How to Teach Kids' Art Lessons on Perspective

by Elizabeth Stover

There are multiple meanings of perspective in art, but the most common is linear perspective, which creates the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface. When teaching kids how to draw, teaching linear perspective teaches them about horizon lines and vanishing points. Older kids also learn about orthogonals, which are the diagonal lines artists use as a guide when they create depth in the foreground. You can use simple drawing activities to help even the young students learn to draw with an element of perspective.

Overlap and Size

Introduce your youngest students to perspective, using the elements of overlap and size. Show them a piece of artwork that uses overlap to create the illusion that some objects are closer than others. Still life paintings and sketches often have this element. Show another art sample that uses size to create depth, such as a landscape that has smaller objects, which appear to be in the distance. Display both pieces of art and ask your students which objects appear farther away, and why this is so. After discussing the use of overlapping objects and object size to create depth, have the students create a still life sample, using object overlap and a landscape, using size to create depth.

Point-of-View Perspective

Another type of perspective kids forget about is point of view, which is the position of the object from the artist's point of view. Children often draw from only one point of view, even though they may actually view the object from several different points of view. This exercise can help your students learn to observe and draw objects as they truly see them. Have them choose a small toy such as a bug or a car, or an animal from a box. Instruct them to divide a piece of paper into six parts and to carefully observe the object from the top, bottom, front, back and both sides, holding it up to eye level to inspect. Your students should then carefully sketch the object from each of the six perspectives, as if they were sitting close to the object. Instruct them to draw a different perspective in each part of the paper.

Simple, One-Point Perspective

Have your students make a fun drawing that appears to illustrate a child falling backwards into a pool of water. Give them a large piece of paper. Help them trace their open hands. Place their hands at the top of the paper, a few inches apart and a few inches from the top. Have them trace around their feet in the same way, a few inches from the bottom of the paper. Instruct them to create a dot in the middle of the paper, which is the vanishing point, and then draw a medium-sized rectangle around it. On top of the rectangle, have them draw a small square; on top of the square, a medium sized oval. These form the head and body. From the top of the body to the large hands that were traced, ask them to draw diagonal lines that form arms. At the bottom of the rectangle, ask them to do the same to their traced feet, creating legs. Because the kids traced their own hands and feet, they should appear large for the size of the body, which creates the perspective of appearing to be falling away from the viewer. Have them add details, such as a watery background and a surprised or scared face, which completes the appearance of falling backwards into a pool of water.

Vanishing Points, Horizon Lines

Have older students experiment with landscape drawings to practice drawing with perspective. Instruct them to draw a horizontal line -- which is the horizon line -- across a piece of paper, just above the paper's midpoint. Have them find the exact center of the paper and ask them to make a dot. Define that as the vanishing point. From the vanishing point, instruct them to draw two diagonal lines that reach down to the bottom of the paper, forming what looks like an upside-down V and which could become a road, railroad track or river. After deciding if the lines form a river, road or railroad track, ask the students to draw appropriate objects such as trees or buildings that appear to be alongside the upside-down V. Remind them that objects become smaller as they get closer to the vanishing point. Have them add various objects, so that they can practice making those that are closer to the vanishing point be the smallest.

About the Author

Elizabeth Stover, an 18 year veteran teacher and author, has a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Maryland with a minor in sociology/writing. Stover earned a masters degree in education curriculum and instruction from the University of Texas, Arlington and continues to work on a masters in Educational Leadership from University of North Texas. Stover was published by Creative Teaching Press with the books "Science Tub Topics" and "Math Tub Topics."

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