Understanding One-Point, Two-Point, and Aerial Perspective

[Guest post by STL Master Artist, Pat Knepley]

Trees with text overlay: Understanding Perspective, Pt. 2. See the Light Art



The Last Supper

The Last Supper

When learning to work with perspective, it’s important to know that there are different types: 1-point, 2-point, 3-point, and aerial. Da Vinci’s  The Last Supper is an example of one-point perspective, where the viewer is looking towards one single vanishing point on the horizon line.

There are many great examples of one-point perspective in the works of the French painter Gustave Caillebotte. Caillebotte exploited the rules of linear perspective to create some magnificent art pieces of scenes of everyday life.

Caillebotte: The House Painters

Caillebotte: The House Painters

In The House Painters 1877 Caillebotte depicts two house painters busy at work on a storefront on a long city street in Paris. The extreme angle of the roofline, and the two edges of the sidewalk all converge to a distant vanishing point down the block that is bare of any greenery. One point linear perspective doesn’t always have to be used for city scenes with strict sharp lines.


Caillebot: The Gardeners

Caillebotte: The Gardeners














Take a look at Caillebotte’s The Gardeners from 1877. The walled-in garden is abundant with rows of young vegetables, carefully watered by the two gardeners in bare feet.  Each row of crops forms a line that recedes back to a vanishing point beyond the garden wall.

In the world of mathematical linear perspective, there is also two-point perspective, where the viewer looks at two vanishing points on the horizon line.  A good way to understand two-point perspective is to hold a tissue box up to your eye level so that a corner edge is right in front of you. Can you see the two sides? The top line and bottom line of each side recede back to a distant vanishing point on the same horizon line.

Caillebotte’s painting Rainy Day, Paris Street is a good example of two-point perspective:

Photo Credit: Gustave Caillebotte [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credit: Gustave Caillebotte [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Suppose you are not drawing a street scene, or rows of vegetables, or anything else where there are straight lines. How can you use perspective to create the illusion of depth in space? By following the rules of aerial perspective. Leonardo Da Vinci was the one who coined the term aerial perspective, and gave us three basic principles that always apply:

  • Objects that are further away appear to be smaller.
  • Objects that are close to the viewer are darker and more colorful; objects that are further away appear lighter and duller.
  • Objects that are close to the viewer will have more details visible; objects that are further away will appear to have less detail.

Beirstadt: Looking Up Yosemite Valley

A great example of aerial perspective, also known as atmospheric perspective, can be found in the works of the great American landscape artist, Albert Beirstadt. Beirstadt was one of a group of artists that helped record the Westward Expansion in the United States by painting large landscapes of the great West.

In the 1867 painting Looking up Yosemite Valley, Beirstadt uses the principles of aerial perspective to create a compelling image of immense scale. The trees in the foreground are large, but trees in the background are rendered smaller to show depth in space.

The mountains in the background are significantly lighter and less saturated in color as the effects of the water droplets in the atmosphere do their work. Likewise, there is less detail of the craggy surface of the mountains in those peaks furthest away from the viewer.

One of the most exciting developmental aspects of drawing for children is when they learn the secret of rendering an object to appear in three dimensions – or in proper perspective. This usually occurs between the ages of 9- 11, and some children are able to grasp the concept earlier than others. But it does take some coaching.

The home educator should know that teaching perspective need not be intimidating. Just watch the following video clip for some tips and exercises on aerial perspective (how to draw a simple landscape). It takes practice to reach the level of excellence of a Caillebotte or Beirstadt. But understanding the various rules of perspective is the first step to achieving the realism that makes a great drawing or painting.


Areal Perspective – from lesson 27 from Kip Perry on Vimeo.


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The terms One-Point, Two-Point, and Aerial Perspective make sense after reading this blog post & watching the short video.   #homeschool #homeschoolart  #art #perspectiveinart

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