by Janet Glatz
Exactly what is “depth” in a painting? It is the combination of distance and atmospheric effects that make an object appear far away from the foreground of the painting.
When we view a scene, say a backyard, from one side, the space is limited. Everything to our eyes would seem nearly as clear and brightly colored as everything else.
(Note: In a painting of the above scene, however, the artist should insert some depth and variation in light and tone or the piece would look flat and uninteresting. Don’t tell Mother Nature—it might hurt her feelings.)
When a viewer stands at the top of a mountain and looks out over a great span of other mountains that go off into the distance, we know that the ones farthest away will be the haziest and dimmest. Why? Because of the many miles between it and us, and all the tiny particles of water and pollution collected in the air. As you peer through this distance, those particles gain density over distance, simply because there is more of them to peer through. This translates to tonal gradation in paint.
Again, Mother Nature should block her ears: Sometimes she needs help making distance/depth look beautiful by fudging the tonal layers, and also adding more subtle color, to help differentiate the “layers” of mountains. One can make a very believable gray-toned mountain range. But wouldn’t it be a lot nicer on so great, then perhaps greens and browns with a hint of purple/gray in the farthest distance. the eye to have some faint blues and purples? Or, if the distance isn’t
Another way to help this illusion of depth and distance is to add a deeper, variegated shadow just above the top line of the mountain that lies in front. This indicates that the landmass slopes down behind that front mountain. This same technique is used to delineate gorges and valleys—dark at the center, growing lighter as you get to the top edges of the sunlit side, remaining dark on the shadow side.
It is very important to determine where your source of light is in your painting. Without that, it won’t be believable at all. If your sun or moon is on the left, then all shadows will be on the right, and vice versa.