This week, writing from the beach, I began to ponder why things look so different in the distance. Not having a degree in art, I learned most of what I know from experience and observation. I knew colors changed when viewed from a distance but I didn't know much of the reasoning behind it. Atmospheric perspective is a tool for us artists to use to increase the illusion of depth by using color to mimic the effect of the atmosphere. Even though depth plays a role in all paintings, it is especially useful to the landscape painter. We can exaggerate this rule of thumb to our advantage by creating an illusion for our viewers.
In researching this blog I discovered these key points.
You see your most vibrant or saturated colors up close. They usually include reds and yellows predominantly but encompasses all colors. The shapes of objects are more defined and have greater contrasts (lights and darks).
The next layer back you loose the yellow and the warm color temperature in front. The further away you are color begins to get cooler and less defined. Colors appear in drifts rather than separate leaves and flowers.
As things get smaller in the distance green and violet reds make up more of the background. The colors are becoming less intense and contrast is blurred or even sometimes lost. A haze covers the distance and the brighter colors are less visible causing less shadows. Trees get softer and flatter as they recede and appear to have a thinner texture..
Blue and purple are predominant in the far distance as we have reached the other side of the color wheel. The atmosphere gets lighter and grayer. Shapes diminish, edges fade, and texture is subdued. The shapes begin to just hint at being an object. The colors get cooler as they get closer to the horizon as we see less yellow light.
This painting 'Crystal Beach' was my experimental fun. I incorporated more reds and yellows in the foreground with added texture. I used tools, marks, and my fingers a bit. The foreground lessened into a red violet midground where I neutralized the greens. The distance is all blues and grays with a dissolving horizon into the clouds.
This is visual poetry to our brains. It can effect the mood of a painting too. Just by using a darker or lighter palette we can help set the viewers emotional reaction. Warmer colors get a front row seat so here is where we can go wild with texture shapes and marks. Your painting can be detailed or not depending on how abstract your style is. To make the background recede we need more color contrast and drama in the foreground. If you choose to just follow a couple of these suggestions it will be a good start to creating visual perspective. Another depth creating tool is Linear Perspective. Most of us understand objects get smaller the further away they are, and our eyes follow perspective lines pointed into the distance.
Atmospheric rules in painting may be affected by the earths atmosphere conditions. When there is fog or haze, rain, winter light, or sunrise/sunset it can alter or completely change expectations. The effects of the sun also will cause you to have to make adjustments. In full daytime the values or colors are lighter in the distance, but at night the colors get darker in the distance- think sundown or dusk And finally to complicate more- at sunrise or sunset the suns reflection brings back the yellows and reds in the distance!
I know this is a lot of information, but our eyes see this everyday so a lot of it is intuitive. The next time you have a vista to look at- think about how the light is affecting the color and clarity. Decide how lights or darks in a palette would affect the mood. Atmosphere is the key to a story -tell it.
If you enjoyed this post please visit MaryRylantArt.com. I would love to have your input!