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How to easily create depth and distance in your art

Do you struggle to create depth and distance in your art? Do your paintings or drawings always end up looking flat?

Follow my simple techniques to learn how to use size, shading and colour to create depth and distance in your artwork and overcome the disappointment of flat art. 

It can seem tricky creating depth if you’re not sure how, and you’re definitely not alone. I’ve been asked about this so many time. Below are five really simple techniques I use that'll help you solve the ‘flat’ problem.

Whether you're painting or drawing, these techniques will help you create art with more depth and dimension, and give you results you'll be much happier with. Read on below ...

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1. Size matters

Draw objects at different sizes to create depth. Bigger objects will look closer and the smaller ones will look further away.  Enhance it even more by adding a horizon line.

two hearts sketched in pencil one larger close up and one smaller in background

2. Light vs dark

Objects with darker shading will appear closer. Use more shading for objects you want to appear nearer and less shading for things you want to look further away.

Two sketched hearts one outline and one shaded in

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3. Line strength

Adding outlines to an object will bring it forward, and stronger lines will appear to look closer. Use lighter lines for things you want to look further back.

Two pencil sketched hearts one with a thicker line

Here's what happens when you add the first three techniques together.

three hearts sketched in pencil

4. Colour placement

Think about your colour choices. Warmer colours will come forward and cooler ones will recede.

two hearts side by side drawn in colour pencil one red heart one blue heart

Darker colours will come forward and lighter ones will recede. 

two hearts side by side drawn in colour pencil one purple heart one yellow heart

Ever noticed when you look into the distance, how things further away look lighter? That's because there's atmosphere in the way. The further away things are, the more atmosphere you have to look through, making objects appear lighter. That's why, when you look at a mountain range, the ones further back always look much lighter than the ones at the front.

mountain range in shades of blue darker at the front gradually getting lighter in the distance

5. Shading/tone

Use different shades, or tones, of a colour to add highlights and shadows. That’ll give your objects dimension and make them look more three dimensional.

I usually start with the mid tone I want my object to be and then mix a lighter shade of that colour for highlights, and a darker shade for the shadows.

The easiest way, is to add white to get your lighter shade, and black to get your darker shade. Keep in mind that black is a very dominant colour, so you’ll only need a smidge.

3 shades of red paint

Then paint your highlight colour on the top and/or side of your object, where the light would hit it, and your darker shade underneath and/or on the other side of your object, where the shadows would be.

For example, if you’re doing a branch, add a lighter shade of the branch where the sun would hit it and a darker shade on the side where the shadow would be. See my example below, on the green stems, where the light is coming from the right side.

Close up of green painted plant stems showing shading

The more shades of a colour you use the more depth your object will appear to have. Three different shades (as I've outlined above) would be the minimum to get the perception of depth in your painting. 

Practice makes perfect

Do some doodling with colour pencils, or paint, and experiment with how colours and shapes work together. Try some shading, and watch your paintings come to life with depth and dimension!

Try not to be too critical of your own work. Remember it's about enjoying the process and getting the happy buzz of creativity. You'll get better as you go.

I hope you've found that helpful. 

Stay art happy.

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