Artist at Work: Creating Depth of Field
Illustration by John Hersey

Artist at Work: Creating Depth of Field

with Mary Jane Begin

Video: Relating the foreground color to the focal point

Now just the sake of toying with this thing, what I added a little bit of cerulean blue, which is sort But I think this is a good color for this area.

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Watch the Online Video Course Artist at Work: Creating Depth of Field
1h 6m Beginner Feb 12, 2014

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If you can convince a viewer that there is depth in a flat image, you can increase the emotional resonance and believability of your artwork. In this course, professional illustrator Mary Jane Begin explores how color and contrast affect the illusion of space. Mary Jane shows how to choose a focal point for your image, use temperature to define your foreground and background objects, employ contrasting colors to create depth, and work with edges to create contrast. As with all Artist at Work courses, the techniques shown here can be applied to both traditional and digital media.

Mary Jane uses the following materials in this course:

  • Arches 140 lb hot press paper
  • Tube watercolors - Winsor & Newton Cotman brand
  • Paper stumps for blending
  • Pastels - a variety of stick and pencil forms (including Conte pastel pencils)
  • Short, fat, fine-bristle Winsor & Newton #2 and #4 brushes (for scrubbing color off)
  • Sceptre Gold II sable/synthetic blend #3, # 6, and # 10 brushes
  • Winsor & Newton Cotman brand 25 mm/1 in. flat brush (for washes)

Mary Jane Begin

Relating the foreground color to the focal point

Now just the sake of toying with this thing, what I'm looking at is, is a curtain that's actually blue. It's a little bit of a problem, because I don't want I don't want something really cold in the foreground. Because it'll deny the temperature range that I'm trying to establish between fore and middle ground and background. So what I'll do is, I'm going to cheat a little bit here. I'm going to edit what I see and it make it a more purple kind of curtain instead of a, a pure blue, which is what I see.

But it's just an issue of editing. So let's see if I can mix up a purply color. I'm going to keep it translucent, so that I can use the color and shadow as shadow, and then really pop the opacity in the lit areas, which are strongly lit. So let's just try this. I added a little bit of cerulean blue, which is sort of, a little bit greenish, so that's creating the shadow color. But it's not cold. I don't want it to be ice-cold. I want that greenish color to still have some warmth and relate back to the blues that are in, this green tone and in the shadow of the mug, So I'm just going to lay it across the whole thing.

This is cerulean blue, white, and little bit of purple. And there's a lot of purple already on the scene. And again, I can test it over here if I'm really not sure. But I think this is a good color for this area. And the reason why I think so is when I look up there, I do see green in the shadow. It's being reflected from somewhere and it's it's what I observe and it also works in this space. So I'm just laying this in very translucently, which mean translucent is partially transparent, partially opaque. You can still see some of the color of the ground underneath.

This is just a pure shadow tone and then I'll pop the, the light in, still keeping in mind this is the middle ground. It's pretty close. It's almost in the foreground, it's pretty close to the foreground. Sometimes middle ground can be quite far away from what's in the foreground. And what's in the distance, you know, really in the background. But in this case, you know, middleground and foreground are fairly close to each other, and what's in the background is in quite the distance. And that's the Eiffel Tower and the river. Okay, so that's the shadow tone that I see, relating back to these elements.

Try not to keep it as contrasty as what's up here. Now, this is a warm light so I am going to make it kind of I see it as lavender instead of blue but I'm going to put a little bit of blue in it as well let's see how this looks. It's a good color. But I a fear that it's just a little bit thin. There's a lot of water. So I'm going to try to maybe push it a little bit, little bit less thin. Let's try this, too yellow. When you're painting, you know, you can make changes on the spot.

Just like, you know, Photoshop you can flip back a layer. And I think you have to be free to do that. Otherwise you know, you get too tense about what you're painting, what you're making. I don't worry about it. If there's something I don't like, I'll just hide it in the painting. I'll put paint over it, make it go away. Now this might be too yellow, but I'm going to start out just trying to keep this area warm, because as we talked about, it's the warmth that's keeping the things in the foreground in the foreground. So, I don't want it to get too cool.

It's a fairly light thing, this curtain. So I'm just going to do this, and then I can always go back in and add a little more color to it, A little more of that light sort of creamy tone, maybe make it slightly more blue. And also that I'm adding to this as a cerulean blue, and a little bit of white. Just to shift that a tweaky bit. I'm painting wet into wet, so that that curtain is fairly smooth looking. And I want to capture that.

Might even push this I'm thinking about pushing it a little pinker. So let me just see if that'll work. That's more what I thought it'll look like. Okay. So, the hard part here is I still have to figure out the, the other colors of these elements in the foreground. But I feel like, without knowing what's happening in the background. It's a little hard to assess, so I, I feel like I need to start thinking about what's back here. I'll just do one more thing in the foreground, and then maybe hit the croissant and these other warm elements.

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