Horizon Line in Painting

What is the horizon line in a painting? It is your eye level – the eye level on the painting.

Horizon Line in Painting Mistakes

Horizon line in painting

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Imagine if you are in still water up to your eyes, the surface of the water is a perfect straight line, that is the eye level.
Putting this eye level too high up the canvas is a most often problem with beginners paintings.
If you paint the eye level too high the water in the painting may look like it is standing up or you may feel like you are looking at the scene from up in the trees.
Paintings with the eye level at the correct height look better and sell better.

Every time you look at something in the real world there is a level of sight that can be called the horizon line EYE LEVEL and it doesn’t matter if you are sitting, laying down or standing on your head the eye level is the level-plain at the height of your eye ball.horizon-line-in-a-scene

The horizon has nothing to do with the horizon line except in desert and ocean scenes where they have a flat horizon which is on the same level as the viewing point and therefore the horizon and eye level are the same.

With still water scenes it is easier to find the view point, or eye level because water establishes a flat and level area and the viewing height that a scene is being painted from can be estimated by imagining the eye height on the oposite bank.
Anything coming towards you weather a building or a footpath or a bird or a cat is either above the eye level or below the eye level or it might be on the horizon line.
It doesn’t matter if you are peering up or down the eye level remains the same, it is flat like still water.
If you move your body up and down then the eye level moves up and down.

Why is a high horizon line not good in most landscape paintings?

In a normal situation a person views scenery with their feet on the ground and they look straight forward and that gives about two thirds of the view as sky area, above the horizon line.
If the horizon line is lifted then the viewers eye level goes up with the horizon line and this often looks like the scene was viewed from off the ground ( a birds eye view ) or it might look like the landscape in front rises up to meet the horizon line.
With a scene containing flat water, the landscape must stay in perspective with the flat water. This can become confusing and often results in the water looking like it is sloping away and uphill if the horizon line is too high – the horizon line in this case is often the oposite river bank.

The higher the eye level the closer it looks to you and therefore to get good depth in a landscape painting it is better to have a low eye level, unless you are painting a scene from above such as from the top of a mountain looking out over a valley and other mountains and you wish to include the valley floor.
Here are some images on video to help you decide where the horizon line is on your paintings.

eye level

Example of a painting with the eye level too high.

For more information and a training exercise about horizon line Go to – find the horizon line


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  1. Hi Le, I am just starting out water colour painting as a hobby and finding it challenging but enjoyable, will need to work a little harder on understanding and putting into practice your horizon video, your painting in black and white video was excellent, only wish I had your talent.

  2. Thanks,Len.i am having good time learning with u.i hope to start paintig sooner,but before i want to understand about perspective and horizon line.

  3. This is very helpful . Thanks for your latest comments on my painting . I will study this and practise a lot . I want to get it right . your teachings are very helpful

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