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How to Create Depth in a Landscape Painting

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Create Distance in a Landscape With Tone
Aerial perspective through lighter tones or colors in a painting

On the left is the work-in-progress, on the right I've edited the photo to lighten the sea/sky at the top of the painting. Using a lighter tone on what's in the distance of a landscape painting immediately gives a sense of depth.

Photo ©2011 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

If a landscape seems flat, without a sense of distance in the scene, the first thing to check the tone or value in the painting. Using a lighter tone on what's in the distance of a landscape painting immediately gives a sense of depth. You can see this in the painting above: on the left is the actual painting, still a work-in-progress decidedly lacking in depth. On the right I've edited the photo to lighten the sea/sky at the top of the painting; instantly it's got a feeling of depth to it. (Nothing else has been changed in the photo.)

The sense of distance created through tone is known as Aerial Perspective. The P Word scares many an artist, never mind complicating it by adding the term "aerial" to "perspective". But, truly, it's nothing to be frightened of, if you've looked at landscapes then you already know what it is. You merely haven't used the artspeak for the concept. Know how when you see a series of mountains or hills in the distance they get lighter and lighter the further away they are? That's aerial perspective, or a change in value or tone that give a sense of distance.

The next level in developing aerial perspective is knowing that we see things further away as bluer. So in addition to lightening the tone, make the colors a little bluer or colder the further away it is. When choosing greens, for instance, you'd use one that leans towards yellow for the foreground and one that leans towards blue for hill in the distance.

As a basic 'recipe' for applying aerial perspective to your landscape paintings, think

  • Foreground = Normal
  • Middle Distance = A Little Lighter in Tone and Bluer
  • Far Distance = Much Lighter and Bluer

Remember that red objects appear closer, so if your perspective is looking flat, don't put a red object (for instance a person wearing a red shirt) in the distance but put it in the foreground, and try adding light blue to the distance.

Next Page: Horizon Line and Distance...

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