February 2017

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Drawing on The Architectural Image

A Lesson in Two-Point Perspective

By Aliya Reich, Public Programs Coordinator, National Building Museum

Walking through The Architectural Image: 1920-1950: Prints, Drawings, and Paintings from a Private Collection, it’s easy to be swept away by the images that line the exhibition’s walls. Large or small, precise or whimsical, each tells the viewer something about how the artist perceived the built environment and how he or she chose to represent its appearance and energy artistically.

Some of the works depict swirls of energy around the page, creating exuberant, big, busy cities. Others render buildings with fine, ultra-precise lines, in a manner that highlights their quiet grandeur. Regardless of their approach, many of the works in the exhibition utilize linear perspective to make renderings of buildings and other aspects of the built environment convincing to the viewer’s eye. Linear perspective, which was first employed illusionistically in ancient times and was demonstrated geometrically in the Italian Renaissance, is a means of representing three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface.

Have you ever wondered how this works? Follow this simple, step-by-step tutorial to learn how to render buildings and other three-dimensional geometric shapes in two-point perspective.

1. First, you’ll need a pencil, paper, and a ruler.

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2. Next, draw a horizontal line somewhere on your paper. This line is the horizon line, which is always at eye level. Imagine being at the beach, and looking out over the water. The horizon line is the line where the sky and the water meet.

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3. Next, determine your two vanishing points. Vanishing points are the points on the horizon line towards which all lines appear to recede. In two-point perspective, there are two vanishing points.

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4. Now, draw a vertical line somewhere between your two vanishing points. This line will be one edge, or corner, of your building. Make your line as long or as short as you want, and it’s perfectly okay if the line crosses the horizon line.

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5. Next, lightly draw lines from each end of your vertical line to your vanishing points. The lines you’ve just drawn form the top and bottom edges of your building.

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6. Next, decide how long you’d like your building to be. Draw vertical lines parallel to the first vertical line you drew.

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7. Now, erase the extra marks. You have a box that’s in two-point perspective!

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8. Add architectural elements or other buildings around the box you’ve drawn. You can add elements at different heights—just remember that the vertical lines should be parallel to one another, and the horizontal lines should be drawn so that they taper toward the vanishing points. Be creative! What will your cityscape contain?

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If you’d like to continue to practice your architectural drawing, join us for a workshop on April 30.

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