December 26, 2011

About Aerial Perspective

Aerial perspective is the term given to the effect created when objects are viewed through the atmosphere.  Dust, smoke, or moisture particulates suspended in the atmosphere viel what we see in the distance.  Generally hills or whatever else we are viewing through the layer of atmosphere become lighter in tonal value, and cooler in temperature.

In the Canadian Rockies, this effect is virtually unnoticeable on a very clear day and at a high altitude due to thin atmosphere and virtually no particulates, whereas in coastal locations there is often mist, fog, etc., that creates cooler and lighter distant vistas.

Of course, this changes again when you are in an area where dust particulates gather in the air with moisture droplets.  The dust hanging in the air (or whatever other pollutant may be present) creates a warmer distant color than if there was just moisture present.  Are you confused yet?  There is an elegant solution:  paint what you see.

I find the tendency is to  paint the distant hills darker and warmer than they actually are.  Be aware of this tendency and look again.  Harder.  Believe your eyes - it's only your mind that plays tricks.

Happy painting all,




  1. I've enjoyed your plein air paintings very much - warm, rich, and vital. I also do outdoors painting, and share your fascination with the challenge and how it improves our skills as painters. You can see my work at Do you use fresh underpainting, or previously tinted canvases?

  2. Thanks, Aleta. I generally underpaint with a layer of transparent red iron oxide, which I mostly rub off before starting. I like the way it looks when it peeks through in the painting - it also puts a layer of paint and medium down to work into which lets me avoid working on the dry white surface of the canvas.

    I took a boo at your work - very lovely!

  3. I use red oxide often, but also various shades of greyish purple, both warm and cool, and light and dark. A freshly applied underpainting subtly lifts into colours laid on top of it, and the paint seems to take on a life of its own. I'm pleased that you have discovered this as well! I would like to meet you, and paint (or even teach) together some time.