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Aerial Perspective, which is also called Atmospheric Perspective, is the effect that a hazy atmosphere has on the tone and color of a landscape when it is viewed over a distance. It is a highly effective tool for landscape painting and a less complicated technique to learn than linear perspective.
Aerial Perspective combines four key elements to create the illusion of depth in a landscape:
The size of objects become smaller the further they are from the viewer.
The details of objects decrease the further they are from the viewer.
The tones of objects weaken the further they are from the viewer.
The colors of objects begin to fade the further they are from the viewer.
Sketch sheet of skyline references for aerial perspective.
As preparation for this lesson we suggest that you should look closely at the type of shapes you will be drawing:
You could make some sketches or collect some images of rooftops, chimneys, clouds, and distant horizons to use as visual references.
In our research sheet above we have sketched three different skylines: some domestic chimneys for the foreground, some factory buildings for the mid-ground and a city skyline for the background.
The decreasing scale and diminishing detail in these three sketches make them ideal for creating the illusion of depth in aerial perspective.
Lightly draw the distant city skyline in pencil using a single line to separate the land from the sky.
Note: Use a heavy grade paper that does not buckle too much when painted.
Draw another layer of chimneys and rooftops below the city skyline.
The buildings in this layer should be slightly larger than the previous one.
If elements of this layer overlap the previous one, it will enhance the impression of depth.
Draw additional layers of chimneys and rooftops, each below the previous one and increasing in scale as they advance towards the viewer.
Draw in a couple of layers of distant clouds, starting behind the city skyline and gradually ascending into the sky.
Let the shapes of your clouds flow and undulate in contrast to the rigid geometry of the buildings.
Continue to draw additional layers of cloud, each above the previous one and increasing in scale as they ascend into the sky.
We have created a scale of six colors that change from a pale light blue to a deep Prussian blue to capture the gentle mood of daybreak across the city rooftops.
For help with mixing color scales please visit our page on Graduated Tones of Color.
Note: Flat matt paints such as acrylics, gouache or the type of tempera paint blocks you get in schools are all suitable for this project.
Continue to paint each layer of cloud with graduated tones that deepen as they ascend into the sky.
Paint in the remaining layers of cloud maintaining their progression of darkening tones.
Paint in the distant city skyline with a shade that is one tone darker than the sky behind it.
Paint in the three remaining sections of skyline, maintaining their progression of darkening tones, to create the calm atmosphere of daybreak across the city rooftops.
You can now see the full impact of aerial perspective on the landscape.
You could consider the work finished at this stage or you could go on to add some additional detail as illustrated in our next steps.
In this penultimate image we applied a soft tone to the lower half of each section to simulate the early morning mist.
Details: color pencils, chalks or pastels are suitable materials for adding atmospheric tones and details to our image.
In this final image we have added 3-dimensional highlights to the buildings by creating a light source on the right.
In this alternative version we have used a different scale of colors to change the mood of the painting from dawn to dusk.
You can experiment with different color scales to alter the atmosphere of your painting.