Monday, June 29, 2009

Depth in a Painting

One of the things early painters seem to struggle with is adding depth into their paintings. Depth adds to the atmosphere while also adding a wonderful sense of space into one's painting. You are working with Aerial, or, Atmospheric perspective here. You can look these terms up and read volumes about this type of perspective as well as other types. I don't want to write a book here so I'll put it in a nutshell for you.
To add depth you need to work on your atmospheric perspective. This means the farther back your distance is colors will be less brite, less intense, will start to move into the blue/grey range. You will have less detail, less sharp edges, less focus. The eye is a magnificent machine but even it has it's limitations. Heat, moisture, airborne particles and distance will cause the eye to see less of anything the further it recedes. All you have to do now is to remember these things and practice pushing your distance in your paintings.
This painting I've done was just painted from a basic pencil thumbnail sketch I did on a scrap piece of paper with a drafting pencil. There are no color notes or actual picture to work from because I know what it will look like before I start the painting. It's a good thing to get into the habit of seeing your painting, visualising it, before you actually paint it. Then you just paint what you see in your head. The better you visualise it the better you will paint it.
Here is my pencil sketch.....

It's very simple and of no particular place. I can see my sky and tree colors as well as the foreground so this sketch is more a map of where to put my lines on my canvas. I'll add my sky working my way down to the trees. At the trees I will add some very light yellow ochre suggesting the haze you would see closer to the land.

At this point I want to add my distant mountains which will be blue. I will then add some of my "grey" mud to some white paint and then paint that into the base of the mountains to add more "atmospheric haze" to them. This gives the effect of distant mountains by the blueing of their color and hazy filtered light/color at their base....all of this adds to the illusion of distance.

Here you see the blue of the mountains blocked in. Before I leave this step I will also take a clean brush and drag just a bit of sky color along the top line of the mountains...this softens that edge...remember? Less sharp edges as they recede. My mud mix kept in a jar for later uses....What is it??? After you clean your brushes in a jar long enough you end up with a thick mud of paint at the bottom of your jar. I periodically scrape it into this jar for adding grey to my paint mixes...when I paint plein air I will use a tube of Paynes Grey but in the studio I use this leftover paint.

Here is the painting with my mountains done, my distant and foreground trees added....this is basically the blocked in stage and I will start tweaking these parts once they are all in place.

Now the rest of the painting is blocked in. After this I took a brush rinsed in turpentine and wiped out the paint for my trail. I then painted in a mix of white/yellow ochre and ultramarine blue for the trail.

Trail "wiped in" Once the trail was painted in I darkened my foreground grasses on either side and began to work my grasses and edges of the trail. In the end this is what the painting looked like.


It's all in stages. Very light or faint background work...nice mid value colors for the midground and strong darks in the foreground...much sharper detail and edges closer up and soft brushwork in the distance. Paint what your eyes can see...the exaggrate that and psuh it as far as you want to go with it. The early tendancy I think is to not push it as much so keep working at it and push a little harder each time...go lighter where you need it and darker where you need it...softer brushwork and stronger brushwork. Don't sweat it if you don't get the results you want...just start another painting and keep your mind and eye in control of that brush and paint.

2 comments:

Mick Carney said...

Great post, Ron. Really helpful for the likes of myself. Thanks.

Ron Guthrie said...

Hi Mick,
Excellent, helping others is why I posted it. We are all in the same boat...learning to be better painters. If anyone gets one tiny bit of help out of this then it was worth it. I've found in my painting journey that I really learned many things in tiny clumps from various painters.

Sometimes you can read how to do something from many painters and then one day you hear it from another painter and it finally clicks. That's happened to me.

You're doing some nice work yourself Mick.
Ron