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How to Draw Vehicles in Perspective, a Step-by-Step Guide

How to draw vehicles in perspective a step-by-step guide - title image
Vehicle in perspective study by Gvaat – step-by-step of this image is at the end of this tutorial.

Drawing a vehicle in perspective takes a variety of skills. To draw the body of a vehicle in perspective, we will need to know how to draw a box in perspective and how to find the center of each plane of that box. To draw the wheels we will need to know how to draw a circle in perspective. To make the wheels look believable and to match them with the wheels on the other side of the vehicle, we will need to learn to draw a cylinder in perspective. To draw the body of a car we will need to know how to mirror shapes in perspective, and so on.

The skills required are not always fun to acquire, but knowing how to draw in perspective will provide a huge boost to not just your vehicle drawings but to how you draw anything. Therefore, the return on investment of time in to learning perspective is too great to ignore.

In this tutorial, we will go over the basic skills necessary to draw a vehicle in perspective, and then we will draw a few vehicles step by step.

Gvaat’s practice – vehicles in perspective freehand drawing. Step-by-step of each vehicle is at the end of this tutorial.

Learn to draw a box in 2 point perspective

Gvaat’s freehand studies of vehicles in perspective in Procreate on iPad. (Both Photoshop and Procreate have an option for creating a perspective grid, and an option for drawing straight lines.)

In this tutorial we will go over drawing the vehicles above step-by-step, as well as a couple of other ones too. Before we do that, we need to go over a few things about perspective, so stick with it before you get to the step-by-step section below!

The first thing we have to learn how to do to draw vehicles in perspective is how to draw a rectangular box in two-point perspective. There is just no way to draw a vehicle well without knowing how to put a box in two-point perspective. But don’t worry we’ll go through it together.

Gvaat, what about single-point perspective? It depends on the point of view from which you want to draw your vehicle. Most common is two-point so we will go over that here. An extended lesson on perspective is always recommended but today we are compressing everything into what we need most to draw a vehicle.

Start by drawing the horizon line across your page. The horizon line is the line that defines the horizon. Perspective lines move toward points on the horizon line and vanish there. These points are called vanishing points.

Check this video for a quick demo (horizon line is the horizontal line across the page, and two vanishing points left and right).

So the horizon line then is a line on which we set vanishing points. Vanishing points will always land on the horizon line, not anywhere else on the page.

I’d like to add here that learning perspective to draw vehicles or anything else, can be very complex and convoluted and hard to visualize and understand. However, the basic mechanics of perspective are not difficult to learn. This is why I am a proponent of going through the motions to learn to draw a box in perspective first. Once you have basic mechanics, you can go back later for the full complexity of the topic.

Now all we have to do is set are left and right vanishing point for a two-point perspective set up.

Remember that vanishing points will always be on the horizon line, they don’t jump over the horizon line and they don’t move under the horizon line.

So let’s draw a left vanishing point on the left side of our page and a right vanishing point on the right side of our page. (See video above).

(Did you hear somewhere that vanishing points should be off the page? Yes, for most drawings they should be, but to learn perspective this is not helpful. You will see why once you are able to draw a few boxes yourself. Let’s stick with our example to get you there!).

Now that we have the horizon line dividing our page into the top portion in the bottom portion we can identify some things before moving forward:

  • We can first identify that everything higher than the horizon line is going to be above us
  • We can also identify that everything below the horizon line is going to be below us, and
  • everything on the horizon line is going to be just about eye-level to where we are standing, that is to say, from the point from which we are observing the scene.

Gvaat, why is the scene important when I am trying to draw a vehicle? It isn’t that the scene is important, it is just that we want to draw the vehicle well. The vehicle has multiple sides and each reveals itself to us to a certain degree depending on the view – and perspective is how we define the view we are seeing. The perspective will change depending on the view – depending on where we are observing the scene from. Setting the scene then defines how we will perceive the vehicle we are drawing.

So far so good. We have the horizon line and we have the two vanishing points.

Now need to draw the box. Our box will be somewhere between the two vanishing points we placed on the horizon line.

Note that in two point perspective the left vanishing point is always to the left of our object and the right vanishing point is always to the right of our object, therefore we must fit our box in the space somewhere between the two vanishing points that we have sketched out so far.

The next thing we need to do is draw a vertical. A vertical in two-point perspective is a straight vertical line.

A verticle is going to be the edge of our box. Since we are working with two-point perspective all of our verticals are going to be completely vertical.

All that is left to do is to place our vertical. 

Since this is a tutorial about drawing vehicles, let’s imagine that our vehicle will fit in this box.

Drawing a vertical in perspective – just draw a line straight up anywhere below the horizon line to follow along.

Since we are either looking at the car at eye-level or from above our box is going to be at or below the horizon line. We wouldn’t put the box above the horizon line unless we were looking at the vehicle from below.

Then I’m going to find the top point of the vertical that is where the vertical ends I am going to draw two lines from it to the left vanishing point and the other line I’m going to drop to the right vanishing point.

Then I’m going to find the very bottom of our vertical, and again I’m going to draw two lines one to the left vanishing point and another one to the right vanishing point.

Follow along these steps in this video:

All that is left to do is define where our box ends, – its width and depth. Try to approximate the proportions of the vehicle you want to draw. Or if you don’t want to eyeball and you want to be more precise there will be ways to calculate that later in this tutorial. 

How to find a center of a rectangular plane in perspective

Now let’s look at how to find the center of any rectangular plane in perspective. We have our box, three sides of this box are visible to us, end it will be very helpful to find the center point of each of these sides. But why is it helpful to find the center?

Let’s explore a bit further why it is helpful to find the center point of each plane of our box. But before that let’s actually do it. Draw a diagonal line across from opposing corners of the plane just follow exactly as I am doing in the video below. Where these lines cross is the center of that particular plane.

Learning this is important because it will not always be easy to find the center of a plane depending on the perspective.

About foreshortening – drawing vehicles in perspective

In perspective things farther away from us appear smaller in distance, so it follows that the portion of the box closest to us will appear larger to the eye than the portion further away from us.

This is called foreshortening, the idea that as things are set in perspective their actual length and what we see with our eyes can vary greatly.

As an example of foreshortening, have a friend stand right in front of you and reach out to you with their hand so that the tips of their fingers are right in front of your eyes. Likely you will see that the rest of your friend’s arm appears to take up very small area of view, telling you very little about the actual length of your friend’s arm. This is because in this view, your friend’s arm is foreshortened.

Learning foreshortening is very important for drawing vehicles, because often much of the vehicle will be foreshortened in perspective. Understanding the concept of foreshortening will help you see it when drawing.

Due to the angle of perspective, a lot of distance can look like a very short and small area and all of that should be depicted in our drawings or our drawings won’t look believable.

Let’s go back to the video above, now let’s divide the plane into two equal parts by drawing a line from the center to the vanishing point. We can also further divide the plane into four equal parts by drawing a vertical right through the center in perspective.

How to duplicate a rectangular plane in perspective

So far we went over drawing a box in two-point perspective and finding exactly the center of each plane of that box. Knowing that center of the box or the center of our future vehicle drawing has helped us divide the box into two equal sections.

The way to duplicate a plane in perspective is to first find the center of the plane, then divide it in half, and then draw a line from the far corner of the plane through the center as it is marked at the outer edge. Follow the little video that I’ve created below to learn this step. 

Note that the two planes are equal in distance, although it does not appear to be in perspective.

Next thing we need to learn is how to replicate the exact plane or section further or closer to us in perspective.

Let’s say we have a box, how do we move the box further away from us without losing the exact proportions (the exact size) of that box even though we know that it’s going to appear smaller in perspective as it moves away from us. 

Let’s think about why would want to do something like this, well one obvious reason is to make sure that the tires to our vehicle are of the same size. So after we’re done with this step you should be able to take the front tire and measure across the body of the vehicle in perspective to make sure that the back tire is drawn to the right scale.

Just replicate the plane over and over until you get to the back time. On average about three wheel widths will fit between the wheels.

How to draw an ellipse in perspective

Short axis indicated from the center of a plane in perspective.

A circle drawn in perspective becomes an ellipse. Ends of cylinders (like a car tire) are circles and become ellipses when drawn in perspective.

The shortest line through an ellipse is called that ellipse’s short axis (minor axis).

The short axis is the axle for the two wheels when drawing a vehicle. It is also the line that recedes to a vanishing point.

Draw a T from the center of the ellipse where the stem of the T is the short axis. The top of the T is the long axis (major axis). The long and short axis are perpendicular to each other. (At a 90 degree angle to each other always).

The long axis (major axis) is the longest line through an ellipse.

By finding the center of a plane (see above), we can find the centers of each edge of that plane. Note that the ellipse will touch the center of each plane. Will have its shortest width at the short axis, and it’s longest width at the long axis. As long as you satisfy all four of these requirements, your ellipses will look good in perspective.

Requirements for drawing ellipses in perspective:

  1. Make sure the ellipse touches the perspective center of each side of a rectangle surrounding it.
  2. Make sure the ellipse is shortest in width at the short axis dividing it in half
  3. Make sure the ellipse is longest at the long axis
  4. Make sure the long and short axis are perpendicular to each other

Note: most of the time, the long axis will not drive through the perspective center of the box surrounding the ellipse due to foreshortening.

How to draw a car wheel in perspective

Drawing a car wheel is a fun exercise. Drawing a car wheel will help practice drawing ellipses, and this will boost basically all your drawing skills. All skills?! Yes. If you decide to draw people and not vehicles, this will help. Or anything else you decide to draw for that matter.

This is because drawing an ellipse in perspective requires the type of nuanced seeing specifically required for good drawing. And so the practice helps sharpen your eye quicker.

When I say nuanced seeing I am referring to a trained artist’s eye, something that takes a long time to acquire through practice. Studying perspective will expedite this training tremendously. Since we are after art mastery at gvaat.com, this is the reason for this tutorial.

Freehand drawing of a car wheel.

Drawing a wheel in perspective is basically drawing an ellipse in perspective which is something we already covered above. Start by determining a square plane in which the circle of the wheel is going to fit. 

Find the center of that square like we did in the step above, and from that center draw a line going to the vanishing point that is going to be the short axis line for the ellipse. 

Once the initial ellipse is drawn you can create the width of the tire by creating a rectangular box in perspective. 

I hope by now you are beginning to see that drawing of vehicle in perspective is a combination of multiple skills that we are going over step-by-step.

On average, three wheels can fit between the front and back wheels of a car.

Now that I have my first wheel created I can calculate space to the back wheel by duplicating the square that I have initially drawn in perspective. Scroll up to find how to duplicate a plane in perspective.

Drawing a vehicle in perspective Step-by-Step race car

Racecar drawing – perspective study by Gvaat

Let’s go over step by step how to draw a race car similar to the one above. 

I used some reference for the drawing of this vehicle, but I didn’t draw on top of it for any portion of the drawing.

Also, I changed the perspective for my drawing to make it different from the reference I looked at. Changing the perspective of an object is a great exercise to understanding how to draw in perspective. If it’s your first time however, you can try to draw the vehicle exactly as you see in the reference picture.

Let’s use everything we learned so far to draw some vehicles.

In this step, I found the spacing between the wheels and I found a short axis for each wheel. I sketched out the wheels in perspective knowing the short axis and the long axis perpendicular to it. 

I then extruded a rectangular box out of the initial side plane of the vehicle. I use the left vanishing point for the angles of the box, and the right vanishing point to take the shape back to the back wheelbase. 

At this stage I eyeballed the proportions of the vehicle.

In this step, I decided to find the midline or the center line going through the body of the vehicle in the drawing. I did this by establishing diagonal lines on the front plane and then by taking the central line back using the right vanishing point. 

I should mention that the vanishing points are off the page somewhere far in the distance and I am approximating where the perspective lines are going to converge. The better you are at approximating this the better your vehicle drawing will turn out.

Now that I have established some idea of the perspective box of the vehicle, the location and angle of the wheels, and the centerline for the body of the vehicle, I decided to quickly sketch the general shape of the race car. It is a very rough sketch, but I wanted to try to capture the lines and the feel of what I’m trying to draw.

I then created a new layer and started drawing and details on top of the general sketch that I already established.

Here, I created another new layer and started to draw more carefully on top of the detailed sketch. If you are drawing vehicles with a pencil you can just keep your marks very light until you get to the stage where you’re putting down the final line art for your vehicle drawing

And here’s the result of this race car drawing.

Drawing a vehicle in perspective Step-by-Step Truck

Study by Gvaat. Vehicles in perspective.

Now let’s draw an off-road type vehicle. 

You can see that although the vehicle type is different, the approach is really the same. I start by defining a box in perspective or multiple boxes on top of one another until I get to the general shape of the vehicle. 

Once the box is at a place where it can serve as a frame for the vehicle, I start to put in more detail to define the shape I am drawing. 

At the step, I begin to add more detail, I also find the central line for the vehicle by using diagonal lines on the vehicle’s hood.

In this step. I found the wheels by finding the short axis and the long axis as we practiced above. 

I then find the back wheel by following the perspective to its left vanishing point.

As the drawing progresses, I add more detail, Trying to better define the silhouette of the vehicle and its character.

Drawing a vehicle in perspective Step-by-Step – Coupe

Let’s go over the steps of drawing this coupe.

Again, I start with a rectangular shape in perspective. Go back to the beginning of this tutorial to see how to put this box together in two point perspective.

Once I have a box that I think will fit well for the vehicle I add in a general sketch of the body of the vehicle. The next steps are about adding more detail onto the frame already developed.

Drawing a vehicle in perspective Step-by-Step – Racecar 2

In this example most of the lines are going to the right vanishing point that is very close to the vehicle on its right side.

This type of exaggerated angle makes the vehicle very difficult to draw. Note that the left vanishing point is way off the page.

The closer one vanishing point is to the vehicle the farther away the other one is going to be. 

In this example, I relied on general drawing skills to find the proportion of the vehicle by eyeballing proportions from reference. I then used knowledge of perspective to correct any issues I had. Basically, I working in reverse from the examples we already covered. 

Once I was happy with the proportions of the underlying sketch I started to add line work for the final drawing. Next steps are about adding more detail on top of the framework already drawn.

Drawing a vehicle in perspective Step-by-Step – 4×4 Off-Road

In this example, I very quickly sketched two boxes in perspective one on top of the other to indicate the body of this off-road vehicle.

Once I was happy with the proportions of the rectangular boxes I began to add detail more closely indicating the shapes of the frame of this vehicle.

I then spent some time finding the short axis for the wheels, as well as approximating where the wheel would be on the far side of the front of the vehicle.

I think you can see that the practice of drawing vehicles in perspective is basically just cycling through the same skills over and over again – most of which we have covered at the beginning of this tutorial.

Drawing Macross Mecha in perspective Step-by-Step – Macross design

After drawing a few vehicles in perspective I was curious about drawing a more complex form. I decided to draw a Macross design. I used multiple reference images but created my design from a different perspective so that I could learn along the way and not just blindly copy the reference.

I used Photoshop for this drawing. Photoshop allows you to draw a straight line by creating a dot with a brush and then moving that brush to a new location and creating another dot while holding shift. Photoshop will draw a straight line between the first and the second dot.

I’ve compiled a full list of the best shortcuts in Photoshop for artists at this link.

Macross study by Gvaat.

I tried different approaches to drawing a complex shape in perspective. To me, the best approach is to use a base perspective grid so that your eyes can easier approximate how forms are angled in perspective. You can see I quickly sketched one on the ground plane of this drawing.

Once you use the base grid, use a thick brush that is unsuited for creating little details,  and block in the shape that you have envisioned with that brush.  

Macross study by Gvaat.

Once I was happy with the general shapes of the design, I created a new layer in Photoshop and started to add some details in perspective. 

In this drawing, I did a lot of approximation. If something looked off to me then I would try to check with the vanishing points both of which are off the page. There’s more complexity in this drawing than the other vehicle drawings we have covered so far since many of the rectangular forms are tilted in various ways. So keep in mind that it will take more practice to get something like this right.

Macross study by Gvaat.

After the detailed sketch, I zoomed in on the drawing and began to draw details using the straight-line Photoshop shortcut I mentioned above. 

Macross study by Gvaat.

Here is the final line art of this drawing.

Macross study by Gvaat.

In the final step, I colored in the drawing to set it apart from the rest of the page.

Conclusion – Drawing vehicles in perspective

The great thing about drawing in perspective is that anyone can pick up the skills to draw vehicles in perspective quickly. This is because there is a lot of drafting involved, and you have to be procedural – it is a rigid system, which makes it easier to learn. At first, drawing in perspective is not unlike learning a math formula.

The difficult thing about drawing in perspective is also exactly that, you have to get into a lot of procedural drafting to get perspective correct. A lot of the time it can feel less like drawing in a traditional sense. You can begin to approximate more over time, but it helps knowing how to check your work.

By learning the skills that we went over in the stew tutorial, such as drawing a rectangular box and perspective, finding a center of a plane in perspective, duplicating a plane in perspective and knowing how to draw an ellipse in perspective,  I’m confident that your drawings of vehicles will improve significantly.