Art quilters can create the illusion of depth with atmospheric perspective when they apply four key color concepts in pictorial quilts. Creating depth with atmospheric perspective was one of the topics I discussed in my monthly Color & Composition class. Read on for a summary of that part of the discussion. If you are intrigued, information about future Color & Composition class sessions is at the bottom.
The Illusion of Depth in Art
There are two types of perspective that can be employed in your art quilts to create the illusion of depth in a pictorial work such as landscape or seascape. The first is linear perspective; the use of 1 or 2 vanishing point with lines in the composition converging on those points. This is the most commonly recognized and used method for creating that illusion of depth. Raphael’s painting, School of Athens, is a great example. Notice that the architectural lines lead to a single vanishing point in the center of the composition.
A second method is to create the illusion of depth with atmospheric perspective. This method relies on manipulation of color to create the illusion of depth. Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata, by Jan van Eyck provides an example of this. Compare the elements in the foreground with those that appear to be far in the distance.
Keys to Create Depth with Atmospheric Perspective
With the great masters as our inspiration, let’s shift our focus to art quilting and the selection of fabrics for landscape quilts. There are 4 key considerations.
Represent the textures of items that are close to the viewer such as plants, rocks, clothing, furniture. Less textural detail should be visible in elements that appear in the mid-ground, and eliminate textural detail in the background. Quilters also have the option of adding texture with stitching and surface embellishments.
Value & Value Range
Moving from foreground to background, the value range should narrow. Render elements in the foreground with a broad value range from very light to very dark. Reduce the value range to make elements appear further away by eliminating the lightest and darkest values. Also, shift the value range to the lighter end of the value scale because darker values are lost to a greater degree than lighter values.
Elements become less defined as they move to the distance.This is related to texture. Texture would be how you represent the surface of a object, Clarity focuses on the shapes of objects The edges of your shapes will soften and become more blob-like as those objects move to the distance. Below is a simple seascape composition that I created as a class sample. In the detail view of the palm trees, notice how the outline of the palm fronds is simplified in the tree on the right. Id I were to add a third tree further in the distance, the palm fronds would have gentle curving edges in contrast to the jagged edges of the foreground and mid-ground trees.
Warm colors advance and cool colors recede. When selecting fabrics for a composition, make note of the colors that will appear in the foreground, mid-ground, and background. For colors that repeat at various distances, selected warmer versions to appear closer, and cooler versions to appear in the distance. For example, the color red in the foreground could be a warmer red-orange, while red in the distance could be a cooler red-violet. Look below at Crossing Over. The water in the foreground is a mix of blue and blue-green, but is rendered in blue-violet in the background. The foliage on the distant back is green near the water’s edge and blue-green on the more distant hills.
Create Depth in the Sky
When it comes to the sky, we often forget to create depth using atmospheric perspective. Treat the sky as an element of the composition. The top of the composition is the foreground, and sky near the horizon line is the background. Sky should be a warmer, more saturated color at the top of the composition and move to a cooler, less saturated color at the horizon. A common mistake is to use a solid blue fabric, or a printed sky with cloud fabric. The problem is that these fabrics present a static representation of the sky that make it appear flat. They fight the illusion of depth, rather than support it. I suggest a hand-dyed or ombre fabric to support depth using atmospheric perspective.
Join our next Color & Composition Session
Interested in learning more? Every month I lead a Color and Composition class where we explore a color scheme, color concept, and a composition concept. We meet online the 4th Saturday of every month 1:00-3:00 PM MDT. To join us, sign up through the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum.
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