How to Shade a Building in Perspective

Once you have learned the method of basic linear perspective, you can progress onto learning how to shade a city street in perspective. In this post, I will describe how to draw a street in perspective and explain the process of drawing the shadows.

Begin by gathering and preparing the supplies you will need to finish your drawing. You will require a soft grade pencil, ruler, drawing board and 2B and 4B pencil.

  • How to Draw and Shade City Street?
  • Draw the Horizon Line and Consider Your Viewpoint
  • Establish your Vanishing Point
  • Ascertain the Eye Level
  • Begin to Draw the Buildings
  • Draw the Details such as the Windows, Doors and other relevant Features
  • Add Shade and Tone to a City Street
  • Draw any Details such as People Moving or Cars

How to Shade City Street in Perspective?

Use the basic techniques of one or two-point perspective to mark out and then render the shadows. The following paragraphs will give a comprehensive explanation covering how you can achieve this.

Draw the Horizon Line

As already explained in previous posts, the horizon line is an essential aspect of both aerial and linear perspective.

Consider Your Viewpoint

Before you start drawing the horizon line, think about where you would like the eye level to be in your drawing. Do you wish it to be higher in your drawing or lower?

For our goal of drawing a city street, you will need to set the horizon line low in the image.

Because the eye level is lower on the page, a lower eye level will produce the illusion of elevation and staring up towards towering city buildings.

Establish the Vanishing Point

The vanishing point is the focal point of our drawing and the point at which all of the lines concentrate and meet.

It is probably a good idea not to draw the vanishing point immediately in the center of the page.

Now that you have established this focal point, you can progress onto adding the detailed features of the buildings.

Prop Tip: Draw with faint light lines, if you make a mistake, this will not drastically affect the overall result.

Street Perspective Drawing

  • Viewpoint is critical if any drawing in perspective is to be successful as a piece of art.
  • A low viewpoint is a good idea if you are looking to create a cityscape where the sky is dominate.
  • The sky is an essential factor if you are looking for a tonal drawing, as the sky as a light source will affect the scale, tone, color, and mood of the picture.
  • A low eye level also has the effect of emphasizing the height of the taller objects in your composition and drawing.
  • Painting such as Van Gogh's Starry Night, use the height of the sky and the space created by it to create a beautifully decorative swirl of color patterns.
  • Once you have decided where you want to draw the eye level, you can begin drawing the basic shapes that will make up the buildings.
  • To draw your first building, begin by drawing a box shape.  Begin drawing construction or ghost lines from the visible corners of each box which meet and converge at the vanishing point.
  • Construction or Ghost Lines are the basic which are used to draw the basic shapes which make up the buildings in your drawing. For further information on how to draw using perspective, please read my post, Is Perspective Drawing Difficult to Learn?

How to Draw Buildings

Now that you have organized the main elements in your drawing, you can begin to draw the buildings.

As with any complicated drawing, it is best, to begin with, simple basic shapes. Because we are drawing buildings, they need to be drawn from basic geometric rectilinear shapes such as square and rectangles.

Another method you can employ is to quickly and randomly draw lines from the edges of the page which meet at the vanishing point.

Next, faintly draw a rectangle from the edge of one of the lines you have drawn.

Once this is done, you can repeat the process with the other individual lines and shapes. 

Add Shade and Tone to a City Street

Shade and Shadows. The casting of shadows in a linear drawing is similar to the drawing of construction lines in the isometric illustration except that the sloping lines represent the shadows.

Light Source. Shade or shadows are created when light rays projected from a light source hits the corners or the side of an object.

To understand this process further, we will need to separate the different parts of the drawing.

For the purposes of pictorial composition, the light source represented as a separate vanishing point in space is either represented by the sun or a visible street light.

Light can be projected from the light source to the corner of the building onto the ground to create a cast shadow.

Basically, There are Two Types of Shadows

What is Cast Shadow? A cast shadow is generated when light hits an object, this results in the blocking of light, which in turn produces a cast shadow. A lower light source will result in long shadows, with shadows which extended beyond the immediate shadow will appear less defined.

What is a Form Shadow? A form shadow is created when one side of a form is blocked from receiving light, which creates a shadow. This shadow is called the form or core shadow. Form shadow is critical to creating the illusion of mass, size, and depth.

What is Value? Value is applied to add depth and shade to your drawings. When you apply shading to your artwork,  you begin to create the illusion of three-dimensional appearance in the pictures you are drawing.

Drawing and Shading Form and Cast Shadows

Now that you have finished drawing all of the building and representing the necessary details such as doors and windows.

Plus, you have established where the light source is located in your drawing. You are now ready and able to outline and shade the form shadows.

Using a 4B pencil the form shadows should now be applied onto the opposite side of each building.  These are facing away from the direct source, say the sun or a street lamp.

How to create cast shadows? If you are wondering how to draw and create a cast shadow, a table lamp is suitable to direct light in a smaller still life.

Shine the light directly at the surface of the object. A shadow will be cast from the light which is blocked from the direct glare of the lamp.

You then progress onto the drawing and shading of the form shadows in your pictures. Their different techniques you can use here:

  • Smooth Shading
  • Cross-hatching
  • Stipple Shading
  • Slinky Shading

Draw Details such as People or Moving Cars

Once all of the main aspects of your drawing are in place. You are ready to begin to draw individual details such as a people walking or a parked or moving car. Again don't draw these features in the central part of your composition. Instead compose them in a more balanced way, on the side, for example.

Related Questions

What is a Shade and Shadow in Architecture? When drawing a type of building a shadow is created when the light is cast onto the building is blocked, this results in a cast shadow on the ground.

What is the difference between shade and shadow? Shadows are primarily silhouettes which are cast when a building or object such as a wall blocks the light source. The tone is the amount of relative opacity or value in a drawing.

What is the length and direction of cast shadows?  A basic rule of thumb is when a shadow is a cast, and the light source is central to a group of objects all of the cast shadows will radiate outwards from the primary group.


Ian Walsh is the creator and author of and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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