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10 things to make a foreground work in a painting.

#1 Keep it simple don’t clutter your foreground.

It makes it difficult for the viewer’s eye to get past all the clutter to get into the meaty part of the painting.

Landscape painting of a field with trees in the distance.

Not a lot going on in this foreground, yet it is over half of the painting.

#2 - Gradation.

Changing the colour from front to back as well as side to side, will add interest to any foreground. The great watercolorist Edgar Whitney said “one should not paint more than 3 inches without changing the colour.”

#3 - Temperature.

Warm colours appear to come forward in the picture plane and cool colours recede. Warming the bottom part of the foreground will help it appear to come towards the viewer.

Landscape painting of rocks, trees and mountains.

#4 - Keep things in the foreground unimportant.

If you must have elements in your foreground keep it simple and for the most part uninteresting. Dumb them down and forget the detail. Let the viewer get past these items and move into the painting.

Painting of an oil wooden barn.

The fence and the barn on the right are part of the foreground. They do not show as much detail as the focal point of the barn having far less information and do not attract as much attention.

#5 - Overlap.

Shapes such as rocks or trees can be overlapped by having a larger one behind a smaller one, and using this too will take you further back into the painting.

Landscape painting of a lake and rocks.

The smaller rocks leading back to the larger one helps the eye move back into the painting.

Blurry painting of a tree.

Trees overlapping just like the rocks illustrated above.

Landscape painting of trees in the fall.

Cows overlapping the trees moves them further back into the painting.

#6 - Perspective.

Linear perspective or radiating lines can lead you into a painting.

Landscape painting of a field.

Landscape painting of a field with red lines showing the composition.

#7 - Scale.

Don’t underestimate the size of elements in the foreground. Emphasizing things such as roads, helps invite a viewer to enter the composition. Go big or go home.

Quick drawing of a barn and a small road leading up to it.

Quick drawing of a barn with a large road leading up to it.

Quick drawing of a barn with a very wide road leading up to it.

#8 - Chroma.

Bright colours move forward in the picture plane and duller colours recede. Be careful of really bright colours especially right out of the tube. Even though they are bright, they can often read as a dark value, blocking the viewer from getting into the painting.

Street painting of a road leading to a lake.

#9 - Long oblique lines that lead you out of the painting.

Sometimes elements like roads or rivers and streams have a strong oblique pull to them. They can easily lead you out of the picture if not correctly rendered. Remember to dull the last little bit of this colour passage. This is called a wedge or blocker. The holds the viewers eye in the painting.

Two lines indicating where your eyes travel first.

Use lines to lead you into the painting, not to drag you out. The eye also travels in a line and will follow the line from the weakest point of the most interesting point. So weaken your brush stroke at the edges and bottom of your canvas.

#10 - Detail.

Place more detail near the centre of interest rather than in the foreground. Remember if you’re going to lead the eye around in a painting to the centre of interest, be absolutely sure you have something interesting there when I arrive.

That’s all for today kiddies.

Happy painting, Your friend in art,


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Lucy Williams
Lucy Williams
4 days ago

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