Balancing the Scale

Scaling the Heights of Realism: In Beachfront Property (oil, 18×24) Lin Seslar used a series of overlapping objects to support the sense of scale set up by the house, the chairs and the distant ocean. Notice how the posts overlap the chairs, which in turn overlap the house and the ocean.

Scale is the visual suggestion of both the relative size of an object and the distance that object is from the viewer in relation to other objects. It’s one of the tools artists use to create an effective illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface. There are three primary clues to scale:

  • Size. Viewers compare familiar objects to infer the relative sizes and spatial positions of other objects in a scene. But size alone is often an ambiguous cue.
  • Overlapping forms. When forms overlap, viewers automatically augment comparisons of relative size with the knowledge that an overlapped object ?sits? behind another object.
  • Color and clarity. As objects recede deeper into the three-dimensional illusion, colors become muted and edges become softer. This effect, called atmospheric perspective or aerial perspective, is most apparent in the diminishing color and clarity of successive tree lines or hills in a landscape. When combined with relative size and overlapping forms, these changes provide convincing cues to the scale of objects in a painting.

If you want to create truly realistic artwork, you must consider these three clues. As you become more aware of these relationships and more adept at manipulating, you’ll be able to create a clearer, more believable sense of scale, regardless of your subject.

Sixteen years ago, Donna Zagotta decided it was time to take her lifelong passion for art seriously. In order to learn the tools of her new trade, she attended numerous workshops with nationally known artists and designed a self-study program that involved all aspects of picture making. She began exhibiting her work professionally in 1985. Zagotta is a signature member of the American Watercolor Society, the National Watercolor Society, Watercolor West and the Midwest Watercolor Society. In 1990 the University of Michigan invited her to teach a college-level watercolor course. This awakened an interest in teaching, and she began conducting advanced and intermediate classes and workshops. Her paintings have appeared in a number of publications, including volumes 1, 2, 4 and 5 of the Splash series and The Best of Watercolor, Volume 3 (all published by North Light Books). She lives in Brighton, Michigan, and is represented in her home state by Art Studio One (Mason) and Art and Soule Gallery (Chelsea).

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