Accurately creating three-dimensional space in art is important no matter what you draw. Accurately drawing distance in a landscape is critical.
That sounds like a complex topic, and it can be. So let me share a few simple tips and techniques to help you improve your ability to draw distance in any landscape.
(Most of these tips are also useful for drawing other subjects as well, so don’t let the word “landscape” scare you off!)
Drawing Distance in a Landscape
In the interest of keeping things simple, I’m sharing the five most important tips.
Tip #1: Value Changes
One of the most important tips for drawing distance in a landscape is to pay attention to the values.
In this illustration, you no doubt noticed immediately that the row of trees near the bottom is darker than the row of trees near the top. The lighter value looks more distant.
The larger trees on the right are darker than either row of trees, and the branches showing on the left are the darkest of all. They look the closest.
You’ll also notice that there’s more variation in the value range in the front row. There’s a bigger difference in the light and dark values in the front row. There’s very little difference in the back row.
Both of these changes in values helps you create the illusion of distance.
Tip #2: Color Changes
Colors also appear to change in several ways as they recede into the distance.
For example, color is the brightest when seen close up. As you step away from it, it gets less and less bright.
It also often becomes a bit cooler in color temperature, especially if seen from a great distance. That’s because the air that’s between you and whatever you’re looking at makes colors look bluer. That’s also why values get lighter in the distance.
And just as values get less and less distinct in the distance, so do colors. Though you may still be able to tell one color from another in the distance, the differences will not be as obvious when viewed at a distance.
Here’s a photo I took in the Flint Hills. Notice how the greens shift toward blue as they extend into the distance.
Notice also that the value range gets narrower and narrower the closer to the horizon you look.
Tip #3: Size
One of the easiest things you can do when it comes to drawing the illusion of distance in a landscape is making things smaller. Big things automatically look closer than small things.
Things that are the same size—telephone poles for example—look smaller and smaller as they get further away. But that rule also applies to things that are not the same size or shape.
Below is a half-finished landscape. Notice that the trees on the right look closer than the trees on the left because they’re bigger.
The trees also look closer than the hills and mountains partly because of their size. You know the hills and mountains are bigger than the trees, but the scene makes sense. It makes sense because of the way your brain processes the image. The trees are so close to the same size as the mountains because they are so much closer.
So the relationship of size from one object to another is also important in drawing distance in a landscape.
Tip #4: Overlapping Shapes
The next tip is overlapping shapes. When you draw one shape so it overlaps another, it automatically appears closer than the shape it overlaps.
In the sample above, the foreground looks closest because it overlaps the middle ground. The trees look closer than the hills because they overlap the hills and so on all the way back to the sky.
You can also see this principle illustrated in the drawing below.
Tip #5: Details
The final tip is in the details. The closer you are to something, the more details you see. Take a look at this drawing. There are no details at all in the ridge along the horizon. The grass on the hills in the middle ground looks like grass, but there aren’t many details there, either.
The grass on the near slopes has more detail, and the foreground grass has the most detail of all.
In fact, I used all of these suggestions in drawing this landscape, and for the other landscapes that appear in this article.
These easy-to-use tips and techniques will help you create the illusion of distance in any landscape drawing, and most other subjects you might care to draw.
These tips also work on any type of surface you care to draw on with the exception of drafting film. Drafting film is so smooth that you have to use color and value more carefully to draw distance.
But that’s okay, because you can draw on the back of drafting film or on a back sheet and use the translucency of the drafting film to help you draw distance.
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