Creating Depth in Your Paintings via Atmospheric Perspective

Art Terms Used in a Discussion on Atmospheric Perspective

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 as a way of creating depth or distance (three dimension) on an otherwise two dimensional (flat) surface.

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


national park wall paintingMonument Valley
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
16″ x 12″
Oils on stretched canvas

>> More info


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

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

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

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 which are 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. By partially covering one object with another it gives an appearance of depth. This can be accomplished by allowing the contour of one element to slightly cover the contour 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 = object 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 more 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) as they 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 other type of flower using “size and placement”.

Additional Reading

The Rules of Perspective


Developing an Art Style of Your Own

vincent van gogh self portrait
Vincent Van Gogh – Self-Portrait 1886

One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from a renown artist who, after having viewed several of my paintings, pointed out that I had my own art style. I was surprised to hear that, because without realizing it, through the years, I had actually developed my own unique style of painting. Up until that day I hadn’t given much thought to even having my own style much less trying to develop one. What’s more, I barely even knew what an art style was. I knew all the Old Masters had it, or so I was told, and that it was something good to have. So I set out to find out more about artistic style, what it is and where it comes from.

What exactly is art style?

Artistic style is a specific characteristic or group of characteristics that is consistently present in the artworks of an artist. It’s that extra little thing, referred to as “identifiable style,” that an artist does to distinguish his/her work from the work of other artists.

Many artists, whether they realize it or not, have an identifiable style of painting. Their personal style is neither good or bad. It is simply the result of the particular choices and decisions a painter makes in the course of composing their oil paintings. These decisions are what defines the identity of an artist’s style and is made up of a combination of the mediums, technique and subject matter chosen. It’s not that an artist chooses to paint landscapes, still life or portraits — those are only genres. Rather, it is HOW the artist handles each of the various art elements (line, form, texture, value, color and shape) that make up the composition. Click for more information about the basic art elements.

Should you develop an art style of your own?

If you ever hope to be taken seriously as an artist, then I would definitely say “YES,” for the following reasons:

(1) Developing your own original style will help to define you and set you apart from other artists. It’s your individuality and uniqueness as an artist.

(2) It’s what allows others who view your work and know that it is a work painted by you without having to look at the signature on the canvas.

(3) It offers you a way to have personal satisfaction from your works by expressing your own ideas and inner vision.

(4) If you plan to display your paintings in art galleries, then a distinct art style is something a gallery owner or curator will want to see in your work.

(5) Finally, developing your own style is a necessary thing if you want your paintings to capture the eye of art collectors. Many collectors hold to a certain opinion of, “if it looks just like the real thing, then I’ll just take a photograph and hang it on the wall.” For many art connoisseurs, an artist’s personal style is the essence of the art.

How do you develop your personal painting style?

Before I can tell you how to do that, I first need to tell you how to absolutely NOT develop one. You won’t develop your own style by copying the works of other artists. Let me repeat that. If you copy the works of another artist, you will never develop a unique art style of your own. The reason for this is when you copy someone’s work, you are merely imitating the choices and decisions that have already been made by the artist who’s work you are copying. Novice painters often do this. They copy the works of other artists they like and this is a disservice to the world of art. As long as they continue to do this, they will never develop their own form of unique artistic expression and move beyond being a mere hobbyist to a serious artist or even a professional one. Your style is developed by the decisions and choices YOU make about the different elements that go into your painting.

An artist’s unique style does not develop over night. It evolves over time as a result of either conscious or unconscious effort on the part of the artist and it will most likely change a number of times as the painter grows as an artist. The best way to develop a style is to do a lot of painting. In doing so, you can expect your style to progress as you acquire more experience, knowledge and skills. As you move from painting to painting, you will find that certain artistic characteristics or qualities will keep reoccurring. This is your unique style. One thing to keep in mind about style is that you do not have to stick with the same one all your life. You can change it at any time and you will be surprised to find that it can and often does evolve.