Category Archives: 4.2 Perspective

4.2.1 linear perspective

Here’s my final painting. 

I’ve demonstrated understanding of linear perspective, in a street scene that wends steeply downhill, and I’ve created a sense of receding space.  I’d have liked to show more perspective in the clouds, having them slope towards my vanishing point almost vertically, instead of making them almost horizontal.

I didn’t achieve the kind of loose washes and free line I was aiming for, getting distracted by a struggle with colour and tone. Each adjustment I made detracted from any loose quality there was.    It was tempting to start again, concentrating on line instead of colour and tonal contrast, as the exercise instructions told me to… but I decided not to, and did succeed in making some final changes for the better.  Perhaps part of learning is accepting not every exercise outcome will be a wholly positive one! 


Here’s what I did, my research, reflections, difficulties and decisions along the way :-

I decided to develop into a painting a collection of townscape sketches, photos and notes I made nearly two years ago.  The reference material shows the streets from many angles, zooms in on detail (street furniture, windows, chimneys), and describes the scenes and atmosphere quite extensively, so even though time has passed I’m still able to recall it vividly.


I chose the street scene with laundry to develop.  It demonstrates linear perspective having ample lines receding to two different vanishing points on a lowish horizon (I was sitting uphill); I also like the contrasts, light and shade and colours.

The course materials suggest using fluid paint washes to create a sense of indeterminate space, and then structuring this space with line;  using a stick dipped in paint for the line might be a way to avoid being over-fussy and tight.  I looked at Turner’s 1840 Venice watercolour sketches; he uses just this method, with loose washes given structure by quickly drawn line.

Some of Turner’s washes have hard edges corresponding to architectural lines

Others have washes dissolving into each other but roughly corresponding with areas of light and shade.

His palette is sky blue, silvery grey, umbers, ochres, siennas.  Shadows are deep umber and ultramarine, or a rich Indian red.  I notice also how Turner’s edges tend to dissolve more the further away they are, giving the illusion of distance.

So I planned to lay down some carefully considered,  pre-prepared coloured washes on a piece of thoroughly dampened watercolour paper.  I wanted to convey the deep shadows and strong lights, so I would need some quite dark mixes and defined edges for the cast shadows and the windows; mid tone shades for the road and the shadow side of buildings; and some delicate light washes for the sunlit building.  The sky would gradually lighten toward the horizon, from a mid tone to silvery-white!

But first I considered the format and composition.  I decided to go with landscape format (partly to vary my work more – I’ve done mostly portrait format paintings lately); but I felt a wider format than the photo (perhaps the golden mean) would be more satisfying, so I extended out each side.  Also the building glimpsed at the end of the street bars the eye from travelling into the distance; I decided to get rid of it, widen the gap, and add a vague suggestion of the street continuing to draw the viewers eye further into the picture plane.  All this was put together as an under drawing on my 40x65cm paper, using a grid to enlarge the photo.

Used mainly acrylic ‘ink’ I carefully washed the sky with pale greys and blues, and the building on the left with pale blues and mauves.  All the buildings are white in fact, so I didn’t want to go too dark. 


I mixed a ‘black’ with my three primaries and no water, and painted in the dark, hard-edged cast shadow in the foreground.

Eventually I realised that if the right hand buildings represented the lightest tone, followed by the sky, followed by the left hand buildings, the latter would have to be a lot darker.  I ditched my size 22 and went for a 5cm flat, mopped up the remaining dark mixes from my wells, and slapped them on top of the ‘carefully considered’ washes.  This is looking better!  Encouraged, I took a stick and ‘drew’ eaves and chimney details.


Now I needed to similarly darken the sky, with a brighter blue.  Looking again at my Turner references, my washes are too precise – ‘colouring in’ – I need to not be afraid of having some skips in the washes – the line to be added later will clarify the structures.


Uncannily, I’ve ended up with exactly the same dirty mauve and greenish puce colour scheme of my first exercise in Part 4, view from a window – how horrible!  I’m feeling quite dejected and wondering when I might start to make some paintings I actually like in Part 4.  Tomorrow I’ll stick the electric cables in, call it a day and move on to the next exercise.

Next morning I overcame my discouragement and made some quite major changes in my final session, for the better – see the final painting at the top of the post; I really darkened those left hand buildings, bravely with Indian red first, then blue-grey roughly on top, and finally scumbling a very light tint of blue on top of that.  I’m learning that it pays to be bold with tone; it’s easier to lighten an over-dark tone than to add tone in timid increments.   The sky was warmed with ultramarine, and the distance given less focus, lighter and more neutral tints.



Turner’s Venice by Lindsay Stainton, pub Book Club Associates, 1986


4.2.2 aerial perspective

Here is the final painting.  I’m moderately satisfied insofar as I managed to concentrate on employing the devices of aerial perspective and successfully achieved a sense of distance.  If I were to do it again I’d try harder to avoid detail, instead focussing on painting simpler areas of tone and colour – if I’d done that I might have ended up with a simpler but more effective painting.

I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made in using acrylics like oil paints with a medium and no water.  For the foreground I picked up generous amounts of paint, often two or more colours unmixed on the brush, and dabbed them on thickly, so the surface of the painting itself is textured.

The part I struggled with most was the area beyond the row of trees to the horizon, and getting a convincing gradation of tone, colour intensity and focus into the distance.



Selected a sketch from a year ago (below)  to work from for this exercise; a simple landscape, showing a high viewpoint looking down over a valley to distant hills.  The high horizon gives space in the picture to describe a vast distance.   It’s an open view, with interest in the foreground, middle ground and background, so should give me maximum opportunity to practise and demonstrate aerial perspective.

The sketch is monochrome ink wash;  I will use colour, as two of the aerial perspective  devices involve the controlled, subtle gradation of colour; one from saturated to muted shades; and the other from warm to cool colour temperature.  I did a colour version at the time of the sketch (see below) , but it wasn’t successful in using aerial perspective devices (mid ground colours too bright; hills too focused; distant colours not blue enough).  I’m hoping to do better this time.

At the outset I think all three devices need to be combined to achieve a dense of distance – if any background element is too focused, bright or warm-coloured it will tend to pop forward in the picture plane.

I had a closer look at Turner’s Modern Italy – The Pifferari.  His scene, like mine, has a high viewpoint looking out over a vast distance, and a high horizon.  I could see quite clearly how he uses all the devices of aerial perspective.  Also, I notice, his scene appears to recede in layers, with several distinct changes in the picture plane.  I think that also helps significantly to describe distance.  I’ll try to break my scene down into defined overlapping planes in my painting.

My support is a 40×50 cm board prepared with an all over bright blue, and my medium is acrylic paint.  I lightly painted a few lines denoting the horizon and three or four main elements, then using just Paynes Grey and white started on a monochrome under painting.  I soon found the task of subtly grading focus, tone and and colour saturation calls for more skill and concentration than I’d thought.

The painting below, View of the Thames, Charing Cross by Alfred Sisley shows just how subtle the variations must be, and makes my first efforts look coarse and clumsy.


With ultramarine and white paint, acrylic medium and a largish palette knife I trowelled in the sky, adding a tad of indigo and burnt sienna to describe the underneath of clouds, and a little process yellow along the horizon; I wiped in distant line of hills with a tint of ultramarine.  This establishes my lightest tone, and the most distant plane.

Next, the foreground scrub and large pine tree, representing the first ‘layer’ in the pictorial depth, must have the most contrast and focus, and the warmest and brightest  colours.  I used a size 24 flat brush to pick up mixes of indigo, burnt sienna, process yellow for highlights and white for opacity; dabbed these on thickly, creating the texture of rocky scrub and pine tree foliage.

At this stage (below) I feel I’m on to something good.  Lots of texture, contrast, warm colours in the foreground.  The middle ground as far as the row of trees quite warm but lacking some detail; beyond the trees gradually getting greyer, paper, cooler and out of focus.  There IS a sense of great distance, although there are still lots of anomalies, for example the middle distance beyond the row of trees all the way to the horizon needs to be much lighter in tone.

It seems with any of my painting 80% of the work is done in 20% of the time.  The relatively small changes thereafter can have a big impact on the final painting – for the better if I honestly reflect on my original aims, and look critically at the work so far.  The stages of this painting, all done with one aim in mind, to maximise the sense of distance using all the devices of aerial perspective, are shown in the gallery below, and the final version also at the top of the article.