2 Easy Ways to Draw Distance

2 Easy Ways to Draw Distance

It can be difficult to accurately draw distance, can’t it? But creating the illusion of three dimensional space in a two dimensional drawing or painting is essential to creating a successful piece of art.

Fortunately, it’s not difficult to learn how to create pictorial depth in even the most basic line drawings.

2 Easy Ways to Draw Distance

In a previous post, I mentioned an article written for EmptyEasel and titled, How a Birds Eye Point of View Can Improve Your Landscape Drawings. The article was based on an online class I audited at Craftsy.com. The class was Perspective in Landscape Drawing and it was an excellent class for anyone interested in improving their drawing abilities.

One of the primary purposes of the class is helping artists improve their abilities to create pictorial depth.

There are a number of ways to depict pictorial depth in a landscape drawing (or in any drawing). One of the simplest and most basic is the way you draw a simple line.

Take this drawing, for example.

2 Easy Ways to Draw Distance - Example 1

This is a fairly detailed, but very basic drawing. It shows grass and hills and trees. Even with such a simple drawing, overlapping shapes creates a sense of pictorial depth. You know that some of the hills are further away than others. But there’s no real way to tell how close or how far away some of those things are.

The biggest reason for that is that the lines are all the same weight and about the same quality. I used medium pressure (regular hand writing pressure) throughout the drawing. I also drew unbroken lines for everything and although some of the lines are straight and some are not, there just isn’t that much variety. Although it’s a nice drawing, there isn’t much pictorial depth; no sense of distance.

2 Easy Ways to Draw Distance in Simple Line Drawings

Here’s the same drawing reworked. It more accurately shows pictorial depth because I’ve paid more attention to a couple of easy drawing methods to draw distance.

What are they?

Use Darker Lines on Foreground Objects To Bring Them Forward

The darker a line, the closer it seems to be. Use this simple detail to give pictorial depth to a line drawing.

For example, in my example, I drew the group of trees in the center with the darkest lines. The further into the background an object was the lighter lines I used.

2 Easy Ways to Draw Distance - Darker LinesNotice how the objects that are drawn with dark lines look closer than those drawn with light lines.

Decrease the Amount of Detail to Make Objects Look Further Away

Another to create “space” in a line drawing is with detail. The more detailed an object is drawn, the closer it seems to be.

The trees in the foreground show a lot of details. The shapes are more irregular and there’s more detail within each of the shapes. They appear to “move forward” in the composition. To further tie them to the foreground, I added grass shapes leading to the lower left corner.

The trees on the right are drawn with little less detail. The edges of those tree shapes aren’t quite as detailed as the edges of the first two trees. Nor is there as much interior detail. I drew grass here, too, but notice it’s drawn more lightly and the strokes are shorter. All of those things tell you these trees are a little bit further away than the first two.

2 Easy Ways to Draw Distance - More DetailNext furthest away is the tree group on the left. Notice the ridge line is a straight line with just a little bit of “grassy strokes”. The trees are lighter in value and show even less detail than the group on the right.

Combine Line Value and Details for the Best Results

You can, of course, use either of these two methods alone to draw a composition with pictorial depth. But you’ll get the best results if you use both methods. The combination of varying line darkness and details convey the best sense of distance in even the simplest line drawings.

I continued to work toward the background lightening the weight and value of each hill I drew. The trees also become less and less individual trees and more and more groups of trees. By the time I got to the horizon, the lines are very light. The horizon line is actually slightly broken. I used very light pressure to draw it and allowed the edges of the line to be very soft and vague.

2 Easy Ways to Draw Distance - Dark Lines & DetailThe result is that even though both drawings show roughly the same scene, there’s a much greater sense of distance in the second one than in the first. The vast openness of the Flint Hills, which were my subject, is much clearer in the second drawing. You already have a feel for what the final painting or drawing might look like.


Can you draw a composition without depicting pictorial depth through line quality? Absolutely. I worked that way for years without significantly affecting the end result of the final painting.

But if you enjoy drawing and if you really want to learn your composition, it is helpful to begin developing pictorial depth as soon in the process as possible. For many of us, that means the line drawing.

Besides, the old adage practice makes perfect is true. The more times you work your way through the space of your drawing or painting, the more familiar you become with it. The more familiar you are with your subject, the more accurately you can convey exactly what you want to convey to your viewers.

That is never a bad thing!

If You Would Like To Check Out The Class Yourself

The class I audited is Perspective in Landscape Drawing. Patrick Connors teaches the class, which you can work through at your own pace.


  1. Patricia Wilson

    Wow, this really helped me quite a bit. I was wondering why when I make a greeting card, it looked flat. I don’t draw but with my dies, inks, etc. I have seen cards made that looked more dimensional than mine. Now I understand as what I do basically is all the same hue. Interesting and thank you so much.

  2. Dawn Mason

    I am interested in taking the class. I am looking to improve as an artist to move forward and learn different things about realism. To draw more realistic drawings. How much does it cost to take the class and how long is the class.

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