Improving Perspective in Watercolor: Tips for Paintings
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 10 min read


  1. Observe and study perspectives
  2. Practice basic shapes in perspective
  3. Apply atmospheric perspective
  4. Create depth with color and value
  5. Use linear perspective
  6. Emphasize on foreground details
  7. Paint reflective surfaces
  8. Avoid flattening your painting
  9. Paint shadows correctly
  10. Use the right brush for perspective

Mastering the art of watercolor painting is a journey full of exciting discoveries and challenges. One of the most fascinating yet tricky aspects is capturing the perfect perspective. If you've ever found yourself wondering how to improve perspective in watercolor, you're not alone! This guide is here to help you navigate your way through this seemingly complex area, making it as simple as A, B, C for you. With these tips, you'll soon be on your way to creating watercolor paintings that look as if they're ready to leap off the canvas!

Observe and Study Perspectives

To kick things off, the first step to improving your perspective in watercolor is to observe and study. It may sound simple, but it's a step that's often overlooked. Here's how you can do it:

  • Observe the world around you: You can find perspective everywhere - in the buildings you pass by, the furniture in your home, and even the trees in your local park. Make it a habit to look closely at these objects and notice how they appear to change depending on your viewpoint.
  • Study from photographs: Photos are a great tool to help you understand perspective. They capture angles, distances, and spatial relationships in a way that's easy to analyze. You might find it helpful to sketch from photos before moving onto real-life scenes.
  • Learn from other artists: There's a lot you can learn from looking at the work of other watercolor artists. Notice how they've handled perspective in their paintings, what techniques they've used, and how they've played with color and value to create depth.

Remember, improving your perspective in watercolor isn't something that happens overnight. It takes time and practice, but with a keen eye and a bit of patience, you'll start to see improvements before you know it.

Practice Basic Shapes in Perspective

Next up on our journey to mastering perspective in watercolor is practicing with basic shapes. This might seem like a step back, especially if you're already comfortable with painting complex scenes. But trust me, this is a step forward.

Imagine trying to build a house without knowing how to lay bricks. It would be a challenge, wouldn't it? The same goes for watercolor painting. Before you can paint an intricate cityscape or a bustling market scene, you need to understand how basic shapes like cubes, spheres, and cylinders behave in perspective.

  • Start with cubes: Cubes are a great starting point because they have clear, defined lines. Draw them in different orientations, from various angles. Notice how the lines converge as they recede in the distance.
  • Move on to spheres: Spheres might seem challenging because they lack the defined lines of a cube, but they're not as hard as you think. The key is to observe how light and shadow behave on a sphere and how this changes with your viewpoint.
  • Don't forget cylinders: Cylinders combine the properties of both cubes and spheres. They have defined lines, but also curved surfaces. Once you're comfortable with cubes and spheres, cylinders should be a breeze.

Practicing with these basic shapes will give you a solid foundation for understanding perspective. So grab your watercolor set, and let's paint some shapes!

Apply Atmospheric Perspective

With your newfound confidence in painting basic shapes, let's switch gears and talk about a neat little trick artists have been using for centuries to add depth to their paintings— atmospheric perspective. But what is it, and how can it help you improve perspective in watercolor?

Atmospheric perspective is a technique that involves changing the color and clarity of objects to give the impression of distance. Objects that are far away usually appear lighter, bluer, and less detailed than objects that are close up. It's a bit like looking at a mountain range: the mountains in the distance are often a pale blue, while the ones close to you are more detailed and colorful.

  • Lighten distant objects: Start by painting distant objects with lighter tones. This gives the impression that they're far away, as light tends to scatter and diffuse over long distances.
  • Add a touch of blue: Another trick is to add a hint of blue to objects that are far away. This is because the earth's atmosphere scatters short-wavelength light, such blue and violet light, to a far greater degree than than longer-wavelength light such as red, yellow, or green.
  • Decrease detail: Finally, paint distant objects with less detail. This is because as distance increases, fine details become less visible. The mountain range example we talked about before is a perfect example of this.

Atmospheric perspective might seem a little tricky at first, but with practice, it'll become second nature. And the best part? It's a simple, effective way to add depth to your watercolor paintings and really make them pop.

Create Depth with Color and Value

Color and value are two of the most powerful tools in your watercolor toolkit when it comes to creating depth and dimension in your paintings. But how exactly do they help improve perspective in watercolor?

Well, using color and value effectively can help create an illusion of depth, making some parts of your painting appear closer while others seem further away. Here's a simple way to think about it: When you're outside, do distant hills look as bright and colorful as the flowers right next to you? Probably not, right? That's color and value at work!

  • Use darker colors for closer objects: As a general rule, objects that are closer to the viewer should be painted with darker colors. This is because closer objects reflect more light to your eyes, making them appear brighter and more colorful.
  • Lighten and desaturate distant objects: On the flip side, objects that are far away should be painted with lighter, less saturated colors. That's because light bounces around in the atmosphere and scatters colors, making distant objects look lighter and less colorful.
  • Vary your values: Value is just a fancy term for how light or dark a color is. By varying your values—using a mix of light, medium, and dark colors—you can add depth and make your painting more interesting to look at.

Remember that color and value are relative, and what matters most is the relationship between colors and values within your painting. By mastering these relationships, you'll be well on your way to improving perspective in your watercolor paintings.

Use Linear Perspective

Linear perspective is a nifty little technique that artists have been using for centuries to create the illusion of depth and distance in their work. But what exactly is it and how can you use it to improve perspective in watercolor?

At its simplest, linear perspective is all about representing three-dimensional scenes on a two-dimensional surface (like your watercolor paper) in a way that looks realistic. It involves using lines that converge at a point or points on the horizon, known as vanishing points.

Here's how linear perspective can help you create more realistic watercolor paintings:

  • One-point perspective: If you're painting a road disappearing into the distance, a hallway, or a set of train tracks, one-point perspective can be your best friend. You start by drawing a horizon line, then a single vanishing point on that line. All lines recede to that single point, creating a sense of depth.
  • Two-point perspective: Painting a building or a box-like object? Two-point perspective can come in handy. You draw two vanishing points on your horizon line, and lines recede to both points. This gives a more dynamic, three-dimensional look to your work.
  • Three-point perspective: For a bird's eye view or a worm's eye view of a scene, three-point perspective is the way to go. You add a third vanishing point either above or below the horizon line. This can be a bit trickier, but it's great for creating dramatic, eye-catching compositions.

Remember, like any technique, linear perspective takes practice. But once you get the hang of it, it can be a game-changer for improving perspective in your watercolor paintings.

Emphasize on Foreground Details

When you're painting a scene, it's easy to get so caught up in the overall composition that you overlook the little details. But it's those details, especially in the foreground, that can really make your painting pop and give it a sense of depth and realism.

How can you emphasize the foreground details to improve perspective in watercolor? Here are some tricks to try:

  • Use bolder colors and sharper details: Objects in the foreground will naturally have more vibrant colors and sharper details compared to those in the background. Use this to your advantage by painting foreground elements with more saturated colors and defining details more clearly.
  • Play with scale: Foreground objects will appear larger than those in the distance. So, by painting foreground elements larger, you create an illusion of depth in your painting.
  • Add texture: Adding texture to foreground elements can also make them stand out. Whether it's the rough bark of a tree or the smooth surface of a lake, texture can add an extra layer of realism to your painting.
  • Use contrast: Contrast between light and dark can draw the viewer's eye and emphasize the depth in a painting. Try using darker tones in your foreground and lighter ones in the background.

By putting a bit of extra effort into those foreground details, you'll not only create more engaging and lifelike paintings, but you'll also become better at conveying depth and perspective in your work. So, next time you're wondering how to improve perspective in watercolor, remember: the devil is in the detail!

Paint Reflective Surfaces

Painting reflective surfaces can sometimes feel like a daunting task. But when done right, it can add an exciting dynamic to your painting and significantly improve the sense of perspective. So, how do we go about painting these shiny objects in watercolor?

  • Understand the Light Source: This is your first step. Determine where your light is coming from in the painting. The direction of light will influence the highlights and reflections on your surfaces.
  • Observe Reflections: Take a moment to really study how light reflects off different surfaces. You'll notice that shiny objects don't just reflect light, they also reflect the colors and shapes of the objects around them. Try to capture this in your painting.
  • Play with Contrast: Reflections are all about contrast. Generally, the parts of the reflective surface facing the light source will be lighter, and the areas away from the light will be darker. Use this to your advantage to create a sense of depth and realism.
  • Keep it Simple: While it's important to capture the intricate reflections on a surface, don't get bogged down in detail. Simplify what you see into basic shapes and colors. It's okay if your reflections aren't perfect — the goal is to suggest the reflective quality of the surface, not to create a mirror image.

With these tips in mind, painting reflective surfaces doesn't have to be intimidating. In fact, it can be a fun way to challenge yourself and improve your watercolor skills. Remember, practice makes perfect — so grab those brushes and start painting!

Avoid Flattening Your Painting

Art is a two-dimensional medium that we use to represent a three-dimensional world. Therefore, adding depth to your watercolor paintings is key in avoiding a flat, dull appearance. But how do you add depth and volume to your watercolor paintings? Here are some tips on how to improve perspective in watercolor and avoid flattening your art pieces.

  • Use Overlapping Shapes: One of the simplest ways to add depth to your painting is by overlapping shapes. When one object covers part of another, our eyes automatically perceive the covered object as being further away.
  • Play with Size and Placement: Objects that are further away appear smaller than those closer to us. By painting distant objects smaller and placing them higher on the canvas, you can create the illusion of depth.
  • Don't Shy Away from Shadows: Shadows can add a great deal of depth to your paintings. They help give the object a three-dimensional form and suggest a light source, further enhancing the sense of depth.
  • Consider Your Colors: Cooler colors tend to recede while warmer colors advance. By using cooler colors for distant objects and warmer colors for those in the foreground, you can create an additional sense of depth.

Remember, painting is all about illusion. With these tips, you can create a sense of depth and volume in your watercolor paintings, making them more engaging and visually appealing. So, next time you pick up your brush, try these techniques to avoid flattening your painting.

Paint Shadows Correctly

Shadows! They can be a watercolor artist's best friend or worst enemy. When painted correctly, they can elevate your artwork to a whole new level, adding depth and realism. So, how do you improve perspective in watercolor by painting shadows correctly? Let's dive in.

  • Understand Your Light Source: Knowing where your light source is coming from is the first step in painting accurate shadows. Remember, the angle of the light will determine the direction and length of the shadow.
  • Consider the Shape of the Object: The shape of the object casting the shadow will influence its form. A round object will cast a different shadow than a square one. Pay attention to the object's shape and how it would realistically cast a shadow.
  • Use the Right Colors: Shadows aren't just black or gray—they're often filled with color. Depending on the light source and surrounding environment, shadows can have hints of blue, purple, green, or other colors. Don't be afraid to add a touch of color to your shadows!
  • Blend, Blend, Blend: A hard shadow edge can make your painting look flat and unrealistic. To create a sense of depth and realism, make sure to blend your shadow edges where the light and shadow meet. This will make your shadows look more natural and less harsh.

Shadows can be tricky, but with practice and patience, you'll soon be painting them like a pro. Remember, the more you understand about light and form, the better your shadows—and overall painting—will be. So, why not give it a try? Your watercolor paintings will thank you!

Use the Right Brush for Perspective

Painting in watercolor is like dancing—your partner is just as important as your moves. In this case, your partner is your brush. So, how can you improve perspective in watercolor by using the right brush? Let's find out.

  • Pick the Right Size: Think about the size of your painting and the level of detail you want to achieve. Large brushes are great for painting big areas and backgrounds, while small brushes are perfect for details and precision work.
  • Choose the Right Shape: Brushes come in different shapes—round, flat, fan, and more. Each shape has its unique characteristics and uses. For instance, a round brush is versatile and can be used for both details and washes, while a flat brush is excellent for creating sharp edges and lines.
  • Understand Your Brush's Capabilities: Each brush offers different stroke types, and understanding these can help you create a more realistic perspective. For example, you can create thin, precise lines with a round brush's point or cover large areas quickly with a flat brush's broad side.
  • Experiment: Don't be afraid to try different brushes and techniques. Sometimes, the best way to find the right brush for your painting is through trial and error. Remember, it's all part of the learning process.

Choosing the right brush can significantly improve your painting's perspective, adding depth and making your artwork more dynamic. So, go ahead and experiment with different brushes—you might be surprised by what you can achieve!

If you're looking to improve your perspective in watercolor paintings, don't miss the workshop 'A New Perspective on Perspective' by Roberto Bernal. This workshop will provide you with practical tips and techniques to enhance your watercolor paintings and give them a fresh perspective.