Where did that Horizon Line Go?

One of the things I love about teaching art is that I am continually learning through my students. Answering their questions reinforces my understanding and helps develop new, and hopefully better, ways to explain concepts. Perspective can be baffling to many. While I understand it easily to draw it, it can be tricky to explain the rules that govern the depiction of depth, or perhaps more accurately, the representation of three dimensions on a two dimensional surface.

The first thing to know about perspective is that everything relates to the horizon line. Consequently, one must determine exactly where that horizon line is. Oh, but wait, before we figure out where it is, we should identify what it is. The horizon line is the imaginary line in the distance where objects disappear out of sight. For those medieval sailors who thought the world was flat, it was the edge of the world.


There’s always a horizon line, whether or not you can see it. That’s a clue! If you can find your eyes, you can find the horizon line because another term for horizon line is eye level. Thus, if you were laying on the beach looking out at the sea, your eye level (horizon line) would be low and you wouldn’t see very much of the water. If you were standing, you would see more of the sea. And, if you were the lifeguard sitting on an elevated chair above the sand, you would see even more.


It’s easy to find when you’re standing on the beach looking at the sea, but where is it when you’re standing on 5th Avenue in the city? How do you find it in your living room if you are sketching an interior scene? Imagine a transparent plane going out from your eyes through the objects in front of you.


In this example the artist is drawing a scene on a hill, note that the horizon line is always level. If you draw the horizon line on your paper, as I often do when I’m drawing buildings, it should be parallel to the bottom edge of paper. And, remember the line indicates a transparent plane going through the buildings, it’s not actually on the buildings. The line is a reference point. “Reference to what?” you may ask. Stay tuned to upcoming blogs when I’ll describe how we use the horizon line. The main thing is to locate it. Where’s your horizon line right now?


  1. Paula, I love your explanation and accompanying drawings of the horizon line. It can be a confusing subject as it relates to prospective, and I look forward to seeing how you explain the subject from here!
    Carolyn (from Lopez Island)

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