Hi all--I thought it was way past time to post another installment in the ESP threads. This time I thought I'd explore how to create the feeling of depth in a landscape. These elements can also be used in other subject matter, of course, but landscapes are my specialty!
CREATING A SENSE OF DISTANCE
Aerial perspective, sometimes called atmospheric perspective, is the most effective mans of creating a sense of air between the elements in a landscape painting. There are five key elements that change:
• COLORS COOL
• VALUES LIGHTEN
• DETAILS LESSEN
• EDGES SOFTEN
• CONTRASTS DIMINISH
First and most noticeable is that everything becomes cooler in color and lighter in value. The intensity of warm colors fades. Slowly detail is lost, edges soften and the contrast in value diminishes. In his book Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting, written in 1929, respected art instructor John Carlson explains that as one looks sideways through the progressively thickening atmosphere it is as if there were curtains of air hanging at regular intervals, like veils through which you see. Another way to picture this is to think of one-square-mile blocks of slightly bluish air stacked sideways and upwards, filling the distance. The farther away an object is, the more blocks you must look through and therefore the paler and bluer things become, until even the most distant range of giant mountains is reduced to a mere line that is nearly sky blue. Leonardo da Vinci, the consummate eyewitness of physical effects, noted this bluing of objects with increased distance. In the 1500s he observed that if an object “is to be five times as distant, make it five times bluer.” His advice still applies today. The only exception to this visual rule is the color white. In the distance white becomes slightly dull and warm, a pale pink or very light creamy-yellow. Distant snow is not the same bright white as that in the foreground. Clouds atop the far peaks are somewhat muted in color.
The values of all the other colors become paler in the distance. For instance, although you know that the mountains in the distance are made of the same rock, covered by similar trees, bushes and meadow grasses as those closer to you, the values appear to be muted and grayer. Test this by squinting your eyes so that the distracting color fades away.
Take time to notice the point at which, as you look out, the light of the sky seems to overwhelm everything. Blue light has a short wavelength, which is scattered as it bounces off air molecules more quickly than are the longer wavelength colors red and yellow. This scattering makes the sky blue. As objects increase in distance, warm colored ones are not as rapidly overwhelmed by the blue of the atmosphere, although they eventually lose their strength, as they too are progressively filtered out. This is the reason businesses use red and yellow lettering on their signs, so that they may be spotted sooner and seen for a longer period of time, and why campers choose blue tents that visually blend into the landscape.
Remember that in the foreground plane you see all of the mixtures of red, yellow and blue, while in the middle distance the blue light of the added blocks of air has begun to overwhelm yellow. This leaves all the combinations of red and blue colors until in the greatest distance all but blue is lacking, which is why we think of mountains as purple or blue rather than yellow.
At its most rudimentary you could reduce the landscape to three simple colors: yellow land, purple mountains and blue sky. Notice that these colors move progressively away toward blue on the spectrum. Painting a distant mountain yellow or the foreground plane purple sacrifices the sense of intervening air.
In addition to the elements I’ve discussed, consider these other points:
• Overlapping: When you cover one object with another you create depth.
• Spacing: Things bunched together (like trees) appear farther away.
• Brightness: The brighter the object the closer it seems (except for reflective things.)
• Shadows: Closer shadows are darker in color and value—though still transparent.
• Size: Smaller objects look farther away.
Here are some examples of well done aerial perspective.
This is a painting by Bill Hosner called Three Crosses on the Hill
. Notice how the distant hill is colorful but more muted in tone than the rest. He’s saved his warmest colors for the foreground buildings, letting the warms become slightly more pink (adding blue), then lavender (more blue), until the sky and clouds are left. Notice that the greens also proceed from yellow-green to blue-greens, retaining a nice variety of colors.
This one is by Richard McDaniel. It also shows the effects of distance on colors as they become bluer and paler in tone. Notice too that McDaniel has used the strongest darks and heightened details in the immediate foreground, as well, which gives a great sense of receding space to the image.
Richard McKinley’s painting, Carmel Springs, shows great control of details, allowing the spare strokes of color to describe retreating hills behind the trees. Notice how he’s used stronger greens in the foreground, which become ever paler and more lavender in color. The strongest rusts are reserved for the trees.
Our own Peggy Braeutigam (PeggyB) shows how to do it in a slightly abstracted landscape, using the red nodding flowers in the fore to catch your eye. The golden-green patch recedes because, although it contains yellow, it remains cooler in color. The details keep you up front, while the elegant simplicity of the shapes behind recedes.
Suzanne Stough Reimel’s painting, Autumn Reflections, shows that the principles here can be applied to any subject matter. The softness of the distant foliage is a great contrast to the near tree’s great rendering, and the delightful reflections.
And Gil Dellinger's painting, North From Rocky Creek, is another great example of aerial perspective! Look at the rich color and control of values he uses...
I'd love to see other good examples of aerial perspective in your paintings, or others by artists you know of. If you do post any work here by others, please be sure to give them full credit by name and title, if you can, and let's try to keep all of them pastels, too!