Click on the arrows or swipe the image to view each stage of our painting lesson.
Aerial Perspective, which is also called Atmospheric Perspective, is the effect that a hazy atmosphere has on the tone and color of a landscape when it is viewed over a distance. It is a highly effective tool for landscape painting and is a less complicated technique to learn than linear perspective.
Aerial Perspective combines four key elements to create the illusion of depth in a landscape:
- The size of objects become smaller the further they are from the viewer.
- The details of objects decrease the further they are from the viewer.
- The tones of objects weaken the further they are from the viewer.
- The colors of objects begin to fade the further they are from the viewer.
As preparation for this lesson we suggest that you should look closely at the natural forms of trees. It helps your painting if you understand their pattern of growth, where a single trunk splits into several boughs to support a complex network of branches.
Our slide show offers a simple step by step approach to painting natural looking trees:
Start with a simple pencil outline of a tree form. The outline of a tree varies between different species: some are round or oval, some triangular or conical, some drooping or irregular.
Starting from the top of the trunk, paint in the lines of the main branches extending to the edge of the tree outline.
Gradually increase the number of branches from the middle to the edge of the tree.
Increase the density of branches around the edge of the tree.
Finally, adjust the weight of the branches, heaviest around the trunk and progressively thinning towards the edge.
Lightly draw the distant skyline in pencil using a single line to separate the land from the sky.
Note: Use a heavy grade paper that does not buckle too much when painted.
Subdivide the land into horizontal sections that get smaller towards the distant skyline.
Pre-mix a scale of graduated colors and paint the sky using your lightest tone.
We have created a scale of seven colors that change from a pale chartreuse to a deep forest green to capture the misty morning hues of a rural landscape.
For help with mixing color scales please visit our page on Graduated Tones of Color.
Note: Flat matt paints such as acrylics, gouache or the type of tempera paint blocks you get in schools are all suitable for this project.
Paint in the distant hills with your next lightest tone.
Starting with the lightest tones makes it easier to cover any rough edges in your painting technique as you will be applying darker tones over them.
Continue to paint the distant hills with graduated tones that deepen as they approach the foreground of the painting
Paint in the remaining sections of land maintaining the progression of graduated tones.
Paint in your first tree (small) on a distant section of land using its corresponding color.
Paint in your next tree (medium) on a mid-section of land using its corresponding color.
When you start to paint the trees, work from the back towards the front as it is easier to paint darker tones over lighter ones in areas where the branches overlap.
Paint in your final tree (large) on the foreground section of land using its corresponding color to complete the main elements of the work.
Finally, paint in the sun, using a small amount of the sky color mixed with white, to create that misty morning glow.
You can now see the full impact of aerial perspective on the landscape.
You could consider the work finished at this stage or you could go on to add some additional detail as illustrated in our next steps.
In this penultimate image we applied a soft light tone to each layer of land to enhance the misty morning atmosphere.
Details: color pencils, chalks or pastels are suitable materials for adding atmospheric tones and details to our image.
In this final image we have embellished the detail of our landscape with finely painted blades of grass to soften the contours of the ground.
Details: Note how the scale of the detail diminishes as each section of land recedes into the aerial perspective of the landscape.
In this alternative version we have used a different scale of colors to change the atmosphere of the painting from a misty morning to a moonlit night.
In the previous work we used the lightest tone for the sky. Here the sky is now the darkest tone in the painting, but the other elements of aerial perspective remain unchanged.
You can experiment with different color scales to alter the atmosphere of your painting.