How to Create the Illusion of Space in a Painting

by Kara Ruth Snyder in Acrylic Painting Techniques

Kara Ruth Snyder, Abstract on Wood Panel (Detail), January 2010

There are many ways in which to create the illusion of space within the confines of a canvas.  I will discuss how space can be affected by implementing the following three techniques:

  •  Layering of paint 
  • Varying the size and type of brushes and tools
  • Checking the placement of compositional elements
  • Color and Texture choices

Create Space with Layering

One way to create depth in a painting is through the layering of paint. A sense of  richness can be achieved.  With the use of various pigments there comes an overlapping which denotes depth and therefore space.  Also, subtle hues and tonalities are unearthed through the dual process of the layering on -and the removal of- paint.  This technique can produce some amazingly beautiful results. 
 More Tools and Brushes, More Depth 
Using various brushes and tools of varying sizes and textures can impact the sense of space within a painting.  When you mix up the tools there are some thick marks and some thin marks, some dark marks and some light marks. some hard-edged marks and some diffused-edged marks.  In essence, what is rendered is an environment with some”objects” appearing closer to the viewer and others farther away.
Placement of Compositional Elements 
The placement of compositional elements in a painting have a profound impact on the illusion of space.  This is true for both representational and nonrepresentational art.  For instance,  if an object or shape is placed in the dead center of a canvas as opposed to the upper left-hand corner, the “feel” of the painting will be different.  The full discussion of the impact and meaning of composition is too lengthy to fit in this blog, but suffice it to say that where you place objects of interest in your painting, whether top, bottom, center. left, right, or off-the-edge, all will interact with your viewer’s sense of space, or lack thereof. 

Use of Color and Texture  

 Color and texture are two factors which form impressions of one’s spatial sense.  Color choices can imply light or shadow and therefore can imply the traveling of light through a atmosphere.  Choosing a highly textured surface over a smooth one might suggest something about distance,  For example, typically in landscape painting if an object is closer to you it will appear more detailed and textured as opposed to objects at a distance which will appear smoother or hazert.  The same human visual interpretation will occur with an abstract painting as well, i.e., textured feels closer and softer or smoother feels farther away.


In conclusion, there are many factors which affect our perception of space in a painting. The choices in the tools and application techniques used, the placement of objects or marks, and the use of color and texture all have an immediate on the illusion of space.

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