Painting Depth: Advance – Recede

impressionist watercolor landscape, plein air painting, cobalt blue pb28 watercolor, limited palette watercolors,

Have you ever felt as if you were walking into the painting you were viewing?

The artist used a few, simple guidelines to help the viewer meander through.

I can share a couple of those tips with you.


impressionist watercolor landscape, plein air painting, cobalt blue pb28 watercolor, limited palette watercolors,
Sunlit Watercolor HIlls


As a beginner, it can get frustrating when our paintings seem flat.  When the objects, the shapes don’t seem to have adequate ‘form.’

When the transitions are too stiff.

When the Foregrounds should (but do not) ease their way back gently into the distance, receding in nice and easy, slow progressive steps.

When “Walking into the painting” is only a dream, and its just not happening for you.

That. Is frustrating!




5 TIPS For Improved Depth



Where possible,  do Graded Washes.  They’re the most successful at creating smooth, slow, transitions from front to back.

The Sky, Meadows,  Lakes, Roads…  are excellent examples in which the Graded Wash is perfect for.




Start, your paintings from the back first.  Backgrounds, then middlegrounds, then foregrounds. Last is the focal point.  You have a better chance of getting your tonal values and your edges applied correctly when you paint in this sequence.




The backgrounds..…… are lovely and soft, more blurred. Filled with haze and atmospheric blurring of edges.  Cooler colors prevail, greys and blues.




The middlegrounds….. are still soft, yet firming up in those edges, a wee bit.  Certainly not loosey – goosey, but not rigidly sharp. Color temperatures are slowly warming, like …Spring.  Gradual progression, not a big sudden leap.

I like to warm the color mix by adding a touch of warmer paint, with each and every, forward oncoming stroke.  This way it is a slow, perfect and gradual transition.




The foregrounds….. are very much more.

More defined, more contrasts, more textured, more strength.  The edges are now harder, crisp and sharp. For our eyes, in real life, can always see things with more clarity and definition up close.

The tonal values in the foreground are deeper, darker. As is the white lights, much whiter, much brighter as well.

The colors now in the foreground are Warmest.  Rich earthy reds, oranges, terracotta golden browns.  The foliage greenery warm olive and earthy.    In the foregrounds, remember – it is here, we touch the ground, the earth.  Here we see it in its deep rich colors, fully saturated vibrancy.




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Impressionist Watercolor Landscape, color study


The  main 3 Keys:

Colors cooler in back (recede),  warmer in front (advance);

soft edges, blurrier in back (recede) and becoming sharper edged towards the front (advance);

paler lighter tones in the back (recede), becoming stronger darker tones in the foregrounds (advance).



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Blue Hills, Watercolor Landscape,




We are Artists – Creators

We don’t have to, follow each and every guideline, with every painting we create.


Sometimes, using 2-3 of the tips will be enough.


Sometimes, we want…. a specific response from the viewer that following the guidelines will fail to achieve.

So we will then need to plan, which guidelines to go against, while still creating an image with sufficient depth to it for the purpose we intend.   



pale sky, watercolor landscape blue mountain painting,
Against The Rules…….








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,

17 thoughts on “Painting Depth: Advance – Recede

  1. Good sound advice Debi and this is something I’m trying to take on board with my watercolour painting. I love the paintings you’ve posted here too, I find them inspirational…

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  2. It is interesting to hear that you start from the background and then paint the foreground last. I suppose that way you focus on one thing at a time, one part of the painting at a time and try to bring it to life bit by bit. It is a bit like writing, where I like to focus on one point or one chapter before trying to bring my message together. But also agree with you there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to creating what we create. Each to their ow and what works for us, will work for us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If I was writing a story, I think I’d have to be fairly straightforward. I don’t think I could skip about, and stay focused. But that could be my inexperience, needing The Roadmap and destination! LOL
      Art, guidelines are fun to change up for me. The primary reason for painting back to the front, is to make it easier, to obtain the tonal values in a correct progression for depth…. more important with beginners, than experienced artists though.
      I love Tony Smibert’s quote, “There are no rules, just Consequences.” 🙂

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