One of the most important things I could teach my students was how to create depth in their paintings. You are working on a canvas and you don’t want things to look flat. So how do you do this?
First you need to have an understanding of the phenomenon known as aerial perspective or otherwise known as atmospheric perspective.
Having a better knowledge of the science behind aerial perspective makes it easier to utilize it as a tool for portraying distance in landscape work.
One of my favorite artists, John Carlson said, “atmospheric perspective is a the third dimension--the prime means of creating a
sense of space and air in an otherwise two-dimensional surface”.
What causes this?
The atmosphere contains water vapor and dust particles. This veil of adds an opaque or semi-transparent haze between your eyes and distant objects. The more distant the object, the more fuzzy and lighter in color they appear. The sky appears whiter and paler closer to the horizon. As the sky line rises, the sky is bluer and darker in value at the zenith.
To make things recede in a landscape and create atmospheric perspective do the following:
Paint objects cooler in temperature
lighter in value,
grayer in brightness
softer in edge as they recede
Darks become cooler and lighter
light white objects becoming cooler and eventually slightly darker as the speckled distant light affects them
Colors change dramatically as they recede into the distance.
yellow changes the quickest, becoming a faint tan and eventually a silver-gray.
Red is after that fading into violet and eventually gray-blue-violet.
Blue stays the same the farthest, getting slightly grayer, as well as lighter, as it recedes.
It is interesting that the first artists to use aerial perspective were the Dutch in the 15Th Century and Leonardo was captivated by the atmosphere and by its effects on the colors and distinctness of distant objects. Leonardo was the first to make careful measurements and suggest rules for applying them realistically in painting even though other artists had already begun to create some of these effects in their work. Leonardo observed that distant objects such as mountains look bluer in morning light and less diverse than nearby mountains. He also observed that the more distant the mountain, the more its color approached that of the surrounding atmosphere. His experiments recommended that to correctly color objects at different distances, artists should:
Paint the nearest one its true color.
Paint the one behind proportionately bluer
Paint the one behind that bluer still
I feel like I need to define Linear Perspective here as many confuse the two. Both are very important in landscape painting.
Linear perspective creates an illusion of distance through the way the edges and lines are painted.
For my students this always seemed a bit easier to understand.
Aerial perspective, emphasizes the sense of distance through changes in color intensity and value shift.
Linear perspective is seeing things get smaller as they recede, lose details and have softer edges. They are less intense and have less contrast. Like a fence, the lines that are parallel are closer together and objects get smaller in the distance. Trees in the foreground are larger and smaller as they move into the background.
If painted properly an artist creates an illusion of depth by applying these rules and will never have a flat dull painting!
Here are some examples by Albert Bierstadt