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Atmospheric Perspective in Painting

Updated on November 8, 2015
Seascape | Source

Depth in Painting

It is atmospheric perspective that adds depth in painting landscapes. Look out over a distance, and you will see colors become cooler, usually either more gray-blue or gray-violet.

In this painting, you can see the warm rocks closest to the viewer with a fair amount of detail.

The distant rocks or mountains are gray-violet with no detail, only different values to give shape to them.

If you look at the water, you will see the same thing happening. The distant water is a cooler misty color while the water up front is is a blue green making it warmer because of the yellow which is part of the green.

The artist takes advantage of this environmental effect to change a 2-D surface into a 3-D painting.

Of course there are other things to consider in order to add depth perception to the painting, and we will discuss them as we proceed.

Gray Scale and Value finder
Gray Scale and Value finder | Source

Looking at Color Value

Knowing how to paint depth with atmospheric perspective is dependent on having an understanding of color values based on the gray scale as a guide.

Some people have a very hard time distinguishing the values of colors. A gray scale tool is very helpful in converting your colors to the different values.

I have written a Hub on the subject that may be of help to you if you are struggling with color values. Here's the link:

How to Paint Depth

An Exercise

To help you develop a skill in creating depth through value changes, I have produced a sample for you to look at and use if you would like.

I painted a monochromatic version so I could focus on just the value changes in one color. If using one color is too difficult for you, try the same thing with the values of gray.

You can paint a duplicate of this or use it as a guide for your own painting.

A color wheel is also a good tool to consider when trying this exercise. It will give you the different values for all the colors on the wheel.

For people who use Corel Painter 12, or similar versions, pick a color from the outside ring and then work with values within the resulting triangle only.

Monochrome Value Changes

Monochromatic Value Changes
Monochromatic Value Changes | Source

Illusion of Depth

Look at the sample painting and see some of the things I did to create on illusion of depth.

First: Value Changes

  • The closest tree is the darkest
  • The mountains are the lightest since they are the most distant point.
  • The mid-range of trees generally get progressively lighter as they go back

Second: Size Variation

  • Generally the trees get smaller as the go back.

Third: Detail

  • The greatest detail is in the shrubs in the foreground.
  • The trees have less detail and a mixture of hard and soft edges as they progress into the distance
  • The mountains have minimal detail and soft edges

All of these combine to create the illusion of depth.

Stormy Sky Lighthouse Seascape
Stormy Sky Lighthouse Seascape | Source


My three favorite landscapes to paint are ones with seascapes, mountains, and sunsets. All three are perfect for practicing atmospheric perspective. The environmental effects are so dramatic in all of them.

Here you can see the storm clouds grayed with the complements, violet and yellow. The water in the foreground contains the same colors, only slightly lighter, and as you go back toward the horizon, both the sky and the water get lighter.

Some clouds cross the horizon to break up the strong horizontal line of the horizon. A sailboat with minimal detail also crosses the horizon to act as a block to the viewer's eye.

You can see the sun rays filtering through the mist for addition atmospheric effect.

Mountain Landscape with Flowers and Trees.
Mountain Landscape with Flowers and Trees. | Source

Mountain Landscape

This landscape demonstrates how reducing the size of objects, such as flower and trees, creates the feeling of distance.

It also shows how reducing the value of the mountains and applying light blues or violets sets them far back in the distance.

The winding path of the flowers brings you into the center of the painting where there is a bright spot of yellow light as the center of focus.

Old Barn at Sunset Landscape
Old Barn at Sunset Landscape | Source


In this example, there is the reducing size of objects to create distance, but there is also lightening of the sky as you get to the horizon to create the depth of the landscape.


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    • J - R - Fr13m9n profile image

      Jane Ramona Rynkiewicz Frieman 3 years ago from Morris County, New Jersey

      In the past I was an art student. I discovered that your artwork "raises my serotonin levels"! In other words my feelings felt pleasure as I looked at your paintings. Now I funnel my creativity in writing. Writing can be creative as well as therapeutic. Thanks for sharing your painting techniques.