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Digital Subscriptions > The Artist > Sep-17 > Near versus far

Near versus far

Paul Talbot-Greaves shows you how to achieve depth in your watercolour painting – it’s not always about following the rules of aerial perspective, as he explains

CONTRASTS IN WATER COLOUR: 5 OF 6

At a recent workshop I was asked why my demonstration painting appeared to have a great amount of depth when I had used values that were darker in the background than in the foreground. The person asking the question had always been told you had to make the distance pale and the foreground strong and that cool colours have to be used in the background. Distance is an illusion that is achieved through the use of aerial perspective and whilst colours are often cooler towards the horizon, they aren’t always. Likewise, they’re not always pale values either. The distance, like all other elements of a painting is relative to the focus you choose and, in turn, how you decide to treat it.

Exaggerating distance

You can make anything distant, even features in the middle ground. Distance is relative to your focus, so choose that first and decide where it is going to be in the painting. A focus is part of the painting that holds the viewer’s attention so it needs to be prominent and interesting. A focus can be anything from a figure or figures to trees, a splash of light, a building, a lake and so on. Once you have decided on your focus you may need to use a compositional grid to place it in an appropriate setting near or around two of the intersecting compositional lines. Features behind the focal point can be made to appear more distant than they might really be, which in turn puts more emphasis on the focus you have chosen and creates greater depth in your work. There are a few techniques to use but the main intention is to use less detail and blur most of the hard edges. Use a large brush to suggest any would-be fine detail shapes to generate simpler marks and a more distant feel. To blur edges, the wet-into-wet technique is an evocative way to create softness; alternatively, paint the shapes in a conventional hard-edged manner and allow them to dry. Take a fine spray bottle and lightly spray the area with water so that it is just damp, then follow up with a stiff brush and gently work the edge of the paint into a blur. Any feature in the background of your painting that has soft or blurry edges will automatically look distant whether they are dark or light. Don’t always concern yourself with values and rules, look at the edges.

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About The Artist

Welcome to an inspiration-packed issue with great demonstrations to follow in all media to help practise and develop your skills, from Paul Riley's focus on how to depict glass and reflections in watercolour, Chris Forsey's mixed-media demonstration of a light-filled Australian coastal scene to Rob Wareing's feature on painting skin tones and portraits in oils. With an insight into up-and-coming Richard Burger's approach to portraiture and Richard Pikesley's use of studio objects as tabletop still lifes, we also step into the shoes of professional artists to see what motivates them and how they approach their work. Young artist Marie Antoniou urges you to express yourself in acrylics with just one brush, Robert Dutton explains the rules of perspective while Paul Talbot-Greaves shows how to achieve depth in landscape compositions, Barry Herniman paints boats and harbours, and Liz Seward suggests the perfect antidote to painter's block by turning to collage. For help with colour mixing, Julie Collins turns our attention to the variety of whites available, and Catherine Strong tells us how to keep our greens clean and vibrant. Enjoy the issue and email your feedback and comments to us at theartistletters@tapc.co.uk We love to hear from you!
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