Perspective Lesson: Drawing stairs

Perpective Lesson: Drawing Stairs

This art & geometry lesson will teach you how to use one-point perspective to draw a set of stairs. Every step is illustrated and described in detail.

The step-by-step PowerPoint is written so that a grade 7 student can work through each step without their teacher during asynchronous learning. Teachers can teach this lesson to groups of students with or without the slides, using an old fashioned blackboard and a large ruler. Depending on the class, the lesson can take 20 to 40 minutes. I usually pair this lesson with a "find your doodle" lesson that allows students to relax and create their own instructions.

Lesson Concepts:
Art: 1-point perspective, vanishing point, depth lines, uphill slope lines
Geometry: Parallel lines, rectangular prism, slope

Slides without instruction

For visual learners and teachers, the slides below show you how to build this set of stairs with no instructions. For instructions, please download the PowerPoint presentation. The slideshow below will pause when you hover your mouse over the image.

Teacher Tips

Student Difficulties - 4th Grade Student

This illustration by 9 year old James shows us some of the difficulties students may experience.

Problem 1: No ruler. James was asked to draw this example with a magazine instead of a ruler. As you can see, the lines are not always clear. However, the image still reads as "stairs in perspective."

Problem 2: Difficulty starting second step. When finding the starting point for the second step, the student has difficulty finding the point where the depth line and the slope line intersect. This is the biggest difficulty for students. When teaching this lesson in person, this is the best time to check student work.

Problem 3: Vanishing point too close to steps. While you may tell students exactly how large to draw the first step and even create a diagram for them, some students will not copy your stair dimensions or distance their vanishing point well. To prevent this issue, you may want to give very exact instructions (the stair is on the left half of the page and the vanishing point is on the right side of the page, the rectangle is three times as long as it is tall, you must be able to fit seven fingers between your step and the vanishing point etc). However, these instructions will work for students regardless of where they put their vanishing point. For some students, working through these challenges will enhance their understanding.

Problem 4: Student is messy. While messiness might influence marks for effort, it is still possible for very messy students to demonstrate their comprehension. Here, James was able to identify that his stairs did not look like the PowerPoint slide. He asked for help and we talked about finding the point of intersection between the depth line and the slope line. Even though the steps are messy, we can see that he was able to place the third step correctly. To demonstrate comprehension, ask students to "add a fourth step".

Problem 5: The fourth step. Some students will produce a long staircase and then start creating a setting in perspective. Others will not be able to add the fourth stair. However, at the end of this lesson, the vast majority of students will easily be able to produce a rectangular prism, the "first step" if you ask them. By hiding the rectangular prism lesson within a more complex piece, students who tend to shy away from complex exercises are able to pick up on this basic building block. On their own time and in their own way, they can use this information to further their understanding.

Problem 6: Finishing the staircase. James was able to draw the vertical line defining the staircase, quite probably because his mother was withholding video game time on a Sunday until he finished the project. Students often have difficulty finishing the staircase. In person, I solve this problem by telling them they are "two lines" away from being finished. First, they must draw a line from the right side of the top step to their vanishing point. This gives them the "top" of the stairs. Then they must "cut off" the staircase by drawing the vertical line for the back of the staircase. I use terms like "eyeball" and "you decide" to let them know they have permission to place this line where it "looks right" to them.

You may find it useful to draw a simple, side view diagram on the board to illustrate the purpose of slope lines. Here, the red slope line gives us the outer corner of each step. The blue slope line gives us the inner corner of each step. Straight vertical and horizontal lines zig zag between the slope lines to give us even steps.


This lesson provides a student-friendly breakdown of the concepts and diagrams taught in Perspective for Artists, Rex Vicat Cole's excellent book for artists. The entire book has been digitized. It is available online through libraries and on artists' websites.

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