Introduction to One Point Perspective
One of the main hurdles that a comic artist must tackle is how to fully immerse the reader into their story. This can be done is several ways, such as drawing figures that look volumetric or rendering faces that evoke emotion.
However today, I want to teach what I think is the most foundational subject for an artist to understand: Perspective. In fact, for an artist to even draw a figure with volume or draw a face with a strong emotion, a solid understanding of perspective must already be present.
But what is perspective?
In general, it means having a certain viewpoint. For an artist, it means how to show a 3D object on the 2D plane (your drawing). If you are new to this subject, don’t worry.
I will be taking it slow and explaining how and why you are doing each step when incorporating perspective. Let’s begin with a basic overview of the conceptual tools that we have in our draftsmanship toolbox.
Overlap – Shapes that cover over top other shapes appear to be closer to the viewer.
Convergence – Objects seem to get closer together, towards a single point, as they get farther away from the viewer.
Diminution – Objects seem to get smaller as they get farther away from the viewer.
Foreshortening – Lengths of objects seem to get shorter when viewed in certain angles
Atmospheric Perspective - Objects that are extremely far from the viewer seem to get hazy because of particles in the atmosphere.
Value / Color – Objects that are closer to the viewer tend to have a higher contrast and saturation than objects that are farther away.
Now that we know the concepts, let’s talk about perspective grids and how to set one up. Essentially, a perspective grid is a guide that an artist utilizes to assist in placing objects in a scene. There are several types but for this tutorial we are only talking about a one point perspective.
One Point Perspective Grids
The one point perspective is the easiest perspective grid to set up but is also the most deceptively difficult to use. It only requires a single vanishing point, and is still a highly effective setup for even the most dramatic of scenes.
However, since the vanishing point is visible within your picture plane objects rapidly get distorted, as they get closer to the horizon and the vanishing point itself. With that in mind, we can begin.
Let’s go step-by-step and set one up. After, I will create a scene out of the grid we just made and explain a scenario where this grid is useful.
Step 1: Draw The Horizon Line
In this case, draw this line completely flat. Think of the horizon line as the height of your viewer or camera.
Step 2: Draw a Vanishing Point
Place a dot or mark somewhere on your horizon line. This is will be the basis for your scenes perspective. I suggest this VP to be placed somewhere off of center.
Step 3: Draw Guidelines
From that VP going out, draw straight lines to the edge of your picture plane. I would say draw about 10 of these.
Step 4: Draw Horizontal Guidelines
Now, draw several lines that are parallel to the horizon. In a one point perspective grid these lines are infinitely parallel.
Step 5: Draw Vertical Guidelines
Now, do the same process but draw guidelines going vertically to help guide the heights of objects placed in the scene.
Great! You just set up a one point perspective grid. Now let’s use it. You may follow along and draw a similar scene to experiment with using these guidelines.
Step 6: Lower Opacity Of The Perspective Grid
Either with an eraser for traditionalists or with the layer modifier for those who are working digitally, make the opacity of the grid lighter in contrast. This will enable you to see what you are about to draw but also utilize the grid’s guides.
Step 7: Begin Plotting Out a City Scene
Draw several cubes that Overlap one another. All the lines that head toward the vanishing point will start to look like they are heading away from you.
Step 8: Divide The Buildings Into Floors
When drawing an environment it is important to know your scale. Drawing these divisions start that process. Since we know that a single floor of a building is about 15 ft, you can start to guess the scale of the scenes we are about to draw.
Step 9: Add More Divisions & Modify The Cubes
Buildings are very simple shapes but can look really cool if you add only a few modifiers to them. In this case, I’ve widened out the building on the right and added side walks and rails, as well. I also used the guides to find the correct height of the divisions for the buildings far in the distance.
Step 10: Add Detail to The Foreground
I’ve done several things here to the foreground building to the right, but I mainly want to point out the technique for judging distance. In blue I’ve drawn an “x” overtop on section of the building.
To duplicate that distance in space I draw a line through the middle of the square the “x” takes up. This helps find how long the next section will be. From that point, all I did was draw the details of the building. The key here is to make sure to follow the guidelines.
Step 11: Add Detail to The Mid-Ground
This is a similar step to the previous one. All I’ve done here is add detail to the cubes. If you are having trouble adding details like this, it probably means that you’ve forgotten what city buildings really look like. I suggest you grab some reference of a city online and use that to help you design the look of your architecture.
Step 12: Add Further Detail
Creating a nice background is all about adding the right amount of details. As things get farther away, remember to add a lesser amount of detail on your objects. In this case, less is truly more.
Step 13: Add Personality to The Scene
Here’s where I start to add personality to the scene. Adding things like textures, clouds, smoke, debris and trees will really start to make this scene work as more than just a backdrop.
Step 14: Another Example of The "X" Method
Here is a simple example of how to use the “x” method. For the lines in the road, I’ve set up a series of rectangles receding toward the vanishing point. Each rectangle is the length of one line and there should be two rectangles in between each line.
Once these “x” guides are in place, it is fairly simple to add the same amount of distance between the road lines.
Step 15: Giving Objects a Vanishing Point
To really vary up the content of your scene you may want to rotate an object so that it does not go toward the main vanishing point.
To do this, simply draw a new dot on the horizon and draw your guidelines spreading out from that new point. I used this technique for the roadside garbage bin and as you can see, it looks slightly more natural that the other objects that all share the main vanishing point.
This technique can be used anywhere. In fact, if you are drawing a figure, each part of the body will technically have their own vanishing points.
Step 16: Add Even More Interest
Here is another step where I’ve added small objects that really give the scene a sense that people actually live there. Objects like garbage bags, graffiti, posters, animals, furniture, etc. will start to really fool your audience into suspending their disbelief.
Step 17: Add Drop Shadows
And, just like with characters, you’ll need to add at least a little bit of line weights and shadow to give a grounded feeling to your scene. This will also make your scene feel cohesive, especially when you really pay attention to how lighting reacts in the environment.
Done! That was a lot of work, but it was all worth it. The city looks great and feels like an environment where characters really live.
Now, I am going to place a figure in the scene to show a way that this type of perspective could really be useful in your story.
As you can see, since the character is flying straight at the viewer, it is super engaging. You feel like you are part of the action. That is all with the help of one point perspective grid. So not only can you use a one point perspective for establishing shots, but also high tension moments of action, as well.
Well, that is it for this introduction to setting up a one point perspective. I hope you learned some useful tips along the way. Creating convincing backgrounds with the help of perspective grids are key to making believable worlds for your comics.
Remember that knowledge of perspective is needed to draw figures as well as backgrounds, so I highly suggest you get comfortable with using these guides and practice them often. The best practice is to look at your favorite artists and see how they use one point perspectives. Then try to draw similar scenes in your own work.
Again, I hope you enjoyed this process and be sure to check out the tutorials focusing on the other types perspective grids.
Tutorial by Joe Catapano