One Point Perspective – Part 1

Everyone knows that if you stand on a railroad track that extends straight into the distance, it appears to become smaller and smaller until the track finally disappears at the horizon line.  We know this because we’ve seen it –  in photos, on movies and by actually standing on the track itself.  We can see how the railroad ties become not only  smaller and smaller, but closer and closer together until everything disappears at the farthest dot visible on the horizon line.   That point is called, appropriately enough,  the vanishing point.  By studying the basic principles of one point perspective, we’ll be well on our way to understanding perspective.


Take a moment and join me on the railroad track.  I’m standing right in the middle, looking off into the distance. The track is squarely in front of me.  Along one side is another track, parallel to the one I’m on. See how it, too, becomes smaller and smaller towards the same vanishing point.   On the other side of the track is a platform, shelters and a row of lightpoles.  They all are parallel to the track.  Can you see how everything that is parallel goes toward the same vanishing point?

Next, notice how those things that are above our eye level (the light poles and the shelters’ roofs) go down to the horizon line, and those that are below (the platform and the rails), go upward to the vanishing point.

Learning to see these things is the first step.  Now, how do we translate what we see into lines on paper?  Start by making a light line for the horizon.  Remember it’s at your eye level so don’t put it too far down on the page.  Then make a dot somewhere close to the middle of the paper for the vanishing point.  Okay, here’s the tricky part – by careful observation draw the angle of the rails toward the vanishing point.  It can be difficult to know exactly what that angle should be.  Siting becomes easier with practice.


If you’re not sure, try holding your pencil in front of you  lining it up along the actual angle of the rail.  You’ll probably need to squint to get it exact.  Then, carefully draw that very same angle on your paper.  Something that helps me is to take the angled pencil from mid air to the paper.  Once I see the pencil on the paper, it’s easier to draw the correct angle.

Watch as I begin to draw this scene.  I like to start with a pencil to locate the horizon line and vanishing point.  For this demonstration I’m going to use a ruler to show how all the parallel lines go to the vanishing point.  When I’m  drawing I rarely use a ruler, but this time for clarity, I will use those lines as a guide for the free-hand ink lines.  If you use the ruler to do the drawing,  I feel the drawing becomes rather mechanical and expressionless.  One other note, for simplicity’s sake I’m going to put a basic building on the platform instead of the more complicated design of the shelters.

Let’s stop with this preliminary drawing for now;  I’ll have more about one-point perspective in my next post.  Stay tuned!


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