How to Create Depth in Art

Recently I received an email from a frustrated fan of mine, struggling with landscape drawing and painting. Here is a question she asked:  “When I portray the sky, should my lines go in a horizontal direction?”

Advice for drawing depth at

This gradual blend from dark to light in graphite is a good sky foundation on which to build.

The answer is yes. The atmosphere moves horizontally, so in order to create depth in art, the application of your medium should represent that. If you’re working in pencil, the application of the pencil and your blending should go horizontally to represent depth and air movement, even though you can’t see the movement of air. This way, even if the blend is really smooth, anything that may show in the way of pencil lines looks like it belongs there and becomes a part of the sky. If the pencil lines were to go in vertically, any residual lines that may not blend out could make the background appear flat. On the other hand, vertical lines or strokes are an effective way to represent a wall in the background, for the vertical lines represent a plane, not distance.

Water and ground are also applied horizontally. Horizontal strokes will simulate the movement of water, making the surface appear flat as it recedes into the distance. Horizontal applications in the midground and foreground of a drawing or painting will also create those illusory layers of distance and atmosphere needed to suggest depth.

A Tip For Creating Depth in Art

When drawing or painting landscapes, you always want to work back to front, starting with the sky first. Many beginners want to get right in there and draw the subject first, but that’s not affective. By perfecting the background first, things can then be applied and overlapped. You NEVER want to draw something in and then try to put the background in later, around it. It will show.

Landscape drawing tips from Lee Hammond at

This landscape drawing has a lot of depth due to horizontal application and fading tones.

In landscapes, things become lighter in color and less detailed as they go further away. As you can see in my buffalo drawing, the further back you go, the more pale it becomes. The darkness of the buffalo in the foreground then creates contrast, and makes them look closer to you. I love the sense of depth in this drawing!

How to paint or draw landscapes, at

This acrylic landscape painting shows how distance is created in layers.

The is a painting (at right) I recently did in an acrylic landscape class I taught. It was to teach these very principles of depth and distance. If you look closely, you can see how I applied the paint in gradual horizontal layers, starting with the sky, and then working down into the many atmospheric layers. This painting really shows the depth and power of that horizontal application.

So remember: Horizontal creates depth. Vertical creates a surface.

Hope that helps–keep the questions coming!





Lee Hammond has been called the Queen of Drawing. That may not be fair these days, since in addition to providing the best drawing lessons, she has also created fantastic books and videos filled with the same easy to follow acrylic painting techniques, colored pencil techniques and more. Click here to see all of the instructional books and DVDs that Lee Hammond has to offer!

Free download! Easy Acrylic Painting Techniques by Lee Hammond

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