How do you create the illusion of distance and depth in a picture?

Home Sweet Home

Here’s a picture I did yesterday with ink and colored pencil. I called this picture “Home” because I think it would be a perfect place for a home. It’s quiet, on the water, and has a third floor apartment so we can bang on other people’s heads, instead of them banging on ours. I assume it qualifies as “out-of-town.”

You may notice that the cliffs and waterfall in the background seem further in the distance than the main cliff/tower in the front. In this post I will explain how the changing line width helps create that effect:

There are three levels to the thickness and clarity of the line in the picture:

  1. The main piece in the foreground is done with a #2 Kolinsky brush, in thick clear lines, with a variety of line width. The lines have to be laid down with confident smooth strokes, which takes a lot of practice.
  2. The middle ground is done with thin lines using the Prismacolor marker pens. (See red arrows).
  3. The background cliffs and water are done in colored pencil which is lighter and more delicate than pen.

This trick of changing line width and strength is only one way to help create distance in a picture. Some other ways include:

  1. Use warm colors (red, yellow, orange) in the foreground and cool colors (blue, gray, green) in the background. Note the reds in the tower and the browns in the cliff in the front, in contrast to the gray-blue cliffs in the back.
  2. Make the background more blurry and light than the foreground, in order to reflect atmospheric dust and haze. See how light the mountains in the back are.
  3. Make sure the objects in the front of the picture overlap and block some of the background elements. See how the tower in front blocks part of the waterfall.

Bottom Line: Use different  line widths throughout your picture to create a feeling of depth and distance: Thicker and darker lines in the foreground, thin and light lines in the middle ground, and very light sketchy ink lines, colored lines, or no lines (outlines) at all for the background.

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