There are many tricks to creating a sense of depth in your sketches. If you have ever wondered why some sketches look flat and lifeless and how they can be improved, this post is for you. It contains an easy method to practice as a separate exercise and integrate into your drawings.
A sense of depth in your picture is made up of several components:
The objects in the foreground look bigger than those in the background. It might seem obvious, but I see beginners make the same mistake all the time: they disregard this rule and draw the objects the way they imagine them, not the way we actually see them. When drawing a tree, for example, you should not draw a complete tree from top to bottom in the foreground. We usually see part of this tree right in front of us, but never the complete tree. Same as in the picture below: in such a situation, we see the closest to us part of the potted plant, while the rest is less visible. And this is why we don’t draw the whole plant and the pot. The one in the middle ground is smaller, and we can see it in its entirety.
Beginner's mistake: Forgetting about the relative size of the objects. Quick tip: Objects in the distance are smaller than in the foreground.
We see more details in the objects that are closest to us: flower petals, veins on the leaves, etc. The further into the distance, the less detailed the drawing. In the background, we see an overall shape, but we can't distinguish separate leaves and flowers. However, the object needs to be recognizable. In the sketch below, you can still identify it as a potted plant, even though we only see its rough shape.
Beginner's mistake: Drawing the objects in the fore-, middle, and background in equal detail. Quick tip: Only draw details for objects closest to you. Stick with just the outlines of objects in the distance.
CONTRAST and COLOR
Contrast is another aspect that many beginning artists struggle with. To fill your sketch with life, it is essential to know where the shadows are. The rule of thumb is to make the dark parts really dark, and the light parts really light in the foreground. The contrast is much sharper in the foreground than in the middle ground, and there is a lot less contrast in the background.
Beginner's mistake: The contrast looks the same in all three planes. Quick tip: Make sure to use more contrast in the foreground and less contrast as the objects recede into the distance
Color: The colors are warmer in the foreground. As the object recedes into the distance, the colors turn colder, acquiring a blueish-grey tone. Compare the colors in the sketch below.
Beginner's mistake: Using the same colors for objects in the fore-, middle, and background. Quick fix: Use warmer colors for objects that are closer and cooler colors for objects in the distance.
READY TO GO DEEPER?
This is just a quick explanation for beginning artists. Watch out for these mistakes, practice these four techniques, and your sketches will never look flat and dull. I explain this method in greater detail in my Greenery in Urban Sketching Class. This class is available on Skillshare, but you can also buy it separately here. This class is also available inside Brave Brushes Studio, my membership for artists.
In this class, you will:
learn the general rules of drawing greenery in an urban scene. We will talk about the importance of seeing a scene as a theatre stage and focusing on the most interesting parts;
discover how to draw a tree with simple shapes;
practice drawing textures and details;
learn how to do shadowing;
and find out how to color the greenery using watercolors, so it looks fresh and attractive.
HOW ABOUT GOING EVEN DEEPER?
Perspective is another powerful tool for bringing depth into your sketches. It takes some time to master, but the result is definitely worth your time. Not sure where to start? I've got a tutorial for you! Atmospheric Perspective in Urban Sketching gives a simple but detailed explanation of the concept of 'perspective', provides an illustrated step-by-step guide for using atmospheric perspective to create a beautiful sketch, and also lists other resources on perspective.
To learn more about textures, do my Textures course in Brave Brushes Studio.