How many times have you looked into the distance at a beautiful sunset, sunrise, or landscape in general? As much as we’d like to see all the details that we know exist among the miles, trees and signs blur and even take on a color that we know isn’t true.
It’s common knowledge that the closer something is, the more details one can see, and the further away, the less distinct. What artists have also learned is that distance can be conveyed by the modulation of color. Distant mountains, for example, appear cooler–more blue–than their nearer counterparts. What causes this? Atmospheric perspective, also known as aerial perspective. Achieving atmospheric perspective in art requires an understanding of the relationship of the object and the viewer, which is also imperative for showing accurate linear perspective and a scattering of light. But what is linear perspective?
Anthony Waichulis, whose work has been featured in The Artist’s Magazine (September 2007), has this to say:
“The two kinds of perspective that artists use are linear and atmospheric (or aerial). Linear perspective uses lines and vanishing points to determine how much an object’s apparent size changes with distance. Atmospheric perspective deals with how the appearance of an object is affected by the space or atmosphere between it and the viewer. Italian Renaissance Master Leonardo da Vinci noticed this latter phenomenon and dubbed it ‘the perspective of disappearance.’”
Used together, linear and aerial perspective can create the illusion of space and dimension in your art, whether a vast landscape or an intimate still life.”
Learn about these five effects used in rendering perspective, which you can incorporate into your own artwork to achieve realistic landscapes, still lifes and more:
- Diminishing size
- Diminishing detail
- Diminishing contrast
- Lightening of overall values
- Neutralization of color/possible shift to blue
Using Atmospheric Perspective to Gain Depth and Realism
You can apply aerial perspective to any type of painting. It’s commonly used for landscapes, but also applies to any painting in which the background should be deliberately seen as distanced further from the main subject.
In addition to being featured in The Artist’s Magazine, Anthony Waichulis has also contributed to the Ask the Experts column, in which readers submit questions about art–looking for advice in all art-related topics–and get answers from professionals. Here’s a free excerpt from November 2010 by Waichulis that describes atmospheric perspective as it relates to water in a landscape.
Create Aerial Perspective within a Reflection
Q. When depicting the reflection of an object in water, how does one determine the proper length of the reflection?
A. The length of the reflections seen on the surface of water is governed by the orientation of the viewer in reference to the reflective surface (body of water) and the object appearing in the reflection. The higher the observer is from the reflective surface, such as water, the shorter the reflections will appear. The closer the observer is to the reflective surface, the longer the reflections will appear. For example, a viewer observing a lake from a hilltop will see the reflections of objects on the far side of the lake as shorter in length as opposed to a viewer observing from the shoreline. To get a good sense for how these lengths vary, I would recommend as much natural observation as possible while varying your orientation, in terms of height and distance, to the body of water you’re observing. —A.W.
Plus, along with this free download from The Artist’s Magazine, you’ll receive the free ArtistsNetwork newsletter with inspiration for painting with watercolor, oil, pastel, acrylic, drawing and of course, topics such as aerial perspective!
All delivered right to your inbox for free! Download 5 Simple Effects for Atmospheric Perspective in Art today to get started improving your art skills!
Tricks of the Trade: Atmospheric Perspective by Anthony Waichulis
“In Orchestrating the Drama, there’s a varied selection of textures. The skull, which is populated with a great deal of surface variations, still needs to communicate a strong and recognizable form,” says Waichulis. “If you squint your eyes (an observation technique that I find valuable), you can see most of the texture disappear, and you’re left with the basic form of the skull. I’m very selective about where and how much surface texture I employ. At the top of the skull, I’ve omitted a lot of surface texture to illustrate a strong highlight. This is where texture placement becomes tricky: Where will it work best? The answer comes through observation. Study your objects thoroughly and squint at the objects to see if they look three-dimensional without the noticeable surface details.”
Learn more ways to heighten a sense of depth in your paintings in Waichulis’s 5 Simple Effects for Atmospheric Perspective in Art!