Establishing the Horizon Line

The Horizon Line is an imaginary line positioned at eye level and is the primary line of reference when constructing perspective. It is important to understand that the horizon line referred to in drawing is not the same as the horizon we would typically refer to in daily life (the line at which the sky and earth meet). When it comes to drawing, the horizon line is not constant; it changes according to the position of the viewer. To establish the horizon line from any working position, hold a ruler in front of your eyes horizontally so you see only its upper edge. Make a mental note of the line the ruler makes across the scene in front of you. Mark this line across your drawing to represent the horizon. Depending on the composition you wish to create, you can draw this line anywhere on your paper to incorporate subjects above and/or below this line. One can also affect the illusion of depth in a drawing by altering the position of the horizon line. To create a painting that has great depth, one needs to assume a high horizon line in the composition. Conversely, a low horizon creates a more shallow composition, emphasizing the foreground.

The photos on the following page demonstrate this effect of depth created by the horizon line:

High horizon line creates depth in the image

Low horizon line creates a shallow image, emphasizing foreground

Figures A-C

Above the Horizon Line

On the Horizon

Below the Horizon

Perspective, is a system of representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface (e.g. a sheet of paper), giving the illusion of depth.

Parallel Perspective, also known as 1Pt. Perspective or Single Vanishing Point Perspective is used when one side of an object is parallel to the drawing plane. In this case, perspective is established by drawing diagonal lines from the corners of the object to a single point on the horizon line, known as a vanishing point.
A vanishing point is an imaginary point on the horizon where the lines drawn from parallel edges of the object appear to converge. At this point, the illusion is created that objects have disappeared, but in fact they are simply beyond our line of vision and too small to see.

Figure A-C illustrates the effect of the horizon by showing the basic cube drawn along the horizon line, above the horizon line and below the horizon line in parallel perspective.

As you can see, when the cube is above the horizon line (i.e. viewed from below), the bottom, front and side of the cube are visible. When the cube is below the horizon line (i.e. viewed from above), the top, front and side of the cube are visible. When viewed in line with the horizon, (i.e. straight on), we see neither top nor bottom of the cube, simply the front and side.

Other pages of interest

Establishing the horizon line
Drawing a cube in perspective
Taking drawing perspective a step further
Sketching cube based objects
Sketching spherical objects