Creating Depth in Your Artwork
Looking at many of the paintings of the great masters, I am amazed at the feeling of depth. Rembrandt painted scenes which appear as if you could reach right into them, or step inside and wander the countryside. Many artists have tried to discover the secret of painting pictures with that kind of depth. They pour over books looking for the secret recipes, just the right technique, or paint pigments. There is no big secret; it all comes down to the four laws of atmospheric painting: Size, Value, Detail and Color.
Whenever a painting of mine feels flat and without depth, I stop and go back to the basics. I ask questions about my painting. How are the relationships in size, value, color and detail working together? The answers to these questions often solve the spacial problems with my painting.
The Four Laws of Creating Atmospheric Depth in Painting
1. Value– In landscape painting the value relationships need to be consistent. They usually fall into two categories:
a. The darkest objects/values are in the foreground and will fade to the lightest in the background
b. The lightest objects/values will be in the foreground and fade to the darkest in the background
2. Size– This is very important. There is nothing that will flatten a painting more than to have a tree a mile away larger than the trees 50 yards from you. Larger objects advance while smaller ones recede. The most amazing painting I ever saw was of grasslands and some very distant mountains. The blades of grass in the foreground were taller than the distant mountains. That contrast in size really gave the painting a feeling of depth.
3. Detail– The most amount of detail should be in the foreground and fade to become very simplified in the background. If you are trying to paint the individual leaves on a tree a mile away it will advance into the foreground and flatten your painting.
4. Color– The most intense colors should be in the foreground. If you have the most intense colors in your background it will feel like it is trying to advance to the foreground which will flatten your painting.
Also your painting should have an overall color temperature, warm or cool. Look at the temperature of the light. The light will change from warm light to cool during the day. Is the lit side of your objects cool in temperature and the shadows warm in color temperature? Or is the lit side of the objects warm and the shadows cool in temperature? It’s all about the temperature of the light source (the shadow side will express the complimentary color to the light source. Example; If you have a yellow light source the shadow side of an object will be slightly purple)
When your painting has very clear and consistent relationships in value, color, size and detail, you will have a power painting that creates the illusion of atmospheric depth.