Atmospheric Perspective



I created art lessons for two 6th grade classes at the middle school. Because I only knew some of the students, I wanted a simple lesson where I could gauge how much painting and paint mixing experience they had. After I posted it online, a friend who teaches HS art said, great atmospheric perspective and I of course had to teach that phrase to the students. I have done several lessons with tint, shade and tone over the years and there are many out there to choose from this is an easy one and the results are nice.

Students learned about atmospheric perspective. It is the way artists create an illusion of depth by making variations in color.  I showed the students pictures of mountain ranges so they could see how this phenomenon occurs. Basically, moisture in the air combines with dust particles causing light to scatter making colors lighten as they go further from the viewer. Usually, this light looks blue but for this lesson, students were allowed to choose their favorite base color.


Leonardo da Vinci called it aerial perspective and wrote about it in his Treatise of Painting: “Colours become weaker in proportion to their distance from the person who is looking at them”.  The terms are used interchangeably from what I have seen.

After students looked at the pictures of mountain ranges, I showed them how to mix tints, shades and tones.

When mixing color, it is best to start with the lightest color and add the dark color. They drew angled  lines across the paper to represent mountain ranges and set to work. I had them start at the top with the lightest color and told them to paint from their pencil line to the top of the page. They continued making the colors darker with each level. Some students had a much easier time than others but they all turned out quite nice.

tint and shade

This lesson can be adapted for other grade level. I have also done this lesson with second and third graders and been equally successful.

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