Painting the Air

Aerial perspective (also called atmospheric perspective) is the term used to describe the way the atmosphere affects color, value and detail as they move farther from the viewer?s eye. Landscape artists typically use this principle to create the illusion of depth in their works. But the principle isn?t limited to this genre. Even in a still life, where only inches of depth replace the miles often seen in a landscape, it?s important to observe and capture the ?air.?

The color of the light and atmosphere create the dominant tone and mood of a painting. There are a few basic principles that can help you capture the right effect here. First, as objects recede into space, contrasts in color, value and texture all diminish. For instance, colors lose their brilliance as they move into the distance. Yellow will be the first to fade, followed by orange, red, violet and blue. Extreme value contrasts diminish with recession. Dark objects (such as the shadow sides of trees) will get lighter and cooler as they recede. Light objects (such as a white building) will darken and become slightly warmer as they recede into space.


Clear the Air: It?s difficult to see the effects of atmosphere when the air is pure, as in the high mountains of July in the Sierras (oil, 12×16). However, the foreground, middle ground and background are each affected by the blueness of the air. As our eye travels deeper in space we?re looking through more layers of air.

Careful observation of nature is essential if you want to understand and re-create aerial perspective. Don?t just arbitrarily make objects bluer and lighter—your picture will become formalistic and contrived. With patient study and observation, you?ll find that aerial perspective breathes harmony and depth into your picture.

Suzanna Reese Winton has been painting children only since 1994, but she’s been passionately pursuing art since age 7 and credits her mother, artist Kay Poindexter, as her most significant influence. In the past several years Winton’s work has won a long list of awards throughout the Southeast and beyond, and she’s a signature member of the Florida Watercolor Society. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida, and works at Artistic Accents, a gallery in Thomasville, Georgia.

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