Friday, February 17, 2012




In the following chapters you’ll find information on how to paint various topics such as mountains, trees and skies. Included, where appropriate, you’ll find “The Rules” to quickly remind you of those things that generally work. Consider them rules of thumb to paint by, but remember, in some cases, rules can become guidelines that don’t always require hard and fast adherence.



The Rules
As one looks into the distance:
  • Colors become cooler.
  • Colors become less intense.
  • Detail is lost
  • Edges soften.
  • Value contrasts diminish.

Take the time to notice the point at which, as you look out, the light of the sky seems to overwhelm everything. Blue light has a short wavelength, which is scattered as it bounces off air molecules more quickly than the longer wavelength colors red and yellow. This scattering makes the sky blue. As your distance from items increases, warm-colored objects are not as rapidly overwhelmed by the blue of the atmosphere, although they eventually lose their strength as they, too, are progressively filtered out. This is the reason businesses use red and yellow lettering on their signs; they may be spotted sooner and seen for a longer period of time, and why campers choose blue tents that visually blend into the landscape. Remember that in the foreground plane you see all of the mixtures of red, yellow and blue, while in the middle distance the blue light of the added air has begun to overwhelm yellow. This leaves all the combinations of red and blue colors until, in the greatest distance, all but blue is lacking. This is why we think of mountains as purple or blue rather than yellow.

At its most rudimentary you could reduce the landscape to three simple colors: yellow land, purple mountains and blue sky. Notice that these colors move progressively away toward blue on the spectrum. Painting a distant mountain yellow or the foreground plane blue sacrifices the sense of intervening air.

Notice how the left hand illustration seems to feel correct, while the right hand one is unbalanced and feels upside down. This is due to the “blue filter” we all have that tells us that the cooler a color is the farther away it resides.

For some reason the physical effects of aerial perspective are more easily seen in darker areas of the landscape. Often you will be able to perceive a distinct shift in color and value in the darker, tree-covered foothills. Notice how the yellow-green of trees on a nearby range becomes progressively bluer and paler on each succeeding range. Educate your eye to discern the same shift toward blue in areas of lighter values.

Faraway objects don’t have as much contrast. The farther the distance, the less distinction of dark and light you see. Notice how dark the shadows are under the tree next to your house, and how pale the shadows seem way out on the mountains. Take time to compare a shadow crossing the flanks of a distant peak to a nearby shadow. If you can, stand in a place where you see both shadows, near and far, at the same time and squint your eyes to compare the values. You’ll see that the closer shadow is darker. In fact, all the light values are slightly darker and dark values somewhat lighter in the distance. There’s less contrast.

While details can enhance mountains, be careful not to be enticed by a needless spot of interest that can destroy the illusion of distance in your painting. Sometimes a sudden shaft of sunlight will pull your eye to it, but its distance dictates that it remain subtle. Resist this attraction and strive to give a sense of space to your painting, creating air between and around each range of mountains. At your feet you can easily see sharply defined edges, but as the landscape recedes in space these become soft and indistinct. Over-detailing a distant object can destroy the illusion of air in your painting and is something that all too easily happens when the artist relies on a photograph alone.

Rim Light, 12" x 18"
Photographs can capture sharp details and edges farther than the eye can see. This means that a photo could have as much detail at the far horizon as in the foreground. In reality, as your eye wanders from object to object, certain things come into focus while others stay somewhat softer in the periphery. Look out the window, focusing on objects at various distances and, without moving your eyes, notice how the surroundings are soft and out of focus. If you paint the scene with only one area in focus it will appear to have been done strictly from a photograph. Oddly enough, this is also true if the same quality of detail is painted all over.
Sandy Wash, 9" x 12"
Moisture and particulates in the air, as well as elevation, affect the amount of detail seen. At lower altitudes the air can be heavy with humidity, obscuring even nearby details and edges. Water vapor in the air creates a slightly misty, soft view. At the other extreme, standing atop a 14,000-foot mountain can give a clear view one hundred miles into the distance. The atmosphere is thin at that altitude, with much less humidity, allowing you to see crisp details and edges farther away. In the arid Southwest, the dry air and high altitude of the llano, or high plains, results in perceptibly sharper edges for greater distances, while in coastal regions the air is literally thicker, heavy with moisture. Smoke from forest fires, an increasingly common summertime sight in the western United States, can further obscure details and edges, adding a red or yellow duskiness to the view.

You must compose your painting using the focus that will best express what you see. Too much detail in the distance and too little in the fore can result in a flat painting with little sense of depth. Select areas of emphasis to detail more highly and allow other areas of your composition to remain softer. Manage details to enhance the focal point and give the painting the needed sense of space.

Rainbow Meadow (demonstration), 17x11”
This painting illustrates the recession of color as seen in the foreground. I began with very dark paper, over which I laid down bands of color in rainbow order. I toned Wallis paper a dark warm color just nearing black, using water to set it, over which I then scumbled : (at the very bottom) yellow, above that yellow-orange, then orange, then red, red-violet, violet, blue-violet, and blue. The colors become cooler and slightly paler in value, two of the key components used to create the illusion of distance. I used patterning to paint the grasses, applying the rule of proportion (bigger in front), and the rules of aerial perspective (in the distance edges soften, contrast diminishes and detail lessens.)


  1. Deborah, I have been away from computers for seven weeks whilst we were travelling so I'm very late in catching up with happenings in the dusty world of pastels.

    What a delicious surprise to come home and find out on Wetcanvas about your incredibly generous and selfless action of providing free access to this wonderful resource on your blog. Thank you so much. I have devoured every word of the first five chapters and eagerly await the balance of your book. I've learnt so much already.

    Blessings upon you and a thousand thanks.

    Kind Regards,

    (The Drover's Dog)

  2. Deborah,
    Let me add my thanks for your generous gift. I love your DVD's and your book is the icing on the cake. I thank God for your wonderful talent and you for your generous spirit. The book is fantastic!


  3. I really appreciate your thanks and you are more than welcome, as this book is a joy for me, too.

    It has blessed me to see so many people from all over the world coming to read and learn and enjoy. As of today, almost 4,000 people have visited since the first post on February 10th. Wow--who knew?

    Thank you again and again!

  4. Deborah, I've been enjoying and appreciating this book/gift since the outstart. Wonderful!
    The progress pictures in the Aeial Perspective chapter are intruguing, and I'd be interested to know why you used the black paper under the underpainting. The image is too small to see if there are any black bits showing through. Just curious. It's a lovely piece.

  5. Wendy, I just found that it was easier for me to see the contrasting light colors of the rainbow on the very dark paper. That made the colors saturated, so when I added the natural colors of the grasses over the top it seemed more natural.. The original thread over at WetCanvas shows a little closer shot of the finished work. There's really no black showing through.

    Glad you're enjoying the book, and thanks for a good question!

  6. Deborah, thanks so much for giving the gift of your book to us all. I certainly think you deserve compensation for all your hard work, but at times like this, when money is very tight for me, it is so much appreciated! And I understand that not all compensation need be financial - you are a very nice and generous person, and I hope your life is everything you hope it will be

  7. I am very new to the world of art (four months;) but have been devouring all the information I can find on the web as I explore different mediums. I must add my thanks as well for all of the wonderful information you have generously provided here! I am extremely grateful for the valuable insights!

    Warmest regards,

  8. Welcome to our world (of art), Dedrian. I'm glad the book is helpful and interesting to you. Enjoy.

  9. Dear Deborah

    I really appreciate the effort you are doing for art and especially for the Pastel learners. i have already learned a lot from your blog and its many more chapters to go. I have done some work in Pastels ( without any guidance so far) you can see this on my blog
    and i appreciate if you could help me improve my work by your worthy comment

    thanks and Regards

    Omar Waheed

  10. Loved this chapter - it forced me to consider whether I've been using air in my paintings and the ultimate visual effect. Now I understand about using photos and how they often will show too much detail; you've clearly explained this concept. Thank you.

  11. Love your paintings. Just beautiful. Thank you so much for the book. I have learned a great deal already and I've only been through a couple of chapers. You have a generous soul.

  12. I really enjoy painting landscapes. I understand about how figures, i.e., trees become smaller in the distance, but what do you do when you're drawing a line of trees along the riverbank where two or three of them tower over the others in the distance? Is this the time to modify what I see to accommodate the rules? Or do you just draw them as they are? I know it's a pretty basic question for many of your readers, but I've run up on this in the past week and really not quite sure what to do.

  13. Betty, thank you for ALL your comments. I am amazed that you covered so much ground in such a short time, and made so many comments throughout. I decided to answer you here because this had the most specific question. I often choose not to include the much taller trees that reside in a distant bank of trees because they can so easily destroy the illusion of distance, BUT if they need to be included I make sure not to allow the detail in them to be any more than the others there, nor do I change the value of them at all. If you retain all five virtues of aerial perspective, in theory the distant planes will behave. And yes, that is when you play the 'artistic license' card, and simply decide what to leave in and what to leave out. Blessings!

  14. Thank you for your generous contribution! I am learning so much! All the best to you and your family!

    1. God bless you, Josee. Happy to be of service.


Thanks for your comment on Painting the Landscape in Pastels ~Deborah