Perspective – A Glossary

I’m reading up on perspective again. I know the concepts. I’ve read more “Perspective Made Easy” books than I want to remember. I’ve done lots of perspective exercises. So, yes, I’m quite familiar with the various rules of linear perspective — both single point and two-point. For what it’s worth, I’ve even done a few exercises in three-point perspective, but I’ll stay as far away from that as possible.

Perspective is simple, as far as the basic concepts go. Things which are closer appear larger; things appear to grow smaller as they recede into the distance. What’s so difficult about that? Nothing, really. The difficulty comes — for me — when I try to take those simple concepts and translate them into accurate drawings.

Fortunately for me, as a landscape painter, I don’t have to draw or paint too many structures. Unfortunately for me, however, sometimes I do want to draw or paint a building or another man-made feature such as a fence or a neat row of trees.

Yes, I’m studying perspective again, and yes, as usual, I’m struggling with it, not for lack of knowledge but for lack of practice. It’s one thing to know the principles involved; it’s another thing to successfully apply them.

As I’m making my way through William Powell’s book on landscape drawing, I’ve come to a section on drawing structures. He doesn’t offer much guidance on perspective. Earlier in the book, he presents a few tips, but the reader is expected to know and understand perspective. In the section on structures, he simply writes, “…all elements should be drawn in proper perspective.”

I’ve spent a good part of my morning reading and reviewing very basic information on perspective, and I’m trying to break it down into the simplest possible terms. So, as basic as this seems — and, indeed, it is very basic — here is a helpful glossary of words we need to know and understand when learning perspective.

First, let’s start with the word itself: PERSPECTIVE. A good dictionary definition is this:

PERSPECTIVE is the art of drawing solid objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other when viewed from a particular point.

I like that definition. It covers all the salient points in a straight-forward way.

Another dictionary defines it as ” …a mathematical system for representing three-dimensional objects and space on a two-dimensional surface by means of intersecting lines that are drawn vertically and horizontally…”

Same principle, more verbiage, and more opportunity for confusion, I think. But, we can move on from here to some very easy terms.

Diagonal Lines: Lines that slant.

Eye Level Line: Another term for “Horizon Line”.

Form: A 3-dimensional object with volume.

Horizon Line: Also known as “Eye Level Line”. This is a single line used to communicate perspective. It may or may not be placed inside the picture plane. It presents the “eye level” to the viewer.

Horizontal Lines: Lines which run from side to side. Horizontal lines will always be parallel to the top and bottom edges of our drawing paper. (Not to be confused with “Horizon Line.”)

Parallel Lines: These are lines placed side by side. No matter how far we extend them, they will never touch. Parallel lines can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal.

Perspective Lines: (Orthogonal Lines). Lines that converge at a Vanishing Point to show perspective. Note that in reality these are Parallel Lines. In drawing, however, these lines converge.

Plane: A flat, 2-dimensional surface with no thickness. (A cube has 6 separate planes.)

Orthogonal Lines: Perspective Lines.

Vanishing Point: A point on a Horizon Line where all Perspective Lines meet.

Vertical Lines: Lines which run up and down on the page. These lines will be parallel to the sides of the drawing paper. 

If you’re like me, you might be shaking your head or rolling your eyes. Yes, yes, you know the difference between horizontal lines and vertical lines. Sure enough, you know what a vanishing point is. For me, the question is “How do I take this knowledge and apply it in my own drawing?”

One good way to begin is by looking at famous works of art and uncovering the perspective used. Here, as an example, is Van Gogh’s well-known “Bedroom at Arles” with helpful lines drawn in to show the horizon/eye level (red line) and the orthogonal perspective lines (blue lines) that converge at the vanishing point (black). This painting uses single-point perspective.


Studying perspective begins, of course, with simple single-point perspective, meaning there is only one vanishing point used.

You’ll find some excellent exercises and print-outs for single-point perspective at the Student Art Guide website. This is where I’ll be reading and studying in the coming days. Even though I’ve been through the lessons before, I still find it a challenge to create proper perspective when I’m drawing buildings.

Two-point perspective includes two vanishing points, both located on the horizon or “eye-level” line. If you’re ready to move on to two-point perspective, you’ll find a helpful tutorial here at Hello Artsy!

Single-point and two-point perspectives are the ones most widely used in art, but if you’re feeling it’s “too easy, drill sergeant,”… great. Take a look at three-point perspective with this information, also from Hello Artsy.

Or maybe you want a real challenge! How about four-point perspective? Did you even know it existed in art? I didn’t, so, of course, I was curious. Here’s a video that will explain it.

Why stop there? How about five-point perspective? Seriously? Needless to say, we’re far over my head, and if you’re interested, check it out: How To Draw in Five-Point Perspective.

Had enough yet? No? Well, check out this tutorial on drawing with Six-Point Perspective.

Here, I thought I’d definitely reached the limit on vanishing points, but I had to think again when I uncovered Seven-Point Perspective.

At this point — no pun intended — single-point, two-point, and even three-point perspective were beginning to sound comforting and familiar. I’ll be more than content to stay with my simple studies, my simple terminology, and the simple concepts of linear perspective.

For those who have moved beyond these basics, more power — and more perspectives — to you! And for those who just need a little laugh, check out this video:

How to Draw a 9 Vanishing Point Perspective



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