10 Ways to Create Depth in your Paintings!

Depth in a painting is known as atmospheric perspective, also called aerial perspective, it is a method of creating the illusion of depth, or recession, in a painting. It is recreating the effects that the atmosphere has on the distance in real life. Atmospheric perspective happens due to moisture and tiny particles of dust and pollution.  There is a lot of scientific information out there on it but I will not make this complicated.

Have you ever noticed how light and blue the distant hills or mountains look? Next time you see distant hills look at them and squint. You will be able to see the cooler and lighter values as they fade off into the distance.

Tips to help you create the illusion of depth in your paintings.

  1. Cooler colors recede
  2. Warmer colors come forward
  3. Detail and texture come forward
  4. Less texture and detail recede
  5. Lighter values recede
  6. Darker values come forward
  7. Strong saturated colors come forward
  8. Less saturated colors will recede against more saturated colors
  9. Using larger items (example trees) in the foreground
  10. Using smaller items (example trees) in mid and Background

Simple Explanation of atmospheric perspective

So let me simplify the above information. A painting should have three planes, a foreground, middle ground, and background.

  • The foreground colors compared to the background will be warmer and more saturated. You will also see more detail and or texture.
  • The middle ground will start to lose some of its warmth, detail saturation etc.
  • The background will be softer and less detailed.  Your colors will be lighter in value and have less saturated cooler hues. The wet in wet technique works well for backgrounds.

Examples of Atmospheric Perspective

In the original picture above you can see how the hills in the background have the components necessary to create the depth.

In the adjusted picture above, everything is mainly the same saturation and value. if it weren’t for the smaller trees you would think these hills are a short distance from the foreground hill, painted like it is would result in a flat painting.

A lot of times when we are taking reference pictures we end up with some that look like the one above. It is our job as artists to use our skills and artistic license to create a better painting from our pictures.

In the picture above I have exaggerated the effects of the atmosphere. The fore, mid, and background are 3 distinct planes giving you a good sense of depth and atmospheric perspective.

I would love for you to give it a try. You can post your paintings in my private Facebook watercolor group. Click Creative Watercolor with Krista now to join!

Thank you for sharing your time with me, I appreciate all of your support.

Cheers, Krista

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8 thoughts on “10 Ways to Create Depth in your Paintings!”

  1. Kurtis Ladner

    Hi Krista,
    You do seem to have a gift to make things clear and “simple”.
    Good job!
    While I know most of this, it always seems to take a lot of effort for a painting not to come out “like a photograph”.
    Cheers, and keep up the good work- much appreciated.

    1. Kurtis, thank you for your kind words. I am so glad to hear that you are enjoying my articles. Writing is not my strong suit, so I try to say it like it is lol. Yes, I agree it is hard sometimes to not get caught up in too much detail. Have a great weekend!

  2. Your communication about technic is so precise and clear broken into task analysis and cleanly repeated. I am grateful for the examples you show about what you teach!!

  3. Carol Fillmore

    Krista, thanks for this article on atmospheric perspective! Have struggled with this…

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