Deepen, Brighten, Blend and Extend

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To create the feeling of deeper space consider “Deepen, Brighten, Blend and Extend.” Let’s begin with deepening color. Layered translucent colors work here. They generate darker darks and unify fields of patchy color which can fracture a painting’s unified feeling of space. Artists from Murillo of Spain to Turner used this process to quickly arrest the viewer’s attention because of our attraction to clear deep color.

Translucent layering generates the natural feeling of a unified atmosphere. Translucent pure-color over-glazing subsumes individual objects into a field of tonal unity. (See example 1).

Brightening the values will attract the viewer’s attention. By brightening light areas and deepening adjacent dark areas you will discover the darks appear darker and the lights feel brighter. Furthermore, when blurring the bright area’s edges notice the painting has simultaneously acquired a stronger feeling of both atmosphere and depth. (For contrast see examples 1 and 2).

Example 1. “Early Autumn” as seen in last week’s blogpost before today’s over-glazing and soft-focus brightening.

Example 2. “Early Autumn” in its present state after adding deepening glaze effects and soft-focus brightening.

The soft-focus effects were created by gently scumbling and dry-brushing semi-opaque light colors over the top third of the painting. I also expanded the surface of the water to reflect more light across the painting.

The muting of distant dark colors builds more depth when the colors in back were lightened and de-saturated. This reduced the contrast between light and dark.  Reducing contrasts gives a greater feeling of depth to any picture; it’s how our eyes work.

As long as the newly applied light pigments do not mix with the lower areas’ translucent darks the painting will acquire depth.  Don’t sacrifice the painting’s deeper colors. Remember, like birds and fish we are attracted to rich color when in contrast with its surroundings.

Let’s consider how else to extend a paintings psychological effect through  deeper space. In examples 3 through 5 see how an initial painting evolved into an image with deeper space.  The foreground has deeper colors and a higher ratio of contrast between dark and light. The foreground also has more sharp edges. The shapes get horizontally thinner and paler as they move into the distance. See in the earlier versions how the space was prevented from extending itself because there were too many unblended intervening shapes.

The vertical forms in the distance blocked our view and prevented a bigger feeling of space. They had to be removed. More passages into the rear space had to be added.

Example 3. Phase one, step one of “Distant Shorelines”

Example 4. Phase one, step two, editing out extraneous verticals.

Example 5. Phase two, step three of “Distant Shorelines”.

I invite you to join me this Sunday to my lecture: “Blind Spots: How to Expand Visual Perception” Sunday, October 13, 4:30 to 6:30PM, $20. At the Silvermine School of Art in New Canaan, Ct.  Call 203 966 6668 ext 2 or see



4 Responses

  1. Denise

    The transformation through the various steps of “Distant Shorelines” is incredible! I want to learn and practice a lot of that amazing process! Do you see it in your mind before you paint it, or as you create it?
    Beautiful, as always.

    • dd_admin

      Denise, forgive my late reply. Yes, I do have a plan in mind but, the painting process always surprises me and like Picasso said “i then follow the paint.”
      Best, David

  2. Pandre'

    excellent lecture I saw you on PBS and miss your shows now I see your teaching question——-what colors do you use the Visual Perception is lost without knowing the transparent and sim/ opaque the glazing is how to use the common name for colors thank you Pandre’

    • dd_admin

      Pandre, thank you for your inquiry. In many cases Color names can be uniquely proprietary depending on the manufacturer. For example different manufacturers will use different yellows to concoct their own version Gamboge yellow. Some will use the term video blue, or azur blue or a variety of other names for a shade of a very similar translucent blue green. WE are forced to experiment with different brands to discover what works for us.Best, David

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