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How to Create Depth in a Painting?

how to create depth in a painting

If you are wondering why your landscape paintings seem a bit “off”, then it could be that it is lacking in terms of what we call depth. The painting may look like there is something wrong about it but you can’t just quite put your finger on it.

You will need to know how to create depth in a painting to make your projects look much better. A landscape painting should make you feel like you are looking through a window. If you are a beginner at painting landscapes, then you should prioritize learning how to create an illusion of depth and that is just what you will learn here.

Step-by-Step Guide

Atmospheric Perspective

atmospheric perspective

This technique is when you modify the tones and details to create the illusion of depth. It is a favorite technique of Bob Ross. You can see it in most of his works. In this technique, you can use fog or mist to soften things that are far away. It might seem complicated but it is actually quite easy.

What to prepare:

  • Wide brushes
  • Fan brushes

Detailed steps:

Step 1 – Prepare your colors

You will be starting with the farthest elements of the background and they need to have the lightest tone. As you get closer to the foreground, you should darken the values gradually. There is no need to create different batches of colors. All you have to do is to darken them by adding darker hues.

Step 2 – Paint the farthest features first

Using the lightest tones, paint the farthest objects first. Use the fan brushes to paint the items that are the furthest. Don’t worry about adding details. Those objects are too far anyway for you to see them clearly anyway.

Step 3 – Add fog or mist

Grab your wider brushes without dipping the bristles in paint and dab the tips of the bristles on the canvas. This will make the background objects blurry, which emulates how fog or mist distorts the details.

Step 4 – Paint the next layers

You just need to repeat the previous step but darken the colors a bit. You can add as many layers as you want but it is advisable to paint two to three layers only. This will prevent your painting from getting too cluttered.

Step 5 – Paint the foreground

Once you are finished with the background, you can now paint the foreground, which refers to the objects that are nearest to the viewer. This is where you can start adding details to the objects. You can also use more vibrant colors.

Make sure that your foreground objects are not too big, or that there are too many things that they cover up too much of the background.

Aerial Perspective

aerial perspective

This is similar to the previous method, but instead of lighter values and then getting darker as you get closer to the foreground, you use cooler colors for the background and then use warm colors going to the front.

What to prepare:

  • Palette of colors

Detailed steps:

Step 1 – Prepare your colors

You will need to prepare separate color sets for the background and another for the foreground. To make the cooler colors, make sure that you use more blues and purples. For the warmer colors, use more reds and yellows.

Step 2 – Paint the backgrounds

Just like the previous method, you need to paint the background objects first. The further the object, the less detailed it should be. Use cool colors to paint background objects.

Step 3 – Paint the foreground

After one or two layers of the background, you can start painting the foreground over them and use warmer colors. According to color theory, warm colors grab more of the viewer’s attention compared to cool colors. This will bring the eyes of the viewer forward and push the background objects farther.

Changes in size

changes in size

The further something is from you, the smaller it looks from your perspective. You can apply this same effect to your paintings.

What to prepare:

  • Small brushes

Detailed steps:

Step 1 – Draw the background

The farthest background will be the base where you will be building your paintings from. You can use lighter tones like in the first method or use cool colors like in the second.

Step 2 – Draw objects that gradually get bigger

If you will be drawing trees, draw the trees that are furthest into the background smallest, and with very few details. As you get closer to the foreground, make the trees and other objects larger. Once you reach the foreground, the trees should be so close that you do not even see the very tops of the trees.


Knowing how to create depth in a painting will make your landscape paintings a whole lot more interesting and impressive. You no longer have to worry about making your landscapes look so flat that it somewhat feels like a kindergartener’s art project.

With the tips mentioned above, your paintings will look like windows that are looking out to a fantastic view. Pick any one of the methods mentioned above and practice your technique as often as you can until you no longer have to think about what you need to do. You just simply act on it.