The goal of most Western painters is to make it look as if the picture painted on a flat surface is three dimensional with depth as well as breadth. Using the visual devices of viewpoint and perspective an artist can create this illusion to represent the real world.

Picture plane describes the flat surface of the picture as if it were a pane of glass. Artists can accentuate the flatness with a decorative design or they can create the illusion of depth, visually piercing the pane of glass, like a window offering a view of a scene beyond.

Viewpoint is the position from which both the artist and viewer look at the picture and has a bearing on perspective. The viewer will stand further away from a large picture than a small one, to take it all in. It’s also natural to peer closely at a detailed image, then move back to look at loose brushworks.

When painting a portrait, whether the painter is looking up or down at their sitter affects the psychological impact of the portrait, just as a conversation between a standing person and a seated one puts the two on an unequal footing. For example, if the artist and later the viewer, looks up at the sitter, the sitter appears powerful and dominant. If the viewpoint is changed to look down on the sitter, the roles are reversed, the artist and viewer are in the position of strength and the subject of the portrait looks vulnerable.

The horizon line in a landscape equates to the painter’s eye level. The artist can maximize the amount of land visible by taking a mountain top viewpoint than looking down over lower ground. The highest viewpoint is a bird’s eye view, in which the artist looks straight down at the landscape below. A worm’s eye view, from which the artist looks up, as if lying on the ground, is at the other extreme.

Perspective is the tool used by artists to convey an impression of space and depth. It creates the illusion of reality or spatial recession in a painting.

Atmospheric perspective or aerial perspective mimics the natural effect of light that makes things in the distance appear paler and bluer than those in the foreground. Things also seem closer if they are in sharp focus, but further away if they are hazy. Renaissance artists often accentuated the effects of light on distance by painting the foreground green, the middle ground brown, and the background blue. Later artists tend to blur the distinction between one zone and another.

If you look down a straight road, the sides appear to converge in the distance. Eventually they seem to join up, at a point known as the vanishing point and the point which the viewer interprets as a sign of distance. Artists exploit this mathematical law of linear perspective, also called single viewpoint perspective, or one-point perspective, to convey space.

Andrew Wolf, LLC
19th & 20th Century Fine Art, Art Pottery, Sculpture & Books

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