When I say perspective, I am thinking more along the lines of depth and form in the subjects that we draw rather than the typical linear perspective.  Linear perspective is very important to understand and master, you know, with the horizon line and vanishing points etc.  This post is about dimensional drawing.

I want to share six very simple and basic rules that will help you endow each drawing with dimension.

The first, is the idea of objects sitting at different points along the ground plane.  Typically we show this by drawing one object higher on the paper than another.  Difference in Surface position.

Difference in Surface.

This drawing with no other indications begins to suggest that the higher ball might be farther away simply because it is sitting in a different point along the surface.  This is especially true when we can see the contact with the ground.  In and of itself, however, it does not present an entirely convincing illusion of depth.  But it’s a beginning.

With two recognizable objects that we know are flat, there is no illusion of depth. It just looks like one quarter is sitting higher on the table top than the other.

The second is a difference in Size.

Difference in Size.

In this example, all we see is one object larger than the other.  In and of itself, it may or may not mean that one is closer, but remember this rule, it can become a powerful cue to depth.

Looking at the same two quarters. We know that quarters are all the same size. Therefore, one starts appear farther away because it is smaller.

The next is combining these first two depth cues.  Surface plus Size.

Surface and Size.

Now we definitely start seeing the illusion of depth.  Most viewers would interpret this as two balls, with one closer than the other.

The fourth rule is Overlap.


While it may be possible that the one shape is simply a crescent that is pushed up alongside the circle, this appearance of overlapping will convince most people that one sphere is overlapping the other, therefore making a very clear statement of dimension and depth.

Next is Surface Lines.  These are lines that travel across the contour or surface of the object and deliver a lot of information about the three-dimensional form.  These lines may come in the form of stripes on a costume, shadows, or wrinkles, but they tell a lot about the form.

Surface Lines.

With these lines we can no longer mistake this for a coin, disc, or plate.

Finally, we have Foreshortening.  This is where we see the shape receding into space and actually getting smaller as it goes back.

Foreshortening with Receding Lines.

Now if we start combining all these elements, we can really get some perspective an depth into our drawings without getting very complicated.

All six rules are being utilized here.

Here is the rule of Surface being applied on a vanishing foreshortened grid and it is pretty convincing.

Here is Size on the grid, and it does not make the smaller one look further away, just smaller.

Surface and Size on the grid. Definitely depth and perspective here.

Notice this optical illusion. These two balls are exactly the same size. Because we expect to see the further one appear smaller, and it is not, it actually appears like it is larger than the one in the foreground once we place it on the grid.

Remember, shadows are shapes too. When a shadow overlaps an object we get a distinct depth cue.

Now let’s apply these rules to some simple drawings.

Notice the diminishing size of the two hands. If done correctly, they will feel the same size, only different proximity to the viewer.

Can you see the other dimensional cues that exist in this drawing?

There is Foreshortening an Overlapping as well.

If there were stripes on the shirt of this character, they would be Surface Lines and help us to demonstrate to the viewer the 3 dimensional form and how it sits in space.

Even without stripes on the clothing, there are plenty of opportunities for Surface Lines. Cuffs, belts, watchbands, and Wrinkles can all create cues to not only indicate the contour, but also the overlapping.

Can you see the perspective in this drawing? It looks quite natural.

There is forced perspective that helps create the illusion of form and not just shapes.

Notice the size differential of the individual elements like the eyes.  This is not meant to be a mechanical thing.  You should feel it more than anything, but sometimes it helps to use a few reminders (like perspective lines) to keep the perspective working right.  Again, notice the little things like the eyebrows and how they overlap the head.  Every little thing should contribute to the effect we want.  All the shapes on the far side are smaller and therefore appear to be receding in space.  Simple idea, but if we can see it and train ourselves to draw this way, our drawings will become much more dimensional and appealing.  They won’t look amateurish.  Amateurs draw flat because that’s all they know how to do.

Compare these two drawings. Which one has the better use of the six rules of dimensional drawing?

Notice all the cues. Every little thing needs to contribute to the dimension of the drawing.

Why would we want to draw a square when we can draw a cube? Show as much depth as you can in each of your drawings.

By twisting shapes we can create overlap and therefore depth and dimension.

Can you see the cues being used in any of these drawings?

Can you see how Overlapping, Foreshortening, and Diminishing Size are making this drawing very appealing? Look closely and you'll see that even the feet that are close together are NOT on the same Surface level.

Notice how the stripes help us understand which limbs are coming forward and which are receding.

Another example of Surface Lines defining form and perspective.

I always think of these guys when we talk about Surface Lines.

Make a concerted effort to utilize these “rules” every time you draw so they become second nature to you.  Even your rough sketches should be indicating a lot of this kind of thinking.