Depth | Watercolor Technique
I am a sucker for depth! And no... I am not talking about swimming with sharks - I am talking about the delicious layers and techniques that help you get lost in a painting. Grab a cup of something warm and settle down with a new method and invest in going deeper.
Depth in watercolor can be achieved chiefly by two particular methods: atmospheric perspective and linear perspective. I want to focus a little more on atmospheric perspective, because it is a bit more intuitive than linear perspective, but I will give you a brief rundown for all my left-brained artists.
L I N E A R
P E R S P E C T I V E
Linear perspective leans heavily on the establishment of a horizon line and point perspective. Perhaps you’ve heard of vanishing points? If not, it is exactly what it sounds like: it is the point (or points) in an image that the subjects seem to fade off into. One-point and two-point perspective are popular layouts for this particular method.
B a s i c H o w - T o :
- Draw a horizon (horizontal) line.
- Draw either one or two points on that horizon line. The "points" can be off the page as long as they are in line with your designated horizon.
- All of your subsequent lines will radiate off of your chosen points, with subjects closest to the point being drawn smaller, and thus appearing farther, than objects further away from the points. It is very important that your angles line up accordingly with the vanishing point(s) in order for the illusion to be the most effective.
I’ll be honest, my lack of depth perception makes linear perspective extremely difficult for me. As such, I rely heavily on underdrawings made with tracing paper or a projector to make sure I get this right when I am painting.
A T M O S P H E R I C
P E R S P E C T I V E
This method is all about layers and values! Atmospheric perspective mimics how the atmosphere impacts our vision as things move further into the distance - they become hazy, darker or lighter depending on the light source, and colors lose their intensity.
When working with watercolor - a largely translucent medium - you are going to want to work from light to dark. You might want to start with monochromatic paintings at first to really make sure you get this method down packed.
B A S I C H O W - T O:
- When planning your painting, you’re going to want to identify your foreground (area closest to the viewer), mid-ground (next area from the viewer), and background (area furthest from the viewer). Depending on the composition of your painting, you might only have a background and a foreground, and that’s okay.
- Start by adding a wash of your lightest value to the paper. You can achieve very pale colors by having a low paint to water ratio. I also recommend giving the entire sheet of paper a wash of plain water first to help diffuse this layer easily. You should use brushes specifically designed for watercolor. Brushes designed specifically for watercolor will hold more water than multi-use brushes or brushes designed for other mediums. Water retention is key for light layers.
- Begin building layers by adding more and more pigment to the water as you paint either further or closer to the foreground. If your subject is being “lit” from behind, layers will become darker closer to the foreground. If the subject has “light” shining on it from the front, layers will become darker as they approach the background. Make sure you let layers dry completely before painting the next layer; if you don’t, pigment will flow to and darken areas that should stay lighter. You can use a hairdryer on its cool setting if you get impatient. ;)
- The layers with the most detail will be the layers that are the most in focus. This will usually be the foreground with a few exceptions. If you feel like your painting is flat, you probably have too many details in all of the layers. Try using a light wash of color to soften the layers distracting from your main subject’s layer. If you’re having the opposite problem by having difficulty getting sharp enough details, I recommend switching to brushes with a higher snap-back quality. Snap refers to how quickly a brush returns to form after strokes.
I N S P I R A T I O N
- Paint a colorful background: Sunset, Forest, Mountain Scape, Water, etc.
- Paint the silhouette of your subject in a dark color on top of your background. This will create the illusion of depth.
- You can add multiple silhouette layers in gradating colors to increase the level of depth represented.
That view from your hike this morning
That beautiful sunset from your trip this summer
A relaxing beach-scape
A desert at dusk
A serene mountain-scape sunrise---
Mastering the art of creating depth in your paintings will go a long way in adding interest to your paintings. It might take some practice, but I promise it’s easier than finding a perfect conversational partner, or the ever elusive perfect pair of jeans.
By: Brittney Espinoza