeed.
Step 5: Details
I added the doors and windows of the house by tracing them back to the vanishing point. If it makes it easier, you can darken the lines that you want to show up in the last house before adding any doors or windows.
This will keep you from getting confused by the construction lines. I always have to darken my “real lines” for myself!
Now that you’ve drawn a house precisely with a ruler, you’ll better understand why perspective drawing works the way it does. After enough practice doing this, you will mentally know where the vanishing points and horizon line are in the scenes you draw.
Your freehand sketches will become more and more convincingly three-dimensional. Let’s try a freehand sketch of the same house we just drew!
Step 1: The (Sort Of) Horizon Line
Draw grass or any other type of ground you would like. Compare the sketched grass in the picture with the ruler to see how the mathematical horizon line would be completely rigid and straight. At the same time, an actual landscape is irregular and wavy.
Step 2: The House
Draw a house in the same shape as your first one, but do it freehand and allow yourself to make imperfect sketchy lines. See if you can mentally place a vanishing point and imagine the lines going back to it!
You’ll notice a difference in effect between the two houses. The second house may have some technical errors, but the drawing will still be more appealing because the natural line variation from your hand creates visual interest.
Step 3: Details
Sketch in the windows and doors. Try to line them up correctly, but allow for the imperfections that create the texture you like! You can add line weight variation to indicate some shadows in the doorframe and windowsills if you'd like.
Step 4: Ink
To ink this second house, allow for some broken lines. Let your hand wobble if it wants to. It can also be fun to add the texture in the grass surrounding the house so that the contrast in texture makes the house stand out in the composition more!
What stands out to you when you stand back and compare your two drawings? Which one looks the most correct to you? Since physics is the truest, is it the one you used the ruler for?
Or is it the freehand one because the textures are more naturalistic? To improve your urban sketching, it’s helpful to practice both types of drawing to train your mind to interpret perspective accurately while sketching outside.
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