Aerial Perspective In Picture Books

When looking at an image, how does the viewer get a sense of depth? The artist can add depth to an image using various tricks.

It starts with simple overlapping.

The chase for deep space begins by occluding one form with another.  With overlapping shapes we easily decide which is in front and which is in back.  From here we go on to explore other methods, color recession, linear and atmospheric perspective,  texture gradient shifts, amalgamating textures, diminishing edge acuity, diminishing ratios of contrast and on and on.

David Dunlop

But there’s more to depicting space than simple occlusion: The ratio of contrast between light and dark diminishes over distance. This visual effect is known as aerial or atmospheric perspective.

Claude Lorrain introduced the glowing obscuring effects of atmospheric perspective in the 1600s.  From the 1628 to 1668 we can trace Claude’s further development of atmospheric effects.

— for examples see David Dunlop’s post.

In an earlier post, Dunlop explains the Chinese history of this technique:

Long before Claude Lorraine introduced atmospheric perspective effects in the 1600s Chinese artists of the Song Dynasty had already developed these effects in their landscape painting in the 10th century 600 years earlier. Among their basic tenets was the principle of substance vs. absence. This meant that a misty amorphous air would lie in the space between receding forms, between mountains for example.

Atmosphere From China to Italy

Today there are various ways artists depict aerial perspective.

Change The Hue To Blue

Background scenery such as distant mountains tend to look more blue. (That’s especially true here in Australia, for anyone living within cooee of the Blue Mountains.)

Love le renard by Frederic Brremaud & Federico Bertolucci

Perhaps inspired by landscapes, even buildings can be blued out, even if the building is obviously not that far away! This lets the detail of the foreground stand out.

blue aerial perspective
In this image the general real life rule of ‘blue for distance’ is exaggerated.

People can also be blued out:

Or a blue outline may suffice.

The Wheel On The School

Whereas aerial perspective is more noticeable across vistas covering large distances, artists can also use it to create depth in very intimate settings, for instance when foreshortening:

by Claire Elan

 

At sunset, or in the (polluted) city, the blue is often swapped out for orange hues:

aerial perspective orange

Warms in the background, blues in the foreground definitely convey the feeling of a place cooling down after a hot day.

by Jamey Christoph

But not always. I feel the image below aims to convey atmosphere rather than time of day.

by Chuck Groenink

The general rule of cools in the background, warms in the foreground can also be inverted for a surreal, pop-art kind of look.

by Guy Shield

In a utopian setting where you don’t want any desaturation, you can change the palette. Often it will be cool colours for the background palette, warm for the foreground, but the cools are as bright as the warms.

aerial perspective change palette

Lower Opacity/Fade

The further away, the less vivid the colours. Or even if there are no colours at all, the background will seem more see-through. In digital illustration, this can be achieved by lowering the opacity of the background images.

aerial perspective in black and white, by Jon Klassen
aerial perspective in black and white, by Jon Klassen

Fantasy illustrators tend to make heavy use of this technique as it creates a highly atmospheric image — often dystopian.

fantasy aerial perspective
In a Near Future by Francesco Lorenzetti

The inevitable result: These atmospheres look foggy. I often think there’s a helluva lot of fog in fantasy imaginations. Sfmato refers to the technique of allowing tones and colours to shade gradually into one another, producing softened outlines or hazy forms. It is not a modern invention:

500 years before DaVinci introduced sfumato’s smoky edges and misty landscape backgrounds for his portraits Sung Dynasty Chinese artists had already discovered the value of obscuring mist as a segue between mountains and a method for creating a feeling of mysterious space within a landscape. Claude Lorrain perfected the sensation of obscuring atmosphere for European landscape painters. 200 years later his atmospherics would be admired and imitated by J.M.W. Turner.

By the mid 19th century photographers and painters were both employing the mysterious benefits of fog.  James Whistler worked on the reverse side of his canvases to exploit the neutral pebbly surface he found there which supported his soft edged misty evening landscapes.

David Dunlop

Blur

Background scenery might be more blurry if you want to draw attention to your foreground image. This is a natural consequence of taking a photograph using an SLR camera and can also be applied to art. (It’s also a natural consequence of being short-sighted…)

by Elly MacKay

aerial perspective blur

Or, you might blur out the foreground and leave the background layer in focus.

by Mike Bear

Frame With Very Dark Foreground

In this image of Beauty and the Beast’s castle, artist Petur Antonsson has used four distinct perspective layers, starting with almost black in the foreground, brightest for the focal point (the house), an ochre layer of trees and a misty, blue castle behind.

aerial perspective foreground silhouette

Darken foreground lines

thick lines
Here’s a rather extreme example of line thickening in the foreground.

Change the amount of detail

 

Use white lines as background scenery

Heidi aerial perspective
white lines forming a gesture of mountains in the background
The Snow Queen
thin white lines for the background building, thicker lines for the trees in the middle ground, full colour for the children in the foreground

Use unfilled objects (with dark lines) as background scenery

In Drahos Zac’s illustrations for The Pied Piper, there may be ominous reasons for avoiding the sepia fill on background buildings: The inhabitants of those particular buildings may have already died. This theory holds up when you consider some of the foreground characters are also left unfilled. This feels reminiscent of ghosts.

Pied Piper Drahos Zak drahos zak2

aerial perspective lines

Silhouettes As Background Objects

by Erwin Madrid

Or the silhouette might have a bit of detail. You can be as silhouette-y as you like.

Rootabaga Stories

Silhouettes don’t have to be relegated to the background, as proven by this photograph:

Winterwonderland by Sabine Thöle