Perspective as an Element of Composition in Paintings

In the beginning stage of practicing oil paintings and drawings, composition is built up of various levels of structure: perspective, tone, colors and pattern. These are the key elements of composition, with linear perspective as one of the simplest techniques every artists have to know.

Learning “linear perspective” enable you to create depth and distant on a flat surface. By looking at any buildings out from your windows, you will notice object starts to appear smaller and parallel lines look as if they are converging. Visually, this effect reproduces on flat surfaces, such as your sketch book paper. When imaginary lines in the same direction, if extended, meet at a common point on the horizon, it form a vanishing point. Some abbreviate it as V.P.

Perspective is regarded as the key to drawing with great accuracy and quality. It is a tool to establish the scale of objects at different places in space. In general, different viewpoint, has different perspective and vanish point.

Based on the drawing from “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci”, it show how a box would appear between the eye and the subject if it was traced on a flat screen. Using the rules of perspective means that you can draw without the need for tracing: the picture plane – the flat surface of the paper – replaces the window.

Leonardo da Vinci on Perspective
Leonardo da Vinci on Perspective

Below I have illustrated objects with three different types of vanish point in linear perspective, subjecting to your viewpoint.

  1. Look at a box face-on. With one-point perspective, the horizontal lines at the front remain parallel, but the lines of the top coverage at the vanishing point on the horizontal line.
  2. Perspective Vanishing Point VP1
    Perspective Vanishing Point VP1
  3. If you look at the box from a corner angle. You will see two sides. With two-point perspective, the parallel lines of each face and the top of the box converge at two vanishing points on each side.
  4. Perspective Vanishing Point VP2
    Perspective Vanishing Point VP2
  5. Look at a tall box from above. With three-point perspective, the parallel lines of the sides will appear to get closer together towards the base. This means you will have a third vanish point (great for dramatic skyscapes.)
Perspective Vanishing Point VP3
Perspective Vanishing Point VP3