Using Linear Perspective to Create Depth in Your Paintings

linear perspectiveLinear perspective is a rendering technique used by fine artists to create the illusion of depth on a flat surface. It is the most basic form of perspective in which parallel lines appear to converge in the distance at a vanishing point on the horizon line. (See illustration right.) The technique is based on how the human eye perceives the world around us. Meaning objects which are closer to the viewer appear larger, while more distant objects appear to be getting smaller as they move away. Linear perspective comes into play when orthogonal (parallel) lines that recede into the distance appear to get closer together as they converge at a vanishing point on the composition’s horizon line.


bonnie and clyde car paintingForgotten Roads of Bygone Days
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
24″ x 18″
Oils on gallery wrap stretched canvas

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linear perspectiveThere are three basic elements that must be present in a work of art in order to make linear perspective possible. These are a horizon line, a vanishing point, and convergence lines. If any one of these elements is missing, the illusion of depth is weak.

Horizon line — The horizon line defines the farthest distance of the background and is the place where a central vanishing point is established. It is the level plane where the earth’s surface (or sea) and the sky appear to meet. The line at the top of mountains or buildings is not the horizon line; these objects “rest” on the horizon line.

The horizon line will ALWAYS be at eye level regardless of whether you are at ground level or standing on a mountain top. It changes as you change position. Sometimes hills, trees and buildings or other objects can hide it from view, but the horizon line will always be present.

Convergence lines — Also called orthogonal lines, convergence lines are when sets of parallel lines appear to get closer together as they recede into the distance and meet at a single vanishing point. All parallel lines will eventually converge at a vanishing point. Sometimes they can even represent the edges of objects and some objects can have more than one set of parallels lines. An example of this would be a box or cube. Depending on where it is viewed from, we can see one, two, or three sets of orthogonal lines.

Vanishing point — The point on the horizon line where all parallel lines appear to recede and converge at is called the vanishing point. It is helpful to note more than one vanishing point can be present. This is called two-point and three-point perspective. When there are two sets of parallel lines that appear to converge, there will be two vanishing points. If there are three sets of parallel lines, then there will be three vanishing points. See The Rules of Perspective for more information.

Assignment

  1. Create a rendering by drawing a straight highway or railroad tracks using a horizon line, vanishing point, and convergence lines.
  2. Use linear perspective to create depth in an illustration using a row of trees, a fence line, and/or telephone poles running alongside a road.

Additional Reading

Creating Depth in Your Paintings via Atmospheric Perspective


10 Tips for Painting Mountains

mountain paintingMountains have always been appreciated for their majesty. Whether it is to paint them, climb them, hike them or simply gaze upon them, people are drawn to a mountain landscape. Their visual and inspiration splendor makes mountain scenes a very popular feature for artists to include in their landscape paintings. Mountains are also popular with art buyers. So much so that many top art galleries prefer to display oil paintings of landscapes featuring some very popular mountain ranges.


Holy Lands wall art“Sea of Galilee at Capernaum”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
20″ x 16″
Oils on stretched canvas

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With so many mountain ranges in the world artists will never run out of subjects for their mountain landscapes. Some famous mountain ranges you might want to consider painting are:

  • Blue Ridge Mountains
  • Canadian Rockies
  • Grand Tetons
  • Himalayas
  • Matterhorn
  • Mount Kilimanjaro
  • Rocky Mountains
  • Smokey Mountains
  • Swiss Alps
  • and numerous others

Or you might just want to design a mountain range from your own imagination. There is no hard and fast rule that says it has to be an actual mountain that exists somewhere on earth. You could even paint a mountain range that is on some distant moon or planet. For example Olympus Mons, the highest mountain on Mars. Of course you would have to rely on reference photos for something like this.

See Land Rover Tracks of Mars as an example of an off world landscape with a mountain range made up from the artist’s imagination.

Things to Consider When Painting Mountains

Tip #1 — Pay special attention to the profile of the mountain or mountain range you are painting. Especially if it is one that is a recognizable landmark. Every mountain has a unique feature and specific shape to it. Those who view your painting will recognize the scenery and will want to buy your painting as a result because it has some special meaning for them.

Tips #2 — As you are sketching the mountain onto your canvas, consider making it the dominating feature to show off its majesty. This can easily be done by giving it the most space on the real estate of your canvas surface. This will entail having to reduce the size of the surrounding supporting elements such as the trees, lakes, sky, grass, wildlife, etc.

Tip #3 — As the distance between you and the mountain range increases, everything gets lighter in value. As the landscape hits the horizon line the color is less saturated as it disappears into the distance and becomes closer in value to the sky color.

Tip #4 — When painting mountains that are off in a distance be sure to employ the use of atmospheric or aerial perspective to create a sense of depth. A faraway mountain range will usually appear lighter, hazier and bluer as it gets further away.

Tip #5 —  The further away a mountain is, the less detail it will have. That means crevasses in the mountain side will become less defined and you probably will not see any trees either.

Tip #6 — Tone is very important when painting mountains. The mountain will be a pale tone near the top and will have a deeper tone at its base. This will help to give the mountain depth.

Tip #7 — As a general rule try to arrange the shape of your mountains so they slope into the picture and not out. This will help direct the viewers eye into the painting as they follow the outline of the mountain.

Tips #8 — Try to blur the outline of the furthest mountain into the sky. You can blur it more than you would initially think as the viewer will “create” the shape of the mountain in their mind’s eye.

Tips #9 — To create a sense of depth in your landscape painting, paint your mountain ranges in layers going from those that are the furthest away to those that are the closest. The mountains that are furthest away should be painted in first. They should be the lightest, haziest and possess the least amount of detail. Next add in another range of mountains closer to you. These would be placed in front of the first mountain range. They would be more intense in color and have a more details than the previous range, but not as much as the next range to be added. Continue doing this until you have all your mountains in place. By layering various additional elements in your paintings foreground will help to give distance and perspective to the mountain range in the background.

Tips #10 — Not all mountains resemble inverted cones, many are lopsided, pyramidal, or even flat on top. Some have snow caps, while others do not. Add interest to your mountains by varying its contour, texture and color.

Additional Reading

The Rules of Perspective