Drawing Distance and Middle Distance in a Landscape

Drawing Distance and Middle Distance in a Landscape

If you draw landscapes, accurately drawing distance should be high on your list of acquired drawing skills. Especially if the landscapes you prefer to draw feature wide open views and lots of sky.

In today’s post, I’m adding final colors over the far distance and middle distance.

As you’ll recall from the previous post, I sealed the under drawing with retouch varnish so bath tissue wouldn’t smear the greens while I added the sky.

I’m still working over the first layer of retouch varnish. I’ve been able to do next to no blending between the under drawing and next color layers, but there isn’t much difference between the way this drawing is shaping up and the way more traditionally drawn landscapes have developed.

Here’s what I’ve done so far.

Drawing Distance in a Landscape

Let’s divide the process into two steps. The far distance and the middle distance (otherwise known as the middle ground.)

The Far Distance

Step 1

I began by finishing the most distant row of trees. Because these trees are so far in the background, they look much more blue than the trees in the middle ground or foreground. That’s due to a phenomenon called aerial perspective.

TIP: Aerial perspective refers to the way air changes the appearance of things. The further away something is, the bluer and paler it appears. The level of visible detail is also reduced with distance.

Because the greens should be lighter, bluer, and somewhat gray, I chose jade green. I used a blunted pencil with light pressure to layer jade green over the distant trees with circular strokes.

There isn’t much difference afterward, but every layer contributes to the development of the drawing. Don’t be discouraged if your drawings don’t seem to make much progress in the early stages. Drawing with colored pencil is a slow, but steady process.

Drawing Distance - Green Landscape with Jade Green Added

Step 2

Next, I layered limepeel over the distant trees and the patch of flat land in front of them. I used the same pressure—light—but used short horizontal strokes both in the trees and the flat land.

Drawing Distance - Green Landscape with Limepeel Added

Step 3

In order to correctly draw the distance, I need something to compare it to, so I layered olive green into the next nearest row of trees. Again, I used light pressure and circular and horizontal strokes. But rather than cover all of the area, I worked in the shadows and middle values.

I used the side of the pencil to layer olive green into the area beyond those trees.

TIP: When using the side of the pencil, hold the pencil near the back. This will allow you to apply very light pressure to the pencil and will be helpful in laying down an even layer of color with no pencil strokes.

Step 4

To finish the distance, I layered dark green over the most distant trees with medium pressure, then added slate gray with slightly heavier pressure.

You’ll notice in the detail below that I’ve added very subtle light and dark values to indicate the direction of the light and to add a little form to those trees. It’s not much. Just enough to show that they are trees rather than a solid, green wall.

Step 5

The grassy meadow in front of them was finished with yellow chartreuse applied with medium pressure in a horizontal stroking pattern. I covered the entire area, then added a few darker areas with dark green, also applied with medium pressure. Limepeel was then applied over most of the meadow.

Finally, I burnished with powder blue to duplicate the look of aerial perspective and softened the line between the bottom of the trees and the meadow by using sticky stuff to lift a little color.

The Middle Distance

Step 6

The trees between the distant meadow and meadow in the foreground were drawn with the same colors, beginning with dark green lightly applied. Next I added a darker layer of dark green applied with medium pressure. To darken the green, I used dark brown in the shadows, then warmed the greens with a layer of yellow chartreuse.

Step 7

My landscape drawings very rarely end up the way they begin. There always seems to be a course correction along the way.

For this drawing, I decided to create a hill in the middle distance.

So I added shadows with slate gray, olive green, a thin layer of dark brown, then dark green. I stroked each color along the contour of the hill until it looked the way I wanted it. I began with medium pressure and increased pressure very slightly with each color.

The sunlit area was drawn with limepeel and yellow chartreuse, then burnished with powder blue along the edge between the top of the hill and the trees. I used a short, up-and-down stroke across the edge to soften it. That wasn’t quite what I wanted so I added cream over the same area and in the same pattern.

Next, I burnished with short vertical strokes of olive green in the shadows, limepeel in the middle values, and cream in the lightest areas.

Drawing Distance - Drawing of the Middle Distance of a Landscape

The complete drawing.

So far!

Drawing Distance - Colored Pencil Landscape with Far and Middle Distance Completed

One thing I should point out is the risk of examining your drawings too closely. I’m not at all happy with the look of the details of the distance or middle distance. I don’t like the way the colors are working, the level of detail, or the gradations.

But those things don’t make much difference to the way the drawing looks when viewed as a whole.

Nor will they be obvious in the finished drawing.

It is important to pay attention to the way you put color on the paper, to the edges, and to the gradations in color and value, but don’t get so obsessed with them that you lose sight of the big picture!


Knowing the best ways of drawing distance in a landscape is key to creating a realistic illusion of distance. This isn’t the only way to create that illusion. It may not even be the best way, depending on your working methods and subject.

So I encourage you to experiment until you find the method that works best for you.

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  1. Shirley Warren

    Hello Carrie. I enjoy the colored pencil tutorials and would like to print them . How do I do this? None of your work has this capability. I’m using an iPad and have no problem printing other items. Thank you, Shirley

  2. Carol Rommevaux

    Hello Carrie,
    Thank you for your instruction on landscape art. I like working with pastels the most but will the tips you gave apply to that medium as well? Sincerely,
    Carol Rommevaux

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