Depth: Background, Middleground, Foreground

Green HIlls watercolor, easy beginners landscapes, debi riley painting for watercolor beginners,

One of the challenges for beginners learning to paint is creating depth in the landscape or still life.  Often areas appear flat, floating, lacking depth. Why? How can you prevent it?

watercolour textures chart
Watercolour Texture: Foreground – Most! Background – Least …


Depth: Back, Middle and Front

In order for the painting to read as if it has depth, the beginner needs to understand the painting has 3 areas of space: Background,  Middleground and Foreground.

Each of these areas of space must be treated differently with colour, tone, detail, edges, size, media technique applications in order for illusion of depth to be created.

This post focuses on Colour, later articles will include tone, edges, detail, overlapping, etc.  in the 3 areas of Background, Middleground and Foreground.


In the example I’ve shown, I used a very warm terracotta orange brown as my foreground.  As the eye travels into the Middleground area –  it has become less warm. I’ve done this by adding a dash of blue (cobalt) + water.

Now, further into the distance,  in the Background are much cooler  colours.  They’ve gone into the grey range at this point.  Again,  just by adding more blue – and more water.


Aerial Perspective

Through the use and placement of your colour choices, you can create background, middle ground, foreground.  The full range sequence of colours that I typically will  have students use is  (background towards foreground)      grey,  lavender blue-ish,  blue,  green blue,  green,  green yellow, olive,  yellow,  yellow orange,  red orange,  scarlet warm red.

What is Warm?   What is Cool?      How to learn to tell the difference.  This will take you a few minutes each day observing colours around you. Start with easy ones. Purples are easier.   Look to see which purple is warmer, which is cooler.


“Warmer”  colours have more red bias to them.   “Cooler”  colours have more blue bias to them.  Now, Lets take Red.  Red is a Warm.  However,  you can have a Warm version  and   a Cool version.

The Warm version will look more like a warm strawberry red,  whereas the Cool version will look more like a cold red Delicious apple.

Every Colour – will have a warm and a cool version. This is Good!…… why?   Because it allows you to place the warmer, in front of the cooler!   This creates more depth,  improves perspective.  It creates a  painting that enables the viewer to ‘walk through, meander through’  seamlessly,  without any roadblocks in the background, middle ground, or foreground.


landscape greens
landscape greens Background to foreground

Both of these 2 images, top and bottom,  were created from my basic 3 colours.  Cobalt blue pb28,  Winsor Lemon py175,  Permanent Rose pv19.    It keeps it nice and easy, less complicated when mixing my greens.

Top image shows a very warm olive far left, transitioning into cool greyed greens which are great for the Backgrounds. As seen just below it in the hills, tree scape.

The image Below, the 6 rows of Greens also provide you a good reference of what can be mixed with the 3 basic colours (cobalt, winsor lemon, rose.)  As well as the specific sequence you’d place them in to obtain the most depth and perspective in your own paintings.   You can see how the warm olive comes forward, whereas the cooler bluer greens recede into the background.

greens for depth background-foreground
Mixing Greens for Depth background-foreground

The 6 greens mixed  help improve depth and perspective,  through a more progressive colour temperature transition from background to foreground.

Green Grey is at the far back, then blue green, next mid green, yellow green, greenish-yellow, with warm (red bias)  Olive in front.     Olive has a higher ratio of red mixed into it.

Having 6 very different temperature greens as a minimum – smooths the transition, creating a  foreground – middle ground – background.   Which gives more depth to your paintings!



Published by debiriley

The act of creation, in any media is a fascinating and magical process. I simply love to create. Expressing in color, line, tone, texture - as if, they were words upon a page. Creating a uniquely me, interpretation. Enjoy More of my "one-of-a-kind" expressive art at and,

2 thoughts on “Depth: Background, Middleground, Foreground

  1. Hi Debi, Thank you, once again. Keep those email posts coming. All have been helpful. Best wishes, Leslie


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