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How to Recreate Distance in Landscape Painting: Understanding Perspectives for Sketching Dramatic Scenery

Understanding perspectives forms the basis of recreating recessional effects in any drawing and painting, particularly landscapes, seascapes and any other panorama.

Creating a Sense of Space in Dramatic Scenery

Creating a sense of distance is essential for painting dramatic scenery, such as Ayres Rock in Australia, the Grand Canyon in America, or even the traditional English countryside. They all have certain factors in common:

  • They are all split at some point by a horizon.
  • The horizon is mostly unbroken.
  • They all have big skies.
  • They all have foregrounds.
  • All objects within the scene get smaller in relation to distance.

How to Make the Landscape Sketch Recede with Distance

Creating a sense of distance in panoramic views is quite simple, but the effect can easily be spoiled if not done incorrectly. Fig 2 shows that, if the landscape and the sky were represented by a grid, they would recede with distance. The greatest distance is reached where the grid converges at the horizon. The more distant objects appear smaller where the grid recedes at the horizon. This applies to both the ground and the sky.

Making a Convincing Landscape Painting

Perspectives in the landscape are important but a sense of distance can be reinforced by the use of tones, in both drawing and painting landscapes. Fig 3 shows that when the landscape and the sky are of similar colour and under similar lighting conditions, they will become paler with distance. This effect is relative within similar-coloured objects; some are darker than others, and will therefore appear darker than a nearby pale object.

Which Colours to Use When Representing Distance in Landscape Painting

Depending upon the weather conditions, different hues can be seen at various distances away. On a misty day, for instance, colours of objects such as trees and buildings will appear increasingly paler, bluer and greyer with distance. This can be seen to some degree even on a clear day, fig 5. Many other hues can be seen on differing weather conditions, from violets, reds, and greens. It all comes down to sensitive observation.

Painting Panoramic Landscapes

Dramatic lighting can give a sense of distance and drama in any landscape painting. The Grand Canyon, for instance, in fig 1, is laden with shadows. Just as with objects, such as clouds and trees, the size of shadows will generally recede in size with distance. This will reinforce distance within the landscape.

Painting Dramatic Skies

A big sky can be emphasized with a low horizon. This can be seen in the painting of Ayres Rock, fig 4. Using a low horizon gives the sky more space and emphasis compared to the ground and gives the whole painting a sense of depth and space. This is particularly effective when painting sunsets.

Make a Painting Recede with Distance

Representation of the sky and the landscape in terms of a grid helps to render distance, particularly the relative size of objects. Tones and colours reinforce the effect of distance by the gradual introduction of pale colours with a little blue or violet, although sensitive observation is the key, along with practice. An unbroken horizon will add space to a panoramic view. Employing a low horizon will emphasize the colours of sunsets and dramatic clouds.