Aerial Perspective in Watercolor

Watercolor Academy

Aerial Perspective in Watercolor

Article by Vladimir London, Watercolor Academy tutor

Aerial perspective describes how the atmosphere affects the appearance of objects, depending on the distance from the viewer.

Aerial Perspective in Watercolor - Article by Vladimir London, Watercolor Academy tutor

Here are the main principles of aerial perspective:

  1. The further an object is from the viewer, the softer and more diffused its outlines become.
  2. Objects that are further away are seen in less contrast and with less detail.
  3. With distance, colors become dimmed and appear less saturated.
  4. The tonal values of distant objects become lighter.
  5. Far away objects become bluish in color.

The blue color of sky is caused by small drops of water suspended in atmosphere. A single drop is so small that is almost invisible and totally transparent. However, the vast quantity of drops diffuses light rays and acts as a blue color filter. That is why objects in the distance are seen with less contrast, appear lighter and are bluish.

Aerial Perspective in Watercolor - Article by Vladimir London, Watercolor Academy tutor
Paintings by Vladimir London, Watercolor Academy tutor

The blue "filter" of the sky affects all colors. Blue and green colors disappear first, then yellow and orange colors lose their saturation. Red colors are seen from greater distances. Black and dark objects appear as blue while light and white are visible from far away.

The aerial perspective affects objects in the sky as well as on the ground. The clear sky that is closer to the horizon is lighter than in zenith, where it has its deepest blue. The clouds in the foreground are white. With distance, the clouds get a bit of an yellow-orange tint, which turns pink on the horizon.

As the rule of thumb when painting landscapes, apply stronger and warmer colors for foregrounds, and lighter and colder ones for backgrounds. Similar objects, like trees, can be arranged in perspective just by using colors: stronger and warmer green foliage will visually come forward compared to trees painted in lighter and more blue tints.

The topic of how to use aerial perspective in painting is explained and demonstrated in numerous video lessons of the Watercolor Academy course.

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