Painting the Illusion of Distance

Painting the Illusion of Distance

This summer I’ve set myself the goal of travelling a bit more to take advantage of the season and soak up Mother Nature at her balmiest. When I go to the beach or camp out over a long weekend, I often try to sketch while I’m out. I often notice that trying to create the illusion of space—over valley peaks or a body of water—can be difficult! The distance over water is sometimes deceptive and the atmospheric effects of air, light, and cloud cover in a valley can really distort what I see despite trying to start with a perspective drawing of some sort and building on that.

Yes, you can solve some of these problems with a sound knowledge of perspective drawing. That is key for any sense of proportion in landscape artwork. But you can also get a good sense of the space from where you stand to the object in the distance a few other ways.

Reducing and Massing

Bringing together the forms, textures, colors, and details you see in the distance helps make for a less fussy work, and effectively recreates the way the eye sees. When an instructor says “squint,” they usually mean reduce and mass.

Use Scale to Your Advantage

This is a tried-and-true visual cue for artist and viewer alike. I know it seems elementary, but it bears repeating: the larger the object, the closer we think it is to us.

Front, Middle, Back

A well-defined fore-, middle-, and background are also really crucial when painting water or vast stretches of an object or place that is fairly uniform. It might be that the texture you see in each of these areas changes with the distance implied. But it could also be color or painting light effects as they rest on different forms. It all depends on how you want to break up the space.

I got these atmospheric landscape painting tips from the artist Mitchell Albala, but for true, clear perspective drawing lessons, I recommend  Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? And it really is, in terms of being a readable guide with plenty of great visual examples, and from an author who is foremost an artist–so I know his advice is in keeping with where I want to go with my own work. I hope it is the same with you. Enjoy!

And where are you headed this summer? What challenges and triumphs might you encountered with your painting and drawing? Leave a comment and let me know so we can find solutions together!