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Monday, June 18, 2012

What Every Landscape Painter Should Know

'Edge of the Marsh'            6x8       oil on panel         ©Karen Margulis
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Aerial Perspective!  When I understood this concept, it made all the difference in my landscape paintings. It is really such a simple idea and easy to implement in a painting but for some reason it didn't click when I fist began painting. That is true with most painting concepts. There is so much to learn that you can only process so much at one time. I have found that I need to be exposed to some concept several times before I have that 'Aha' moment.  That's what happened with the idea of aerial perspective.

What is aerial perspective or atmospheric perspective?  Aerial or atmospheric interference with visual perception causes loss of contrast, detail and sharp focus. What this means for the painter is that we can create the illusion of distance and space if we understand what happens to how we see things as they recede. There is science behind this concept and if you want to read more about the whys of aerial perspective, I recommend reading John Carlson's book 'Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting'.  He has a chapter devoted to aerial perspective.  Just knowing what happens and how you might translate this effect in your painting is the key to having a painting that looks three dimensional.
Here are some of the things that happen to objects as they go back in space.
  • SIZE OF OBJECTS-smaller objects seem farther away
  • OVERLAPPING -by partially covering one object with another it gives an appearance of depth
  • TEXTURE-More texture visible in objects that are closer
  • SPACING-objects clustered closer together seem farther away
  • FOCUS-objects lose detail as they recede into space.
  • COLOR-color intensity is much greater closer to the viewer and tends toward medium gray as it recedes.
Understanding this concept helps me make decisions as I paint. Take this plein air marsh painting as an example.  As I painted I asked myself...How can I make this scene have some sense of space?  Well I can use cooler, greyed down colors for the distant land mass. I can make sure the tree masses have softer edges and less detail. In the distant marsh grasses I can paint them with lighter, cooler greens and have my brushstrokes smaller and closer together. I can warm up the greens as I come forward and I can show more texture and detail in the mid to foreground grasses and flowers.  I don't have to use every one of these things in every painting but if I can use some of them and even exaggerate them somewhat I will have a more successful landscape painting!

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