A landscape, at its simplest, is a picture of the outdoors. It is the place where you might put the human figures you draw, or it might not have any people in it at all. Still, to make a realistic landscape, you have to follow a few simple rules.
For right now, this is not a lesson in how to draw, but a lesson in how to think. So, put on that thinking cap and see how a landscape is put together.
What is a landscape?
First of all, though a landscape is a picture of the outdoors, it is not a picture of houses, trees and grass.
Though you can have those things in a landscape...
All of the pictures in this section are landscapes. They are pictures of the outdoors. Now let’s think about how a landscape is put together.
What matters is that the picture is outdoors. What is in the picture does not matter.
...you can just as easily have a landscape that has none of those things.
This landscape of the Painted Desert in the southwest United States has no house, no trees, and no grass to speak of.
The Four Parts of a Landscape
A landscape has four basic parts:
The background is that part of the picture that is farthest away from you. The background is up by the horizon. Things in the background look small because things look smaller the farther away they are.
The horizon is the line that separates the ground from the sky. You can find it anywhere outside. Just look out into the distance. Where the ground stops and the sky begins, that’s the horizon. (You might have to allow for trees or buildings sticking up into the sky)
The middleground is that part of the picture that is not close to you, but is not far away, either. It’s in the middle. The middleground is part way between the foreground and the background. Another way to think of the middleground is that it is half way back to the horizon.
The foreground is that part of the picture that is closest to you. The foreground is at the bottom of the page. Things in the foreground tend to look big, because things look bigger the closer they get to you.
Let’s look at each of these parts of the landscape a little closer.
The horizon is the line that separates the ground from the sky. You can find it anywhere outside. Just look out into the distance. Where the ground stops and the sky picks up, that’s the horizon. (You might have to allow for trees or buildings sticking up into the sky) Let’s look at some horizons.
Here are some very clear horizons.
In this picture, the ground (water) stops where the arrow is. Above the arrow is nothing but sky. Below the arrow is nothing but water. Where the two meet is the horizon, the farthest away point of the background.
The horizon, again, is at the arrow. Above the arrow is nothing but sky. Below the arrow is ground made of hills, grass and trees. Notice that the trees back at the horizon are so small they look like a blue-green smear. The trees closer to us are larger and easier to see. Things back at the horizon usually look very small.
Here’s another very clear horizon. Look where the arrow is, at the point that separates the sky from the ground. Above the horizon is sky. Below the horizon is desert mountains. But look at the mountain the arrow sits on top of. That mountain is not on the horizon. It’s much closer to us than the mountains the arrow points to. The horizon is not only the line that separates the sky from the ground, it’s also that part of the ground that is farthest away from us.
Not all horizons are easy to see. This one isn’t too bad. The buildings stick up into the sky, but they also look about as far back as we can see. So the ground they are sitting on must be the horizon.
This one is harder to find. There are a lot of trees far out, which makes it hard to see where the ground stops and the sky begins. Also, there are lots of trees close in, which also covers up the horizon some. But we know the trees stick up into the air, so we go as far back as we can see through the trees and where the ground seems to go back no farther, that’s the horizon.
The foreground is the stuff that’s close to you.
Look at the picture to the left. The blue rectangle shows about where the foreground would be. Which things in the picture look close to you? Pretty much, we’re talking about the Jeep. Why does the Jeep look close? There are a few good reasons.
First, the Jeep looks big. Things that are closer to you look bigger than things that are not. That isn’t always true, but it’s one of the first things our mind looks for when trying to decide where things are. Big=Close=Foreground.
But our brains are too smart to go just on how big something looks. We also look at where the bottom of the thing is. The bottom of the Jeep is close to the bottom of the picture. Things that are closer to the bottom of the picture are close to us, in the foreground.
Here’s another good picture of stuff in the foreground. Look at this car. We know it is in the foreground because
1) It looks bigger than the other cars.
2) It’s closer to the bottom of the picture than other stuff in the picture.
Okay, what is in the foreground in this picture? Ask yourself what looks bigger than other stuff of the same kind, and what has it’s bottom parts closer to the bottom of the picture.
The answer would be the girl in the blue hoodie and the guy looking at the book.
Are they bigger? The building looks bigger than them. But you wouldn’t compare them to buildings. You would compare them to other people, and they do look bigger than the other people.
Are they closer to the bottom? They are so close to the bottom that their feet go off the bottom of the picture.
So, things in the foreground look bigger than other things of the same kind, and they look closer to the bottom of the picture.
Now let’s look at things in the middleground.
The middleground is the stuff that isn’t close to you, or far away, but in the middle.
The middleground is more about what it isn’t, than what it is.
The middleground is not the stuff that’s close to you, the stuff in the foreground.
It is not the stuff that’s real far away from you, back by the horizon, the stuff in the background.
The middleground is the stuff that is half way between the foreground and the background.
In other words, the middleground is half way between the bottom of the picture and the horizon.
Because the stuff in the middleground is in the middle between the foreground and background, it looks middle-sized.
Look at the lampposts in this picture. The closest one to you, which is still in the middleground, also looks the biggest. The farthest one away from you looks the smallest. The ones in the middle look middle-sized.
The closer something is, the bigger it looks. The farther away something is, the smaller it looks.
The stuff in red is the middleground. It is the water beyond the foreground plus all those trees.
This picture doesn’t have much in the foreground, just grass.
What’s in the middleground? How about the guy on the bike, the guy in the bluejeans, and the yellow, triangle shaped sculpture?
What about this picture?
The stuff that has not been colored is the stuff that is far away, up by the horizon, the background.
Let’s see about the background right now.
Bottom of picture/
The stuff in blue is the foreground. It is the ground closest to you plus the one tree.
The background is the stuff that is farthest away from you, all the way back to the horizon.
The background in this picture is easy to find. You can clearly see the horizon, which is the line that separates the ground from the sky. The background is right there, or very close to right there.
In this picture, the house is in the background.
Remember this picture? It shows us another thing about the background. We know that things in the foreground are closer to the bottom of the picture, and look bigger because they are closer. We also know that things in the middleground look middle-sized.
Things in the background, up by the horizon, are farthest away from you. Because they are far away, they look smaller.
The lampposts in the background look very small because they are very far away. Compare that to the lampposts in the foreground, which look much bigger, even though they are really the same size.
This picture is a little harder because you can’t see the horizon. We’re looking down from the sky at the shoreline of Chicago, so the line separating the sky from the ground would be somewhere above where the top of the picture runs out.
You can still find every part of the landscape. The foreground is the stuff near the bottom of the picture (The stuff looks big because it’s closer to you). The middleground is the stuff in the middle of the picture (The stuff looks middle-sized because it’s in the middle between the foreground and background).
The background is the stuff all the way at the top of the picture (The stuff looks small because it is far away).
So, the things that help you figure out what is where in a landscape are:
• Where things are.
1. The foreground is near the bottom of the picture. Things here are close to you.
2. The middleground is in the middle between the foreground and the background. Things here are in the middle distance.
3. The background is at the top of the picture, by the horizon. Things here are farthest away from you.
•How big things look.
1. Foreground things look big.
2. Middleground things look middle-sized.
3. Background things look small.
But, there is one other tool we have for figuring out where things are. That tool is overlapping. Let’s look now at what overlapping is.