Painting with Depth: Background to Foreground

Blue Storm watercolours on Indian Village hand made paper

As I paint, my goal is to create the sense of seamless progression of back to front, i.e.  background into the middle ground and then foreground.  The prior post  Depth,  shared information on how Colour  is a great tool to create  the illusion of this kind of depth in a painting.  Edges and Tonal values will also help to create a sense of depth and can direct the eye through the painting – background, middle ground and foreground.

Blue Storm watercolours on Indian Village hand made paper
Blue Storm in watercolours on heavy Indian Village handmade paper
  • Hard Sharp Crisp  edges generally bring a shape Forward, nearer, into the Foreground.
  • Soft, blurred fuzzy edges make a shape Recede back into the distance, into the Background.
  • The medium edge, not Hard Sharp and not fuzzy blurred, is perfect for the Middleground shapes.


When I paint, sketch, draw, tonal value study, etc:  I nearly always start with the Background Shape FIRST!

This is very important!      Beginners do not often do this;   nor do they understand – the benefits.      The painting, the art work is transformed with much more depth and perspective, if the background is started first!  Then proceed to the middleground shapes…… then progress into the foreground shapes.  By doing this you are building a solid foundation of progressive  sequential tonal values in the correct tones and the correct placements.    

In this Abstract  Blue Storm, the white space in front has a hard sharp Edge of blue and green blue along it, creating the sense of nearness.  It created the Foreground.

Looking into the back left corner, the paler softer blurred edges mingle and merge. Softly.   The mind translates this into aha!  the Background.    Whereas, coming forward now into the centre area,  the edges become just a little sharper. Not as hard and crisp as that Foreground Edge, but a medium  edge.   So,  even in an abstract, through the use of edges – hard, medium, soft   I can create  Background Middleground Foreground.

Also if the Background tones were a lot more obviously Paler,  it could have pushed the sense of depth even more. Typically, I’d have had that background area lighter.

Blue Storm Watercolour
Blue Storm Watercolours Indian Village handmade paper

However.  My beginner guideline  #9  Don’t Fiddle.  The more I fiddle, the more it gets overworked and will result in mud. I need to avoid mud!

Its best to leave the image alone. As it is, the deeper blue from the bottom left curves up and around, to lead the eye up and in. Therefore, I find the tone acceptable and of use.

There are art basic guidelines.  As an artist, I am always free to alter, ignore, rearrange these guidelines at my discretion. There will be consequences, I just have to know what those are and how to work with them.

In St. Ives NSW Bushland watercolours, a more traditional painting, I can see how the tones in the background are much paler, then they become mid tone in the middle, and deeper dark in the Foreground.  Tonal Values and their correct placement play a vital role in this image.

Also, its edges in the background are quite soft and hazy. In the middle ground becoming firmer. In the Foreground the edges are Harder, sharper, crisp creating more definition. These techniques used in sequence, Background then Middleground, then Foreground,  help the beginner to create a painting with a greater range of depth and perspective, and sensitivity.

Watercolours St. Ives bushland
St. Ives NSW bushland watercolours

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,

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