Flat Perspective

What is flat perspective?

In its pure form flat perspective there are no line, no shadow or converging lines to represent depth. There are differences between illustrators and images however eg  two or more sides of objects may be shown with different tones and or slightly converging lines to show some form. Some illustrators do add shadows.

The process of flattening can create interesting distortions of the form. 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.

Historical precedents

This type of perspective is common for example in:

Egyptian wall painting

Isis with her Horned Crown
Isis with her Horned Crown. Note the profiles of the face, the full front torso, the side view of the chair, flat stylised wings and the five flat fingers on the hand

Classical Greek vases

Here the figures and the table are all side view on.Drawing of the hands however is more realistic than in the Egyptian painting.
 Panel amphora from the workshop of Exekias. Note the shapes of the legs. These figures do have some flat but 3/4 foreshortening
Panel amphora from the workshop of Exekias. Note the shapes of the legs. These figures do have some flat but 3/4 foreshortening

Western Art

Art Nouveau, Art Deco and some paintings by Picasso which reduce 3D representations to 2D images.

Will Scott‘s Still Life flattens perspective into abstract shapes, often with symbolic and emotional meaning created partly by textures and subtle layering in the paint.

Gary Hume’s paintings simplify images into flat shapes.

Michael Craig-Martin’s line paintings of everyday objects are very obviously 2D renderings of 3D objects, but not strictly flat perspective as they generally have perspective drawn in.

Contemporary ‘flat illustration’

‘Flat illustration’ has become very fashionable with digital software like Illustrator. This takes flat perspective even further and uses solid blocks of colour/tone to represent objects, reducing details to very simple shapes. Flat illustration is often used in information graphics, cartoons and Flash animation.

Adam Simpson‘s Moby architecture illustrations

Geoff Grandfield’s narrative and other work