Stairs can be an intimidating subject to draw. But with some practice and an understanding of how to construct them they can be worked out on paper just like anything else.
There are many ways to interpret stairs, but what many artists find useful is taking an approach that breaks up the entire space into smaller, more manageable blocks.
PeYou’ll see in just a moment how these blocks take the intimidating and complicated and make them a joy to draw!
Understanding stair construction
Before we get into the specific technical aspects of drawing stairs, let’s examine a two-dimensional set of stairs using two general approaches: an “adjacent construction” compared to a “stacked construction.” Both are similar, but it’s worth exploring each one to see what makes more sense to you.
Drawing this out all may seem like extra work, but these extra lines can be very helpful when attempting to position a staircase so that it lines up with both the ground and a doorway leading into a building.
The adjacent construction approaches the stairs as a set of rectangles or boxes that sit next to each other. They can be drawn in order from shortest to tallest or tallest to shortest.
Some artists even draw the complete box that encompasses the entire set of stairs (as shown with the blue dashed line above) as a guideline.
The stacked construction uses a set of boxes that are piled on top of each other. In this case, the stairs are assembled vertically instead of horizontally.
Now that we’ve covered the basic approach, we can apply the methodology to any form of point perspective.
Drawing stairs in one-point perspective
Drawing stairs sideways in one-point perspective is a snap.
Start by drawing your stairs flat, as in one of the examples above. Then, apply some perspective lines to it. Drawing toward a vanishing point will take care of necessary diminishing space. If you’re new to one-point perspective, start with this tutorial.
I usually draw from tallest to shortest. It’s usually easier to draw away from a wall or doorway as opposed to drawing toward it. This order is numbered above.
Let’s try a set of stairs directly in front of us.
At first glance, creating stair that you’re looking at head on as if you’re about to walk up them seems challenging — but not if we construct them one piece at a time.
Start by drawing the tallest step as one tall box. Keep your lines light, as you’ll have to do some erasing later on. You’re going to need a ruler!
Add the next step in front of the tallest step so that the two stairs are just touching. Naturally this step has to be shorter than the previous step, otherwise there wouldn’t be stairs at all!
If you want to make this step very real looking, you need to make it slightly deeper than the previous step. By deeper I mean that you should show more of the tread — the part that gets stepped on. This step is closer to us, and when same-size objects are drawn closer to the viewer, they need to be drawn larger.
Finally, add the nearest step. Make it the shortest box (measured vertically) but deepest to properly account for perspective effects.
Drawing stairs in two-point perspective
If you followed along with the previous examples, the instructions for drawing stairs in two-point perspective should look a little familiar. Need to brush up on your two-point perspective skills? Check out this two-point perspective tutorial.
First begin by drawing a tall box. Don’t even think of it as a step yet, if that helps. Construct a box using two vanishing points.
Next comes the second farthest step. Like before, it needs to be lower in height.
These stairs will conclude with the closest step, which is really just another box drawn in proper perspective.
Those familiar with perspective drawing know that there are usually plenty of extra lines leftover. This is why you can expect to have to cleanup your drawing a bit. Knowing this fact, it’s always a good idea to draw lightly at first.
Below is the completed stairs after all the temporary lines have been erased.
One of the best approaches to stair building is to remember that each step is nothing more than a box. Calmly draw each box in proper perspective, one at a time and eventually you’ll have an entire staircase unfolding before your eyes!
If you need to position the stairs precisely, you’ll find it helpful to confine them to a predetermined box that encompasses the entire set of stairs.