Guides, Landscapes, Painting

Landscape Painting Guide

June 5, 2014

This guide aims to offer a wide range of knowledge on landscape painting through images, text and video.

Creating Depth in Landscapes

Depth is one of the most important parts of creating a successful landscape painting. Paintings without a sense of depth seem flat and boring. Depth helps a painting become three-dimensional and makes the scene look like a window into another world. 

Creating depth is a three-step process that includes layering, color saturation, and texture. 


landscape painting tipBefore starting a landscape, the artist should plan what subjects will be included in the piece, and how they will be layered. This type of layering is the process of putting one object in front of another to indicate distance using perspective. Smaller objects tend to seem farther away than items that are larger and layered in front of the smaller object. 

To create depth in a painting, an artist needs to have at least two layers in a painting. For example, there could be a mountain in the background, trees in front of it, and flowers in the foreground. 

Example One, above, is a good demonstration of layering. The bottles, stream, fence, and silos are all layers. The bottles seem to be as large as buildings because perspective is used to show that they are closer than the silos, which are much smaller because they are much farther away. 

Color Saturation 

Cherry Tree by Alina BradfordColor saturation should be the next concern when creating depth in a landscape painting. Generally, the closer the object or layer to the foreground, the more color saturation it should have. Layers or items farther away should be duller in color. This is a natural phenomenon that can be observed by looking at reference photos or real landscapes. Light is filtered from an object to the eye by particles in the air. So, the farther away the object is, the more the light is filtered and the duller it appears. 

To apply this to paintings, the artist should always make sure that the items in the foreground of a painting should be the brightest objects. The painting in Example Two, above, is a good demonstration of this principle applied. 


Adding texture to a piece is usually the last step, but it is still important to how much depth a painting has. 

Textures should become more pronounced the closer the object is to the foreground. In Example Three, the grass in the background is blurred, but, as it gets closer to the foreground, more texture starts to appear until each individual blade of grass is evident. 

These techniques should be used together to create an interesting and visually pleasing landscape painting full of depth.

How to Paint Aerial Perspective in Landscapes

Many artists that are new to painting landscapes may notice that mountains, trees and grass tend to look gauzy or fuzzier the further away they are. In landscape painting this is called aerial perspective and was first pioneered by Leonardo da Vinci. Particles of dirt, humidity and pollution in the air create a transparent barrier between the eye and the object, making the object seem out of focus and darker. To translate this effect to canvas, there are several painting techniques that the artist should use.

Paint Mixing Techniques for Creating Aerial Perspective

Virgin of the Rocks

Virgin of the Rocks

In his painting Virgin of the Rocks, Leonardo painted the mountains behind the virgin and angels so that they looked further away. To get this far away feel, the artist needs to make the object becomes lighter, grayer and bluer. These adjustments are made to the same colors that were used to paint objects that are in the foreground.

For example, when painting a mountain range, the mountains that are closer to the viewer may be painted with Thalo Green. The green would need to be made a little lighter, a little brighter and a little bluer as the mountains get father away. So, the landscape painter would add a little white to the green to make it lighter, a little blue to make it bluer and the paint’s complementary color to make it grayer.

The complementary color to green is red, so you would add a bit of red for graying. Or, for a shortcut, the artist can blend blue, red and white together and then add it bit by bit to the green as the painting progresses. Of course, the purple color that comes from this mixture would need to be adjusted as needed.

How blue should the object be? Leonardo determined that if an object is five times father away, it should be five times bluer. (Vinci, 1970)

Here is the paint mixing technique for creating aerial perspective:

  1. Add white for lightness
  2. Add a harmonious blue or subtract yellow from a green made from blue and yellow paint
  3. Add the color’s complementary color to gray the color

Painting Shapes in Aerial Perspective

Since there is a lens of water, dust and chemicals between the viewer and the far away object, the object will tend to look unfocused. To translate this to canvas, the landscape painter should avoid hard edges. Edges can be softened by brushing the edges of an object with a dry brush or by painting with a nearly dry brush from the very beginning.

These paint mixing techniques and edge softening tips may seem over simplified, but with practice, the artist will know exactly the right paint mixtures and paint strokes to use with the paint brand of choice.


Works Cited

Science Learning Network. (1997). Investigating Aerial Perspective. Retrieved July 19, 2010, from The Museum of Science:

Staiger, K. L. (2006). The Oil Painting Course You’ve Always Wanted. New York: Watson Guptill Publications.

Vinci, L. d. (1970). The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

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