1.4 Visual Depth

Find places that can exaggerate different viewpoints. Focus on how you visualise depth and what strategies you use. Produce three drawings depicting a room in your house using:

  • one-point
  • two-point
  • three-point perspective
  • isometric projection
  • the room’s own visual logic and deliberately breaking the rules 
  • a flat drawing.

By definition these last three drawings will be less observed and more imagined, but try and use the room and objects as in your perspective drawings. You don’t need to produce finished illustrations for these pieces, though you can if you want to.

Note: This is a project I want to do a lot more work on, experimenting also with linocuts and drypoint and really exploring how to get very different effects through altering the relationship between perspective, line, tone and colour. I also want to do posts on linear perspective and isometric perspective to match the one on flat perspective. I have so far only scratched  the surface of something I want to take further in Assignment 3 on narrative.


Write around 200 words analysing how these different approaches affect the ‘meaning’ of the visual space being represented. When you choose to draw with or without perspective what is this saying?

I chose to do these drawings in my living room, looking through to the hall and dining room depending on the type of perspective.

Linear perspective appears to be ‘photographically accurate’ – it is what we are used to considering as ‘correct’ and ‘real’. However there is no one ‘true’ perspective for any scene. Different photographic lenses give very different effects. There are many variations on any one scene in the way that linear perspectives can be constructed. In practice in most views there are multiple vanishing points because many things in a scene are not parallel to each other.

Images based on, or dominated by, one point perspective with a single vanishing point gives a feeling of direction towards that vanishing point. But it is possible to experiment with:

  • eye or horizon line: can be placed in different relationship to the ground plane to give the view of a child (low eye-level), or an adult and taller person (high eye level). It is also possible to have very high (bird’s eye) or very low viewpoints in relation to the vanishing point for very dramatic effects.
  • position of the vanishing point along the horizon line and in relation to the image border: central or off central, hidden etc
  • angle of view: steeper angles give a closer wide angle feel, narrower angles give a telephoto feel.
  • realism means that beyond the 60 degree cone of view the image would be slightly curved and less sharp
  • area of focus or sharpness in the image can be towards the front ie we see things closer to us more sharply, or sharpness may be greater in a particular focal point of interest – like focusing a camera which is the way we scan scenes with our eye. The difference in sharpness may also vary from sharpness throughout the image to extreme variations between one or more points.
  • differences in interest and focus can be changed by tonal and/or colour contrasts.
  • tension can be created, feelings of emptiness or chaos can be created by altering the relationship between these different elements.

Two point perspective with two vanishing points along the eyel line gives a sense of indecision – which way to look? Again the eye line, angles and position of the mid line can be altered to create different effects.

Three point perspective (not to be confused with one point perspective looking up or down) has all horizontals and verticals converging towards different vanishing points. This exaggerates the feeling of height or depth. It can also be used to create a profound sense of disorientation when the angles towards one or more of the vanishing points are very exaggerated and distort objects.

Isometric perspective is used by designers because parallel relationships and measurements are preserved. This gives a more technical or expansive feel – as in the Chinese long scrolls of townscapes.

But none of these are actually the way we see things. Our eyes change focus, make more distant things seem near and make connections that are then stored as memories in the brain. Drawing without perspective can explore these connections and meanings. This can be done from memory, mixing images in photomontage or from imagination. These images can be apparently ‘realistic’ at first view and then become surreal on further examination. Or their improbability can be immediately apparent through design.

In all these cases drawings can be be along a continuum from photorealism to abstraction. Some of the most striking images can be abstracted in black and white to reveal shapes and relationships between objects in linear perspective, isometric or flat perspective or with no perspective at all.


(sources in green to be followed up in more detail in forthcoming blog posts)

De Chirico – use of multiple vanishing points and shadows that do not follow linear perspective to give a menacing or uneasy feel.

Catherine Anyango – her series of Rooms – hyperrealistic pencil illustrations of large rooms where bad things happened.

Alessandro Gottardo – bending of perspective to create compositionalo effects.

David Hockney – perspective collages

Eric Ravillious – watercolours of rooms with split perspectives

MC Escher (from recent exhibition in Dulwich Gallery)

Dave McKean : dramatic childs’ eye and bird’s eye views in some of his graphic novels

Persian miniatures

Chinese scrolls

Japanese woodcuts with their very tight cropping and near isometric perspective

Cezanne Still Life (isometric)

Egyptian and Greek Art (flat)

Review of earlier work

I had already done quite a lot of perspective drawing in different media for earlier OCA drawing and painting courses – mostly one point or multiple perspective. I started by reviewing these so that this exercise took my thinking further rather than just repeating what I had already done.

With this project I wanted to really experiment with the effects of different parameters – eye line to create the feeling of being a child, how to appear looking down, how to create a feeling of voyeurism, how to create an expansive feel. I also wanted particularly to experiment with perspective grids in Illustrator, and using different types of brush to get different digital effects.

One point perspective

In one point perspective all vertical lines remain parallel, usually at 90 degrees to the horizon line, while horizontal lines converge to one vanishing point on the horizon line. Alternatively in a bird’s eye view or view looking up, all vertical lines may converge to one point in the viewer’s line of view, while horizontal lines remain parallel.

Many of my earlier drawings were in one point perspective. In order to take this further I decided I would do a rough charcoal drawing to scan and experiment with in Illustrator perspective grids – something that was new to me.

The view that I thought most exaggerated one-point perspective was the view through the door from the lounge into the hall. I sketched two versions – one for a tall person looking down, a close-up feel, and one for a small person with low eye level giving a more distanced spacious feel. Inspired by some of the drawings by Escher, I also quickly tried a curved version just to see what that might look like.

In Illustrator I then put the first image onto a perspective grid and manipulated this to explore different types of effect – varying the eye line, position of the vanishing point in relation to the rest of the image, angles of view and cropping.

I did some further sketches and identified different interpretations and areas of focus or mystery that the image could lead the viewer to.

I then started to explore the effects of different tonal relationships.

With different types of line and brush

Finally with different colours.

One point perspective gives a feeling of direction. It is possible to experiment with:

  • eye level: to give the view of a child (low eye-level), or an adult and taller person (high eye level). It is also possible to have very high (bird’s eye) or very low viewpoints onto the picture plane for very dramatic effects.
  • position of the vanishing point: central or off central, hidden etc
  • angle of view: steeper angles give a closer wide angle feel, narrower angles give a telephoto feel.
  • realism means that beyond the 60 degree cone of view the image would be slightly curved and less sharp

Two point perspective

In two point perspective all vertical lines remain parallel, usually at 90 degrees to the horizon line, while horizontal lines to left and right converge to separate vanishing points. Alternatively all horizontal lines may remain parallel while vertical lines to top and bottom converge towards separate vanishing points.

It was more difficult to find an interesting view with two point perspective in the same rooms. The view I chose was the angle of the arch going one way into the lounge and on the right to the dining room, giving a split view. This was inspired by some of the interiors by Eric Ravillious.

I first sketched this in charcoal.

I then wanted to see how far I could warp and distort the view using the perspective warp in Photoshop. The digital sumi-e image I flattened the right hand side of the image and stretched the left side. Squashing things on the right makes me wonder much more what is happening outside the frame – the light from the window is intensified. Though the distortion on the left no longer has a vanishing point.

Two point perspective gives a sense of indecision – which way to look? Again the eye line, angles and position of the mid line can be altered to create different effects.

Three point perspective

In three point perspective all vertical and horizontal lines will have their own vanishing points. (NOTE there is also four point perspective where left, right and top, down all have their vanishing points).

NOTE: I need to look more at 3 point perspective. A lot of the examples I see are really one point perspective or just multiple vanishing points on a horizon line. There are lots of dramatic 3 point perspective cityscapes (See Linear Perspective) But it was difficult to find a view in the same room because there is not enough height. Even if I went to the stairway, this would really have been one point perspective looking up or down.


This was my first attempt. But I need to rethink this – put my paper on a large board and mark on the vanishing points. And redraw. I need to think carefully about the eyeline – is this in the direction of my view, but my actual eyeline? That is where I was getting confused.

Isometric perspective

In isometric perspective all parallel lines follow the same fixed path.

Chinese perspective was more or less isometric, though it often had multiple vanishing points. This was because many drawing were done on long scrolls that made linear perspective impossible. One effect of this that has been noted is that it gives an ‘imperial view’ a vista over a wide landscape to emphasis imperial power.

Isometric drawing is particularly used in technical and architectural drawing where people want to know which distances are equivalent, and illusions of depth is not important. Illustrations using isometric perspective often have a childlike ‘lego-brick’ feel as in Adam Simpsons ‘boundaries’ and ‘loveth well’ images.

Isometric perspective was new to me. I found it difficult even using isometric paper – whether things should go up or down around the horizon line – the door here was particularly problematic as part of it is above and part below. Possibly logically as all lines go up, the lightshade should also go up. It looks odd.

But it is a type of perspective I could explore further. Some of my earlier images of interiors like the pen drawing of the bathroom and some of the watercolours could have been made more definitely isometric and that might have made them more interesting.

 Flat perspective

Here the lack of visual depth makes the whole surface area equally important. It has a different visual dynamic, placing more emphasis on abstract line, colour and shape. This approach is often used by illustrators involved in pattern-making, fabric design, textiles and other surface-based media. It is also common in film animations.

Examples include:

Egyptian and to some extent Greek art

Saul Bass‘s film titles

Will Scott‘s Still Life

Adam Simpson‘s Moby architecture illustrations

 See overview of flat perspective

This type of perspective would be interesting for a panorama – something I have become increasingly interested in in photography although here one gets interesting perspective distortions. I did two images moving round the room and joined them together into one long image. I like this flat deadpan effect. I could have exaggerated my earlier images of my bedroom and the bathroom also in this way in ink.

I made a mistake on one printing, and made a series of collages to explore the different effects of different line dynamics. These create ideas that I could take forward either as flat illustrations, bringing altered perspective in or moving further towards magical realism. Some of these like the last two suggest entirely new images and interpretations – and can be turned around or upside down to suggest even more as a source of inspiration.

Magical realism

Storytelling does not have to fully use the rules of perspective. They can use them partially, or reinvent the world along new visual lines, distorting and bending perspective and playing with scale and other cues to visual depth. In this way they can construct new symbolism or narrative meanings and connections and new ways of looking at the world. Surrealism often distorts perspective as well as using unusual juxtapositions.

See for example de Chirico and MC Escher for surreal effects. Geoff Grandfield significantly alters the relative scale of different elements in his images to create mystery and hidden meanings that only become apparent when the eye follows his dynamic perspective lines. David Hockney‘s ‘joiner’ photomontages also play with the idea of perspective, as does cubism. In some of my own earlier paintings I was also very interested in distorting perspectives, as in the final image inspired by the Fitzwilliam Museum lobby stairs above.

For this exercise I started by doing a somewhat random photomontage from my memories and impressions of the room. I made things like the arch bigger, opposite the window – all ways to light and the outside. I made the doors narrower with just a slit to the light in the hall. Then the lamp in the middle larger – it hits tall guests on the head if they don’t look where they are going but is also a key feature of the room. I then printed this image out on art photo paper and made a brush pen version in black ink over the top. Finally I put all that away and just did a drawing with a large clutch pencil – different from the photo as I realised there were important elements in the room like the crayon picture of the dog on the wall done by my daughter as a Christmas present when she was about 7.

I found the pencil sketch from memory the most interesting to do – liberating in many ways and something I would want to do more of in other contexts also.

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