Using Atmospheric Perspective To Create Depth in Your Paintings

Art Terms Used

Atmospheric perspective (also known as aerial perspective) refers to the effect the atmosphere has on the appearance of an object as it is viewed from a distance. In art, and especially painting, artists attempt to mimic this effect to create depth or distance (three dimensions) on an otherwise two-dimensional (flat) surface.

Color saturation is a color’s purity of hue; it’s intensity.

The background is that part of a painting that appears to be farthest away from the viewer.

The horizon line is where the land (or sea) and sky appear to meet. This is an optical illusion, however. It’s an imaginary line to which things recede.

The middle ground is the part of a painting that lies between the background and the foreground.

The foreground is the part of the painting that appears to be closest to the viewer.

Creating Atmospheric Perspective

Atmospheric or aerial perspective is achieved when the illusion of depth is created by depicting distant objects as paler, less detailed, and usually bluer or grayer than objects close up. Some ways this illusion can be created are by using the following techniques.

size and placement in perspectiveSize and placement — Objects appear smaller as they move further away from the viewer towards the horizon line. Larger objects tend to appear closer and smaller ones tend to recede into the background. Also, related elements placed lower to the bottom of the canvas will appear to be closer to the viewer than those placed higher on the canvas.

overlapping objects in perspectiveOverlapping objects — The easiest and fastest way to create depth on a 2-D surface is to overlap objects. Partially covering one object with another gives an appearance of depth. This can be accomplished by allowing the contour of one element to slightly cover the shape of another, so it looks like one item is physically sitting in front of another.

color saturation in perspectiveColor — As objects recede or move off into the distance, the intensity of their color becomes less saturated and shifts towards the background color, which is usually a blue-gray middle value. Even bright whites and rich blacks tend toward medium gray and will eventually disappear into the background.

    • Foreground = objects are normal intense color.
    • Middle ground = the color would b a little lighter in tone and bluer
    • Far distance, horizon line, or background = colors would be much lighter and even bluer

Contrast — As the distance between an object and the foreground increases, the contrast between the object and its background will decrease.

Tone or Value — Objects further away will appear lighter than those up close. Using a lighter tone on what’s in the distance of a landscape painting immediately gives a sense of depth.

Spacing — Objects that are clustered closer together seem farther away. Also, horizontal lines will move closer or even converge (disappear) near the horizon line.

Focus — Objects tend to lose detail as they recede into the horizon. This does mean they are out of focus or blurry.

Assignment

  1. Use atmospheric perspective to create depth in an illustration or painting of only two or more mountain ranges.
  2. Create depth in an illustration or painting of a field of sunflowers or another type of flower using “size and placement.”

Additional Reading

Using Linear Perspective to Create Perspective in Your Paintings

The Rules of Perspective

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Two Composition Techniques to Use In Your Paintings

There are two composition techniques you can use that will help you to create great paintings. They are rebatment of the rectangle and the golden ratio.

Composition is how you arrange various elements in your painting to create a pleasing and eye-catching arrangement. It is paramount to whether or not your painting will be a strong and interesting work or a weak and disordered one. When the composition is done well, you do not notice it so much. There is something interesting about the painting that you find appealing. However, when it is done poorly, the painting doesn’t look quite right and feels awkward.

Creating a good composition will be challenging initially, and you will have to work at producing a strong one; however, it will become second nature with practice. Here are two easy composition techniques that you can use to improve your oil paintings dramatically.

Rabatment of The Rectangle

Composition Techniques
Rabatment of The Rectangle

One method for creating better compositions is called rabatment of the rectangle. Rabatment is a way to divide up the space within a rectangular shape to create a square with four equal sides equal to the short side of the rectangle. In other words, it is the perfect square that is found inside any rectangle.

For each landscape (horizontal) rectangle, there is either a right or left rabatment. And for each portrait (vertical) rectangle, there is an upper or lower. See diagram.

It is within these squares that you would place the most important aspects of your composition, thereby creating a center of interest. Compositions are much more interesting to view if the focal point is not located directly in the center of your canvas.

rabatment exampleWhen you use this simple technique to compose your oil paintings, you are more likely to create a unified, harmonious, and balanced composition.

In your next painting try enclosing the main center of interest inside the rabatment square. You can use either upper or lower square on a vertically oriented canvas or left or right square on a horizontally oriented canvas. The elements outside of the rabatment should compliment the center of interest that is located within the square.

The Golden Ratio

The golden ratio is the next composition technique we’ll discuss, and it’s a little more complicated than the first. It is a mathematical ratio found in nature that can be used in a painting to create pleasing, harmonious proportions. It has many names, with the most common ones being the Golden Section, Golden Ratio, or Golden Mean. Some lesser-known names for this rule are called the Golden Number, Divine Proportion, Golden Proportion, Divine Section, Golden Cut, Fibonacci Number, and Phi (pronounced “fie”).

Composition Techniques
The Golden Ratio

The golden ratio isn’t merely a definition; it’s an actual ratio of 1:1.618. A simple way to demonstrate this ratio is by using a rectangle with a width of 1 and a length of 1.618. Within this rectangle is a square with a ratio of 1:1 and another rectangle with a ratio of 1:1.618. If you were to draw another square within the smaller rectangle, once again, you have a 1:1 ratio square and another rectangle whose proportions are 1:1.618, just like the larger original rectangle. You can continue to divide the resulting smaller rectangle as before on into infinity. Give it a try.

golden ratio exampleThe golden ratio can create beauty and balance in the layout and design of all your paintings. Note the point where the diagonal lines intersect. That particular point is key when using this ratio to compose your paintings. You want to place your key elements or focal point at this intersection. As already stated, the golden ratio is infinitely divisible. This means multiple intersections can be identified where sub-elements of a scene can be placed.

Great compositions aren’t created by chance. They necessitate a great deal of thought, planning, patience, and visual familiarity. It should, however, become easier for you if you use these composition techniques.

Additional Reading

Creating Better Compositions In All Your Paintings

Principles of Good Design: An Introduction

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