Three Point Perspective Drawing Made Simple

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Three Point Perspective Looking Up

clock tower

Peter Pearson

Three-point perspective happens when you stand at the edge of a building and look up! Check out this photo of Big Ben, the famous clock tower at the British Houses of Parliament, by Peter Pearson. (See his original photo on Flickr, here) Notice how the tower seems to get narrower the higher it goes? And at the same time, the further edges of the building get smaller, too. The corner nearest us seems the tallest.

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An Extra Set of Vanishing Lines

finding the vanishing points

P Pearson

When we tried out two-point perspective, we found that we needed two vanishing points and two sets of lines to draw horizontals moving away from us in each direction. To draw them in three-point perspective, we just need to add an extra vanishing point, which is at a point above (or below, if you're drawing something looking down). Tracing the edges and lines on this tower and extending them out, we can see the vanishing lines heading off in each direction — eventually, they meet at the vanishing points. The lower two vanishing points won't fit on the page. They'll also not be level, as the horizon would be in standard two-point because the view is at an angle — that's a whole lesson for another day!

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A Simple Box in 3 Point Perspective

box in a point perspective drawing
H South

Now we're going to draw a simple box in three point perspective. This will help you get the mechanics sorted out, and from there you can play with different angles and shapes. To begin with, we need a horizon line and three vanishing points — two on the horizon and one above us. Notice how if you look up, the horizon moves to the bottom of your field of vision — you see more sky. So we draw the horizon very low. Draw a light perpendicular (straight up and down) line from your top vanishing point.

Because I needed to fit the tutorial into a small space, my vanishing points are very close together. This gives an effect a bit like using a wide-angle lens, which distorts the object — you can get a more realistic result by spacing your points much further apart. You could try taping an extra sheet of paper to the top and sides of your working sheet so that you can place your vanishing points further away.

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Constructing the Box

3d drawing, perspective
H South

Next lightly draw some construction lines. Begin at the left vanishing point, straight to about 1/3 of the way up the vertical line, back down to the right vanishing point. Then another, from the left vanishing point to about 3/2 of the way up, and then straight to the right vanishing point. Those mark the top and bottom edges of your box. Now draw two lines from the top vanishing point - these can be as wide or narrow as you like, but something like the ones in the example; these will mark the front left and back right edges of the box.

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Finishing the 3D Box Outline

3D box drawing

H South

Now to finish the 3D box drawing. Draw a line from the lower back corner to the left vanishing point. And draw one from the lower left corner to the right vanishing point. You can see how they intersect to form the back corner and underside of the box.

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The Completed Box in Three Point Perspective

3D box drawing

 H South

Now erase your working lines and strengthen the lines that mark out the sides of the box. Shading the sides of the box can help to make it look more three-dimensional; use a darker tone underneath. You can also follow perspective shading, directional shading that pays attention to the direction of perspective, to help create your three-dimensional illusion. As I mentioned before, the close-together vanishing points make this box a little bit distorted. But it still looks pretty cool.

That was surprisingly easy, wasn't it! Perspective drawing isn't difficult if you take it one stage at a time. Of course, this is just a very simple shape — more complicated objects can become quite tricky. Practice drawing simple figures in three-point perspective from various angles to become confident with the method.

When sketching a building, we don't always construct perspective precisely like this — but knowing how it looks will help you to draw it correctly. I like to indicate the main structure, rule some very light guidelines, then draw carefully freehand, to maintain consistency within the image. You can also use a straightedge (ruler or book edge) to against the pencil body or your hand, rather than the point, to get a line that is straight but not too mechanical. Try sketching a tall building in three point perspective and see what works for you. Try some brick and stone textures to add interest to the surfaces.