The ground on which we paint is flat. Nevertheless depth can be
suggested in paintings. This suggestion can be created, for
example, by a correct use of colour temperature, brightness and
Analysis of a landscape
We are looking out over a mountain landscape full of trees.
Despite the fact that the photograph is a 'flat picture' the
impression is that we can see infinitely far into the distance.
From foreground to background the landscape can be roughly divided
into four stages:
1. The trees in the foreground
2. The trees on the far side of the water
3. The mountain with trees behind it
4. The mountains in the distance
Form perspective and
Suggestion of space is created in the first place by the fact that
shapes which in reality are the same size appear smaller and
smaller 'the further away from us they are'. The trees in the
foreground are almost as big as the photograph, while the trees on
the other side of the lake are depicted many times smaller. The
trees on the mountain are even smaller and on the mountains beyond
no trees at all can be distinguished. Only the dark patches suggest
that there are trees there too. Yet we know that in reality the
trees do not get smaller and smaller.
If we next
look at the colours in each of those four stages, we also see great
differences. Exactly what happens to the colours becomes clear if
we copy a dark and a light colour for each stage approximately
If we next look at the colours in each of those four stages, we
also see great differences. Exactly what happens to the colours
becomes clear if we copy a dark and a light colour for each stage
approximately using paint.
In the foreground the contrast in brightness is great. The
further away we move, the smaller the distance between light and
dark becomes. A dark colour becomes increasingly light as the
distance from the colour increases.
Colour saturation follows a comparable pattern. The further
away, the greyer the colours.
The saturation of a colour decreases as the distance from the
colour increases. Form perspective and colour perspective are
inextricably bound together.
Colour temperature and the suggestion of space
Warm colours stand out compared with cool colours. By reversing
the use of colour in two illustrations with the same shapes, the
effect of the various colours on the suggestion of space is clearly
In the landscape on the left our attention is drawn by the
warm-coloured mountains in the foreground. From there our eye is
led into the space. In the right-hand illustration our attention is
immediately drawn by the warm-coloured mountains in the background.
If we then look downwards the blue mountains in the foreground seem
to be trying to hide under the warm colours. They do not stand
Brightness and suggesting space
Objects that are contrasted with a lighter background stand out.
In the first example we have no difficulty in imagining a spatial
mountain landscape. In the second example this is much more
difficult. The world seems to be standing on its head.
Objects that have great contrasts in brightness stand out
compared to objects with small contrasts in brightness. In the
first illustration space is suggested by the marked form
perspective of the posts. This space is emphasized in the second
example by increasing the contrast between light and dark in the
foreground and decreasing it in the background.
Saturation and suggesting space
Saturated colours stand out in relation to unsaturated colours.
In the first illustration we experience depth because the shapes
become smaller and smaller. By then decreasing the saturation from
foreground to background the suggestion of space is heightened.
Suggesting space through a combination of colour
In painting from life space is suggested, as well as through
form perspective, through a combination of colour temperature,
brightness and saturation. Of course the artist has the freedom to
keep to reality, depart from it, or to paint from his imagination.
He can opt to emphasize the suggestion of space or precisely avoid
it. In all cases the required result can only be achieved by a
correct use of colour properties. Using the following examples
various options are described.
illustration, form perspective is totally absent: the grass-like
shapes are as large in the foreground as in the background. Depth
is created solely by combining the possibilities of the properties
of colours. At the bottom saturated and warm colours have been used
and the contrast in brightness is great. Towards the top of the
picture saturation and contrast in brightness gradually decrease,
and the colours become predominantly cool. At the very top the
shapes disappear in a light grey colour.
In each of
the six rectangles the top left-hand corner stands out and the
bottom right-hand corner recedes. This is because of the diagonal
progression of colours: at top left saturation, colour temperature
and/or contrast in brightness are strongly present, at bottom right
much less so.
Where the rectangles border each other mutually comparable
differences can be seen through which the suggestion of space is
In the following examples the suggestion of space is linked to
form perspective through the combination of colour properties.
surroundings of the blue block are very saturated and in addition
are made up of warm colours.
Despite the saturation of the blue itself and the contrast in
brightness between the blue areas, the block appears to be trying
to disappear into the background; we do not experience any space
behind the shape
saturation of the foreground and background is increasingly reduced
from front to back. The corner behind the subject is furthest away
and hence the most unsaturated. At the same time the angle at which
the light falls has also be taken into account. The light comes
from top right and apart from on the subject, falls mainly on the
area to the left of it. This causes a greater contrast in
brightness between the cast shadow and the ground. The cast shadow
is the link between form and the ground. The use of the properties
of colours helps to determine the space for the object casting the
shadow. The colour of the cast shadow has been made slightly
lighter and unsaturated towards the back so that the shadow follows
the spatial progression of the ground. The saturation of the blue
areas has been reduced somewhat towards the back and the colour of
the lighter areas at the front has been made more yellow, and the
blue of the dark area at the front darker.
The saturation of the blue areas has been reduced somewhat towards
the back, and the colour of the lighter areas at the front has been
made more yellow, and the blue of the dark area at the front
suggestion of space through the properties of colours always works.
If the properties are used in a way that runs precisely counter to
form perspective every spatial drawing can be turned into a
representation without the suggestion of space.
In the illustration all the steps described above have been used
landscape can be divided into four parts: the mountain on the left,
the mountain on the right, the view through to the landscape beyond
and the sky. The representation is not very spatial. Both the
colour temperature and the saturation and the contrast in
brightness are more or less the same everywhere. Only the sky
recedes because of the low contrast in brightness
The mountain in the foreground stands out more because of the
warm saturated colours. The mountain on the right now seems further
away, the dark colours have been made lighter and the lightest
colours somewhat darker.
The contrast in brightness compared with the foreground is now
considerably less. The shadows at the foot of the mountain have
been painted with cooler colours so that the valley seems deeper
and distance from the foreground greater. In the view through the
mountains the dark colours have been made lighter and cooler so
that space is emphasized.
We can see changes in the sky, too. Before we deal with these
let us reflect for a moment on how a sky should be seen in spatial
terms. Skies are unpredictable. Depending on the weather conditions
and the time of day, dark and light sections may alternate and
saturated, warm or cool colours can appear anywhere. Nevertheless,
the laws of the properties of colours in relation to the suggestion
of space apply here too. No sky is so red that a dark shape will
not stand out against it.
We should see the sky like the ceiling of a room. If we look
straight up the distance to the ceiling is small. If we look
further away at the ceiling the distance is greater. In other words
if we look straight up at a clear blue sky the blue is dark and
The further towards the horizon we focus our gaze, the lighter and
more unsaturated the blue will be. The contrast in brightness in
clouds immediately above us as a result of the effect of light and
shadow will consequently be greater than the contrast of similar
clouds further away. Accordingly in the illustration we see the
contrast in brightness, saturation and the colour temperature of
the sky reducing towards the horizon.
In the last examples the colours in a still life are constructed
step by step in such a way
that each object is given its place in space. We do this in three
In the last
examples the colours in a still life are constructed step by step
in such a way that each object is given its place in space. We do
this in three stages.
The saturation of the background has been toned down, as
has the saturation of the yellow ground towards the back.
This defines the space in which the various objects must be
located. The colours of the cast shadows follow this saturation
progression and in addition have been made a little lighter towards
Next, use has been made of the angle at which the light falls to
give the shapes contrast in brightness. It is important that the
subjects should retain sufficient colour.
It is not
sufficient to make a colour lighter or darker with white or black
respectively. The brightness will change, but so will the
saturation. Unsaturated colours will recede in relation to the
starting colour and will cancel out the spatial location of the
object. Depending on the colour of the light and the colours of the
surroundings the shadow colours and the light colours of an object
become cooler or warmer as well as darker or lighter. The dark dish
is given more colour by repeating the yellow of the ground on the
Depending on the material of which the objects are made colours
can be reflected back and forth in varying degrees.
ground has been made somewhat cooler and darker on the right,
towards the bottom left-hand corner somewhat lighter and more
unsaturated. As a result the grey bottle and the blue jug
particularly stand out more. The bottle has become considerably
more colourful by echoing various colours from the surroundings on
it. The lightest areas of each object have been reinforced with
warm colours. Compare, for example, the little blue jug in the
previous illustration with jug now. Thanks to the warm, light
colours the jug itself has become more spatial and detaches itself
more from the background. As a last step attention was paid to the
small details in the foreground.