Painting a Mountain
Leonardo da Vinci – The Virgin of the Rocks (detail), 1491-1508
Why do mountains look blue in the distance?
Have you ever wondered why a hill, that you know is covered in green trees, looks purple or blue when viewed from a long distance away?
Trying to create a sense of depth and distance in your landscape painting is key for creating realism in your paintings.
The simplest way to do this is with Aerial perspective…
What is aerial perspective?
Aerial perspective is the optical effect that the atmosphere has on objects viewed at a long distance.
For example, in the daytime, a mountain range will usually appear bluer and lighter as it gets further and further away from us.
The air in the atmosphere contains various impurities and these act as a filter stopping certain wavelengths of light reaching our eyes.
This gives the illusion of a change of colour and value.
Cool colours like blues and greens get through the ‘filter’ of air more easily than the warm colours so mountains usually appear bluer.
Leonardo da Vinci noticed and studied that as a landscape recedes from the viewer its colours and tones alter due to the nature of the atmosphere.
You can see this in his painting above where he has cool blue muted mountains in the background, and warm browns in the foreground.
It is sometimes referred to as atmospheric perspective.
What effect does aerial perspective have on landscape painting?
Change in colour – A green tree will quickly appear purple, then blue as it receded into the distance.
Change in tone – Everything gets paler, the atmosphere not only affects the perceived colour in front of us but the tones, how light or how dark, each area of the landscape is. The changes are most noticeable in the dark tones, (just like the dark colour tones)
You can see in this photograph how obvious, now it’s in black and white, the tonal value changes are.
It is also useful to note how the crispness of line also alters, making the very back mountain quite blurry.