Sunday, October 30, 2016

Master Class: Depth

Plateau Point View
6x8 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
How far can you see?

One of the biggest failings I see in landscape paintings is a lack of depth.  Many instructors teach you to abstract (or flatten) the landscape as an aid for transferring your subject to the two-dimensional surface of your canvas.  This works well in that early stage of painting when you are trying to get a grip on large, simple shapes and the relationships between them.  However, you need to remember that this two-dimensional representation needs to have the third dimension added back in at some point.

It’s like deflating an air mattress for storage.  When you want to use it again, it really helps to put the air back in.  It’s the same with painting.  Without air -- or atmospheric perspective -- the painting will appear flat and less real.

But painting the effect of air exactly as you see it isn’t enough.

When standing in front of your subject, you are looking at it with two eyes. Binocular vision gives you certain clues that help you see the distance between objects.  The viewer of your two-dimensional representation, on the other hand, doesn’t have the benefit of stereopsis.  It’s as if he’s looking at the scene with just one eye.

What you must do is exaggerate the effect for the benefit of your visually-handicapped viewer.  We’ve all been painting enough to know what air does to the landscape.  It makes the color of distant objects cooler and greyer; and it softens edges and lightens darks.  But to make the depth more understandable, you need to make objects even cooler and greyer than you see them, and the edges even softer and  the darks even lighter.

If you’re an advanced painter, do you have a Master Class topic you’d like to see discussed?  Let me know!

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