One of the keys to successful landscape drawing is knowing how to draw distance. In other words, creating the illusion of distance. Successfully creating the illusion of distance on a piece of flat paper involves four principles. The more of them you get right, the better your chances for success.
What are those four principles?
I’m glad you asked!
The Four Elements of Drawing Distance
Size. Objects that are the same size appear to get smaller as they recede into the distance. That means that the smaller an object is, the further away it looks.
Color. Distance changes the appearance of color. Bright colors look more faded. Most colors shift toward blue with distance.
Values are less pronounced as they recede into the distance. Shadows that look very dark when you see them up close appeared “grayed out” when viewed from a distance.
Detail is also less pronounced in the distance.
You can—and should—begin drawing distance from the first strokes of your pencil. In this demonstration, I’ll show you how to do that with a monochrome under drawing by using nothing but pencil strokes and pressure.
How to Draw Distance with Colored Pencil
In The Foreground
Strokes should be clear and strong in the foreground. They should reveal the texture of whatever is in the foreground. Although you should always begin with light pressure and build toward heavier pressure, the pressure you use in the foreground can begin a little heavier than what you use in the background.
The following detail comes from the foreground. In the extreme foreground, the strokes are long and spaced so there’s a lot of paper showing between them.
Immediately behind that is an area where the strokes are shorter and closer together. They’re so close they almost make a solid tone.
One way to use strokes to create pictorial depth is to make them shorter and closer together as they move into the background of your drawing.
I used medium pressure in this area. Medium pressure is about the same as normal handwriting pressure.
In the Middle Distance
Strokes should still be visible, but less dramatic than in the foreground. They should be shorter or smaller than strokes made in the foreground. They should also be a little less defined. If you used a very sharp pencil in the foreground, consider using a slightly blunted pencil in the middle ground. Also decrease pressure.
Look at this detail again. The further into the middle distance the grass, the shorter, blunter, and closer together the strokes appear. The darkest strokes are a cast shadow, but even within that shadow, notice how the strokes are close together and very short compared to the longer strokes in the foreground.
The illustration below is also from the middle distance, but it shows the tree that is the center of attention in the composition. I used a squiggly stroke to outline the leafy shapes and to draw the main shapes within the large shape.
In the light areas, I only used one stroke.
In the darker areas, I layered several squiggly strokes. Each layer was added with medium-light pressure.
The shadows are quite dark in this tree, so I alternated squiggly strokes with short, diagonal strokes. I used medium pressure and two or more layers to darken the shadows.
One other thing to note is the abrupt transition between dark shadows and lighted areas. Because this tree is closer, there is more difference between the lightest highlights and the darkest shadows. To emphasize this, I didn’t draw many middle values. There will be middle values when the drawing is complete, but for the under drawing, I kept the values simple.
In the Far Distance
The further into the background you go, the less distinct strokes should become and the lighter the values. Even when drawing grass, I usually use horizontal strokes placed very close together to draw smooth color in the distant background. Sometimes, I use the side of a well sharpened pencil and simply shade the area. Whatever type of stroke you choose, use light pressure.
The illustration below shows middle ground trees. In reality, they are the same color as the big tree (shown in the detail above), but because they’re further away, the color is less intense and the values will not be as clearly defined. To draw this, I used different strokes and different levels of pressure.
For example, instead of using squiggly strokes to outline the bulk of the tree shape—as I did in the big tree—I didn’t outline the tree shapes at all. I used a blunted pencil and a “tapping” (stippling) stroke to add color. I started in the shadows and made the dots close together.
Then I used the side of the pencil to layer green over all parts of each tree.
Then I added another layer of stippling. This time, I worked into the lighter area.
I did a couple of rounds of stippling and glazes until the trees were as dark as I wanted them.
In the Farthest Distance
There is another band of trees beyond the middle ground trees. They are the same kind of trees, but because they’re so far away, their colors and values are muted. To draw them, I shaded the general shape with the side of the pencil and very light pressure. To show that they are trees and not a distant hill, I then used light pressure to tap a little color into the shadows.
In the far distance is the last band of trees. These were drawn with very light pressure and a blunted pencil. I glazed color over the entire shape, then added a few dots in the shadows with very light pressure.
Notice the difference in value and detail between the large tree on the left, the middle ground tree on the right, the trees in the near distance, and the far distance. These changes in size, value, and detail are how you draw pictorial depth—the illusion of distance. It’s also called aerial perspective.
Below is the entire drawing. All the parts described above work together to create the illusion of distance, even though I’ve used only one color.
Imagine how you could draw distance with several colors!
And That’s How to Draw Distance with Colored Pencil
Even though the drawing is nowhere near finished, you already get an idea of the distance I’m drawing. With each round of work, I’ll deepen the illusion of distance.
Follow these simple methods and you can do the same thing in your next landscape drawing no matter what method of drawing you use.
And remember that these four principles apply to any subject. Even portraits with a background that’s more than simple or tonal color.