One-point perspective is a linear perspective system that uses a single vanishing point to create the illusion of depth and space in a two-dimensional image.
In this article, we’ll break down the main properties of one-point perspective and understand how artists use them to create a sense of depth in a two-dimensional artwork.
The three main characteristics of one-point perspective are: 1. The horizon line is a horizontal line that represents the viewer's eye level. 2. Orthogonal or converging lines are diagonal lines that extend from the edges of objects to the vanishing point. 3. The vanishing point is a single point on the horizon line where all parallel lines converge.
One-point perspective is great for depicting scenes with straightforward views, such as a road or a tunnel. It provides a strong sense of depth and directs the viewer’s attention to a specific point in the composition.
Key Elements of Single-Point Perspective
In nature, the horizon line is the apparent line at which the Earth’s surface and the sky appear to meet. The position of the horizon line depends on the viewer’s perspective and eye level. When you stand on the shore or on a ship at sea, the horizon appears as a horizontal line that extends in all directions.
In a realistic setting, our eyes are typically at a certain height above the ground, and the horizon line corresponds to that eye level. In drawing and painting, the horizon line is represented by a horizontal line across the artwork, indicating the viewer’s eye level. Adjusting the height of the horizon line in an artwork can communicate whether the viewer is looking down, straight ahead, or up in relation to the depicted scene.
When the horizon line is higher in the artwork, it simulates the viewer looking down. This is because, in reality, when we are at a higher elevation (like standing on a hill or a platform), we see more of the ground below us, and the horizon appears higher in our field of vision.
On the other hand, when the horizon line is lower, it suggests the viewer is looking up at the scene. In real life, when we are at a lower elevation (perhaps at the base of a tall building or looking up a mountain), the horizon appears lower in our field of vision.
Orthogonal or Converging Lines
The use of converging lines is based on the principles of how we perceive space in the real world. In reality, parallel lines appear to converge as they extend into the distance. By replicating this phenomenon in art, artists can create a realistic representation of space.
Lines known as orthogonal, extending from surfaces that create an angle with the picture plane, converge towards a single vanishing point. This vanishing point is situated on the horizon line, which is parallel to the picture plane and intersects with the viewer’s line of sight.
Orthogonal lines, also known as converging lines, are imaginary lines that help create the illusion of depth. Lines, such as the edges of buildings or roads, that would be parallel in the real world, appear to converge and meet at the vanishing point. These lines provide the viewer with a visual cue about how objects recede into the distance.
Orthogonal lines guide the viewer’s eye toward the vanishing point, creating a sense of depth and distance. This directional flow helps lead the viewer’s gaze through the composition.
The vanishing point is central to creating the illusion of depth. This is a point on the horizon line where parallel lines appear to converge and disappear.
As objects move away from the viewer, their parallel lines converge toward the vanishing point on the horizon line, giving the impression that the objects are getting smaller and receding into the distance.
In a one-point perspective, there is only one vanishing point. This is suitable for scenes where the viewer looks directly at the front of objects or down a straight path. However, it’s important to note that the vanishing point doesn’t have to be in the center; it can be intentionally placed off-center.
The vanishing point often serves as a focal point in the composition; it’s where the viewer’s attention is naturally drawn. This is evident in Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, where the lines converge at the head of Christ.
Principles of Linear Perspective
1. Surfaces parallel to the picture plane remain undistorted
This principle is particularly evident in scenes where artists depict architecture or objects with flat surfaces.
The term “picture plane” refers to the flat surface of the drawing or painting. It serves as the imaginary window through which the viewer looks into the depicted scene. When a surface is parallel to the picture plane, it remains undistorted. This means that the proportions and shapes of objects on that surface are accurately represented without any foreshortening or distortion.
For example, if you have a rectangular box and one of its sides is directly facing the viewer (parallel to the picture plane), that side will appear as a true rectangle without any distortion. However, if the box is at an angle, the sides not parallel to the picture plane will appear foreshortened.
Objects or surfaces that are not parallel to the picture plane may appear distorted. This distortion occurs because lines that are parallel in reality converge toward a vanishing point on the horizon when projected onto the picture plane.
In a one-point perspective, foreshortening becomes particularly evident when objects are not aligned parallel to the picture plane but instead are oriented toward the vanishing point.
Foreshortening involves the distortion of proportions. As an object comes closer to the viewer, it appears shorter and may seem compressed compared to its actual size. Foreshortening is often applied to the human figure, especially limbs.
The most renowned illustration of a foreshortened human figure in one-point perspective is notably in “The Lamentation over the Dead Christ” by Andrea Mantegna. This masterpiece has been featured in numerous books dedicated to the study of perspective.
Railway tracks are a common example of one-point perspective and foreshortening. Railway sleepers closest to the viewer will appear larger, with their full dimensions visible. However, as the sleepers recede into the distance along the tracks, they will appear shorter and narrower due to foreshortening, and the gaps between them will seem narrower as they move into the distance.
Diminution in perspective refers to the apparent decrease in the size of objects as they recede into the distance. It is a visual effect that occurs due to the principles of linear perspective.
When objects overlap, it creates a visual hierarchy and helps convey the spatial relationships between them. Overlapping occurs when one object is positioned in front of another, partially or entirely concealing the object behind it. This is a common occurrence in the real world and is used by artists to create a sense of depth in their compositions.
5. Depicting light and shadow
Understanding the form and structure of three-dimensional objects comes naturally when observed under some form of light. The shadows cast by this light make the shapes easy to understand in all their dimensions.
Practical Applications of One-Point Perspective
One-point perspective has practical applications in various fields of visual arts and beyond. Its ability to represent depth and space makes it a valuable tool in various creative and technical domains.
Teaching the principles of one-point perspective is common in art and design education, helping students develop spatial awareness and the ability to represent three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface.
Architects use a one-point perspective to create realistic renderings and visualizations of buildings and interior spaces. It helps convey the spatial relationships within a structure and provides clients with a realistic preview.
Interior designers use a one-point perspective to plan and illustrate room layouts. It aids in visualizing how furniture and decor will appear in a given space, helping clients make informed design decisions.
Engineers and technical drafters use perspective drawing to illustrate plans and designs. It helps convey how different components fit together in a three-dimensional space.
In video game design, a one-point perspective is often used to create realistic and immersive environments. It helps game designers visualize and construct virtual landscapes that appear three-dimensional to players.
Photographers often consider the principles of perspective when composing shots. Understanding how lines converge can enhance the visual impact of photographs and create a sense of depth.
Famous Examples of Single-Point Perspective Paintings
Masaccio’s The Holy Trinity fresco marks the first systematic application of linear perspective, a technique pioneered by Brunelleschi. It was painted around 1424 in the left nave of Florence’s main Dominican church, the Santa Maria Novella.
This mural mimics a single monumental space framed within a Renaissance architectural setting. It skillfully mimics a real chapel, with various layers of space hosting individual figures. The use of perspective reinforces the hierarchical arrangement of the characters.
This fresco adheres strictly to the rules of a one-point linear perspective. Even today, you can observe the incised converging lines up close on the mural. The horizon line, corresponding to the viewer’s actual eye level, is marked at the lower part of the main scene, precisely at the height of the stairs. The vanishing point is accurately positioned at the midpoint of this line, enhancing the illusion of depth and realism.
In Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco “The Last Supper,” the vanishing point is located behind the head of Jesus, at the center of the composition. The converging lines guide the viewer’s gaze to the central figures of Jesus and the apostles, creating a focal point within the composition.
The architectural elements, such as the coffered ceiling and the lines formed by the table’s edges, create a network of orthogonal lines that converge toward the vanishing point. This draws the viewer’s eye into the scene and gives a sense of depth.
Tips for Creating a One-Point Perspective Artwork
Start by defining the horizon line. This is crucial for determining the viewer’s eye level and the placement of the vanishing point.
Choose where to put the vanishing point on the horizon line. The placement will affect the composition, so experiment with different positions to see how it impacts the scene.
Objects that are closer to the viewer should appear larger, and those farther away should appear smaller. Please pay attention to the scale of elements in relation to their distance from the vanishing point.
Use guidelines to define the direction of orthogonal lines leading to the vanishing point. This helps maintain consistency and accuracy in your perspective.
Practice drawing scenes from observation, whether it’s a street view, a hallway, or any environment with a clear one-point perspective. This can help you understand how objects behave in space.
Look at buildings, streets, or any architectural elements and analyze how they converge into the distance.
In conclusion, the three main characteristics of the one-point perspective — the horizon line, orthogonal or converging lines, and the vanishing point — form the foundational principles for creating a sense of depth and realism in visual art.
It’s worth noting that artists have a range of techniques, including aerial perspective and two and three-point linear perspectives, to enhance the illusion of depth in their drawings.
We invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section below and feel free to share this article on your social media platforms. For more insightful content on art principles, explore further articles on our website.
My name is Debora, and I’m the founder of Drawing Fundamentals. I work as a civil engineering technician. I acquired the basic knowledge necessary for freehand and technical drawing during my school training, further developing and perfecting these skills throughout my years in the profession. Through my blog, I aim to assist anyone interested in learning to draw.