Plein Air Oil Painting-Adding Depth and Perspective To Your Plein Air Paintings

terry ouimet plein air painting telluride co

Written ByTerry Ouimet

Plein Air Oil Painter, specializing in mountain landscapes

Blog | Uncategorized

July 20, 2021

Are you struggling with achieving depth and perspective in your plein air oil paintings ?

Many new plein air painters have trouble painting what they actually see in a landscape. What they walk away with on canvas does not portray the same multi layered beauty that drew them to the scenery in the first place.

It can be frustrating. I have a couple tips that may help you break through this road block.


terry ouimet plein air painting in telluride

​16x 20 Oil on canvas board, plein air, Terry Ouimet

The solution is part math, part science, and part art.


Tip #1  Paint The Atmosphere

 The French Impressionists were the first painters to stop painting objects by name (tree, mountain) and paint the “atmosphere” instead. This created mood and feeling in their paintings.

If you want to create depth in your painting, try to nail the correct colors, values and temperatures in the three atmospheric layers: foreground, middle-ground and background.

This will help lead your viewers eyes through your painting. Pay more attention to the light, what time of day it is, the weather including the wind, clouds, and moisture in the air, etc. And let’s stop painting “trees” and “rivers.”

courtesy pexels-joshua-brits

I like to envision three “Atmopheric curtains” hanging from the sky to the ground. One in the foreground, another in the middle-ground, and a third in the background. This helps me remember that part of my job as a painter is to create layers of atmosphere with my colors and values. 

This may help you learn how to see and mix up the right atmospheric value and color, here is a link to my YouTube video on Color Mixing:


Whatever objects you are painting in the curtains must be thought of as spread out from one another. More specifically, objects in the third or furthest curtain must be lighter and value and cooler in temperature than all the objects in the first and second curtains. 

Additionally, you can use sharp edges in the first curtain and dull edges or lost and found edges in the third curtain. When you paint a hard edge on your furthest objects in the landscape you immediately bring that object up closer to your viewer. If that is your intention fine, but more often than not when you look out at your subject matter those lines will not be sharp. Due to the atmosphere of course! 


terry ouimet plein air painting telluride co

​18 x 24 Oil on canvas board, plein air, Terry Ouimet


Tip #2  Finding Proper Angles

 I’ve found it helpful when trying to accurately portray my parallel lines (orthogonal lines) such as city buildings in a streetscape to reach my arm out straight above my canvas holding my brush toward the landscape. I then place the brush on that actual object that I’m looking at in the landscape.

Study it, get the angle, hold your brush at that exact angle and bring your brush down onto your canvas and paint that angle right away. 


Remember, there is only one horizon line in a scene and all of your parallel lines must lead to it. Know where the horizon line is in your painting before you put a stroke down.

courtesy pexels-griffin-wooldridge

Accurately paint your barns, roads, and buildings so that the lines lead down to it if you are standing above the horizon line or up to it if you are painting in a valley for example.

Similarly, know where your vanishing points are on the horizon line. There can be multiple vanishing points in your painting depending on if you are painting one point, two-point or three-point perspective.

one point perspective, courtesy pexels-ladyfern-photos

The vanishing point is the point on the horizon line where all of your parallel lines converge or meet.

Two point persepctive,  courtesy pexels-scott-webb

Whatever method that you use to find your angles and parallel lines, your job as a plein air painter is to use proper techniques and show perspective in your painting so that your viewers’ eye can easily be led back through the painting and enjoy all that you have created for them.

This all starts in your drawing. With our paint brush.  Before you put down any color down on your canvas.

I have a free unlisted YouTube video on this exact technique, just click below for the link, I think you will find if helpful if this is all new to you.

How To Start A Painting Right: The 4 P’s Of The Drawing Stage


I hope these tips will help you create more beautiful landscape oil paintings.

If you would like to watch my YouTube video showing footage of one on one teaching and having fun plein air painting in the gorgeous mountains of Colorado, click here below.

Beginner Plein Air Painting Workshop | Biggest Struggles

Learning Plein air YouTube Channel

Consider subscribing to the channel if you want to join our rapidly growing community of beginner plein air oil painters, we would love to have you!


I’ll see you up in the mountains.

Terry Ouimet


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