The Oil Paint Website


Creating Depth in Oil Painting

There are two major ways of creating the illusion of depth in oil painting. One is linear perspective or the use of vanishing points. The other is atmospheric perspective or the progressive cooling of a color as it recedes into the distance.

Colors become less intense as they recede. For example, green changes from a

  • warm yellow-green in the foreground to
  • cooler orange-greens and
  • red-greens in the middle ground, and then to
  • blue-greens and eventually
  • cool grays in the background.

Just as the colors of light cool from yellow to red and onto blue as day progresses to night, so does any color when you want to move from foreground to background.

You can create depth in oil painting by gradually making your colors cooler and duller as they recede into the distance.

  • Add  yellow to your foreground because yellow is warm and vibrant.
  • Add blue to your background because blue is a cool color and adding it will help shapes recede into the distance.
  • Modify  your colors in the middle ground with tints of oranges, reds, and violets.

When painting depth

  • Make colors more intense in the foreground and less intense in the background.
  • Cool your colors as they recede into the distance (using Blue).
  • In the distance, make your value changes less distinct (light colors become darker, dark colors become lighter). In another word, blend the colors in more when painting in the distance.
  • Avoid similar values that create flatness. Diverse values create space.
  • Make objects progressively  smaller as they recede into the distance.
  • Make objects less distinctive in the background by simplifying details and softening edges.
  • Overlap objects to step into the distance.
  • Use linear perspective (converging lines) to imply depth.
  • Use division of planes (foreground, middle ground and background).
  • Use thick paint in the foreground.

Note: Rule of thumb - from near to far: add yellows-> oranges -> reds -> violets -> blue.

The color of light, adjusted for depth

The following lists color of light adjusted for depth from foreground (Lemon Yellow) to background into the distance (gray)

  • Gray
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Quinacridone Red + Ultramarine Blue
  • Quinacridone Red
  • Grumbacher Red
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium + Grumbacher Red
  • Cadmium Yellow Deep
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium
  • Lemon Yellow