In last week’s post, I discussed the effects that linear and aerial perspective have upon the appearance of depth within a painting. Understanding the physics behind the two can give an artist the ability to manipulate them for creative purposes without compromising the integrity of the scene.
Foreshortening: The proportions of linear perspective can be easily altered to exaggerate or diminish the depth relationships of objects within a composition by utilizing foreshortening. An object’s dimensions along our line of sight become smaller as it recedes; whereas the dimensions of an object when viewed across our line of sight stay relatively the same. By expanding or contracting the related height and width of objects (e.g. widening the closest section of a road, path or stream bed or raising the closest post of a fence line), we can give the impression that these elements are closer, exaggerating the appearance of depth. An example in figurative work would be making the fist of a boxer throwing a punch towards the viewer larger than it appears in reality. This gives the impression that the fist is inches away from contact with the viewer’s face and increases the dramatic effect. (You can find examples of this in classic book and magazine illustrations.)
Exaggerating Atmospheric Perspective: Amplifying the appearance of aerial (atmospheric) perspective is another means of accentuating the appearance of depth within a painting. The visual effects upon objects as they recede into the distance are that they become lighter in value contrast, cooler in color temperature, weaker in color saturation, and less sharply defined. By subtly manipulating these aspects, an artist can greatly accentuate the sensation of space within a painting.
Your Pastel Palette: When it comes to orchestrating the aspects of aerial perspective, pastelists have to rely on their palette to facilitate the color and saturation shifts that will occur as objects recede. This is one of the reasons that no matter the subject matter, every pastel palette must represent the full spectrum of the color wheel. While the wet painter can easily mix four or five tubed pigments together to represent a full color spectrum, the pastelist must either meticulously layer, or have a stick of pastel that is capable of doing the task. This is not to say that your pastel palette must be filled with hundreds of sticks, but it should have enough sticks to represent the basic color families in degrees of lightness and darkness. A few grayer (neutral) tones will also prove handy when attempting to denote the desaturation of color in the distance.
Your Plein Air Pastel Palette: One way I’ve been able to keep enough pastels to be able to manipulate the tonal effects of aerial perspective, but within a smaller palette for plein air painting, is by utilizing harder pastels that can be gently layered over more colorful/intense pastel passages. These harder pastel sticks are atmospheric tones of soft blue and violet in lighter values. By using very little pressure, they can be lightly raked over passages to represent an atmospheric effect. The three brands of harder pastels that I use the most are Rembrandt, Cretacolor and Caran d’Ache.
Painters, as I like to say, are like magicians. Like every performer, we can at times be a bit theatrical. Artistic perspective is one aspect that is good to dramatize.
MORE RESOURCES FOR ARTISTS
• Read Richard McKinley’s latest column “Watch Your Tone” about the importance of your painting’s surface tone in the new August issue of Pastel Journal on sale now in the North Light Shop.
• New Pastel E-Mag! Discover a master pastelist’s tips for painting the landscape in our special e-mag collection, “Albert Handell: Essential Lessons in Pastel Painting,” available to download for only $2.99!