Da Vinci spoke of perspective in terms of a horse. As we move farther from the horse we lose our ability to read the legs, then the head and neck are lost and what is left is only a blurred oval. As we move even farther we see no trace of the horse at all. Sung Dynasty landscape painters had learned that subjects (trees, mountains, figures) loose articulation across distance, not only do objects grow smaller across distance but also, they become less detailed, smoother and softer along their edges, and their value contrast diminishes as the recede. Eventually they blend with other areas and lose their separation from their surroundings. Manet had observed this as well. He noticed that when the subject was moving we would also lose discernment of the parts that were moving. He sketched racing horses and draws just the torsos of the horse with a blur below where legs should be.
When I paint a scene suggesting a city street thick with pedestrians as I have in example 1, I imagine looking at the scene filled with motion and viewed from a distance not unlike Manet capturing distant legless racing horses. My pedestrians are blurred with more pronounced forms in their torso areas and less where their legs or arms might be. I follow Da Vinci’s advice because, it corresponds to my own observations which I further exaggerated for theatrical effect. Example 2 shows the photograph (after my Photo shopping effects) that sparked example 1.
Example 3 presents more motion by canting the picture plane as well as blurring much of the visual information. Again, areas suggestive of distant figures offer few particulars for appendages like legs and arms. And, there are color and value shifts occurring over distance. The dark foreground here is overlaid by discontinuous linear perspective lines. The colors have reversed their respective roles with yellow now pushing the darker blue area forward, toward the viewer. Notice in example 4 ( the photo that prompted the painting in example 3) the foreground is completely blown out with light and therefore doesn’t signal as strong a feeling of space as example 3.
Da Vinci also wrote of the shifts in color over distance, how change and desaturate or get paler over distance. He considered that our eye caused us to see blue in the distance with yellows and greens fading away. His notebooks omit the observation that complementary colors could propel one colored area forward while thrusting another area back.
The distance does not have to be on a horizontal plane on earth. We can also experience distance or space by looking into shallow areas such a pool of water. The surface has more articulated edges while the area beneath the surface is unified through blurring. Blurring below-the-surface material encourages a feeling of minor depth to the water. This blurring also suggests movement as well as space. Example 5 presents a photo which has not yet been Photo shopped. Example 6, presents the same image after Photo shopping effects as they begin to emphasize the blurry bottom. Example 7 presents the image with a subsurface area of blurry indistinctness which feels separate from the more articulated water circle patterns on the surface.
This winter I presented a painting in this blog which I have since altered ( example 8). I made these changes because, the image could offer a stronger feeling of space and animation. Example 8 presents a distant stripe of blue set above a stripe of pink. They are both about the same thickness and therefore thwart a strong reading of space. If the blue stripe could be made thinner and, if there could be two overlapping stripes in the distance and, if they could be more dissolved along their edges then I could create a deeper feeling of space. I also realized that if I could offer more particulars in the front (the lower area of the painting) with more intersecting shapes then I could push the background further away. By building a texture of more variety in the foreground and more uniformity in the background I created more space (example 9). The principles were DaVinci’s.
If you are interested in learning more about perspective effects then I invite you to contact the Cross Roads Art Center in Richmond, Va. where I hope to be offering a workshop on the forms of perspective in May. See my website’s list of workshops for details.