211. Atmospheric Perspective, i

Day 5 into retirement found me with finally enough time to sit down and start my “class” on perspective.  No, not a classroom setting, but rather following the exercises in a book.

The book is The Art of Perspective:  The Ultimate Guide for Artists in Every Medium, by Phil Metzger.  As an individual, I found no web pages authored by him, but I did find numerous books which get good reviews.  I picked this book up because it dealt with not only the traditional perspective found in drawing and architecture, but the perspective produced by color.  As someone working in watercolor – or anyone working in any medium – color and how to use it is so important.

Atomsopheric Perspective has a few rather obvious points.  Metzger says “paint what you see”.  This is sound advice.  The reason it is sound because the natural world is out there.  You actually see atmospheric perspective.  What this means is:

  • colors become more blue the further they are from the viewer.  Mountains are cooler.
  • Bright foliage can create brilliant swaths of color, even at a distance, so this belies the idea of “things become cooler with distance.”  They do have less detail with distance.
  • Things are simpler the further away they are – this makes sense of course!
  • Air pollution of cities makes for browner (perhaps) distances rather than bluer.  What is important here is to note that edges become more soft and colors, while still colorful, begin to fade.  White buildings become greyer unless a brilliant flash of sun is on the building.
  • At times, hills will appear darker than the ones in front or behind them – this could be caused by a cloud passing overhead.
  • Fog softens the landscape or the cityscape.

Exercises

I decided to do a number of paintings.  Actually, I figured I would just do the first exercise, on trees, called “Receding Woods” on pages 18-19.  This is it below.  I followed Metzger’s steps – pale wash, distant trees, mid-ground trees, stream, shadows, details.  This is the result.

I found this to be a frustrating and useful exercise.  I used the palette he suggested:  Alizarin Crimson, Cobalt Blue, Burnt Sienna, Pale Cadmium Yellow.  Drop the colors onto wet paper, and move on.  Next step were the pale trees in the background – light blues and browns.  From there, darker blue trees to suggest shapes.  Mid-ground trees brought in some detail.  Finally, the frozen creek and shadows.  As a wonderful piece of art, I am not impressed with what I did – but I am impressed with the clarity of Metzger’s writing and example.

From this, I decided to go to Pixabay and search for things like fog, barns, marsh, swamp.   The next study is a marshland.  I figured it would be good for water, reflections, and distant mountains.

What I liked especially about the picture was the haze at the base of the mountains and the blurred quality of the green hill.  In the photo, it was less distinct.  From there, I tried to paint the values I saw, so the distant water was a midtone, the middle water dark, and the closest the most pale.  I also made the mountains more blue and violet and tried to use warmer colors the closer to the bottom of the page I got.  It worked to a degree in varied areas, and not in others.  Still, having 3 different values of water was rather interesting.

Her is a study on distance and fog.  The image was mostly green and yellow in cast,  The sun is peeking between the two center trees.  The tree shapes show lighter in the painting, as the do in the photo, but I think I could have done a better job with the sky to emphasize this point.  To show distance, I tried to make the further objects more simple and cooler, while working at a bit of detail and warmer values for those closer to the viewer.  Perspective was indicated by the road narrowing and the curve of the furrowed field.

This picture was a challenge!  Me, paint a bridge??!!

Anyway, a bridge is disappearing into a fog bank; a sail boat sails through the shadow cast by the bridge.  The distant bridge vanishes into a thick, white cloud.  Detail softens and vanishes.  On top of it all, this is a bridge!  (I don’t think I would want to drive across it if it were really were in the condition represented by my painting!)  Once more, cooler colors and less detail the further from the viewer; more detail closer to the viewer.  I liked mixing the blues for the water and found out that a rigger brush and a flat brush were my best friends for the bridge.  I like this painting a lot more now that I finished it – not a work of art, but a good practice study.

This final painting was a serious challenge.  The paper I was using for all of these is student grade, so washes are tricky and often become hard edged or have blooms.  I solved a lot of those problems by scumbling along the edges; this was good for softening, blending, and blurring the edges.  I also used a 1-inch flat brush for the majority of the painting, forming the blurry vegetation, to the barn, to the road.  Only when I added detail did I use a small brush, specifically a rigger.  While I don’t think this painting has great perspective, the goal of atmospheric perspective was met.  I used to the left and right of the barn, as well as with the weed patch on the lower right.

Some Thoughts

As a first exercise for my “class” I really enjoyed myself!  I started painting at 9:30 in the morning and only finished around 5:00 pm – time to make dinner.  I focused on the atmospheric perspective idea and learned a lot simply by doing.  Sure, I know this basic information, but to put it into practice and think about it is a lot different.  Experience in the real world is, in my opinion, one of the best teachers, and such studies are invaluable.