Mastering Atmospheric Perspective: Cityscape Art Tips
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. What is atmospheric perspective?
  2. Principles of atmospheric perspective in cityscape art
  3. Choose the right cityscape
  4. How to depict depth and distance
  5. How to create a focal point
  6. Use of color and contrast
  7. How to add detail and texture
  8. How to capture light and shadow
  9. How to draw architecture and buildings
  10. How to bring your cityscape art to life

Ever stood on a city rooftop and gazed at the sprawling urban landscape below? You've probably noticed how buildings seem to fade into the distance, their colors becoming softer and less defined. That, my friend, is the magic of atmospheric perspective at work. And guess what? You can recreate this captivating effect in your artwork too! Today, we'll delve into the world of atmospheric perspective in cityscape art, uncovering its principles, and discovering tips and tricks to help you master this fascinating technique.

What is atmospheric perspective?

Atmospheric perspective, also lovingly nicknamed "aerial perspective," is an art trick that helps you create a sense of depth and distance in your artwork. Imagine this: you're drawing a bustling cityscape. The buildings closest to you have sharp, bold lines and vibrant colors, while the ones further away seem softer, hazier and less detailed. That's atmospheric perspective in cityscape art, giving your artwork that extra touch of realism.

Here's a handy breakdown of how atmospheric perspective works:

  • Detail fades away: The more distant an object, the less detail you can see. So, in your cityscape art, skyscrapers at the horizon line might be mere outlines, while the ones in the foreground are full of windows, doors, and architectural details.
  • Colors soften: Distance has a funny way of playing with colors. It tends to wash them out, making them appear less vibrant. In your artwork, this means using more muted shades for buildings that are farther away.
  • Contrast decreases: When you're looking at far-off objects, there's less contrast between light and dark. So, for those distant city buildings, you might find yourself using a narrower range of tones.
  • Objects appear smaller: This one's a no-brainer: things look smaller the farther away they are. Those towering skyscrapers in the distance? They're just tiny rectangles on your canvas.

So to summarize, mastering atmospheric perspective in cityscape art is all about playing with detail, color, contrast, and size. And don't worry, it's not as intimidating as it sounds. With a bit of practice, you'll be painting cityscapes that look like they've leapt straight off a postcard!

Principles of atmospheric perspective in cityscape art

Now that we know what atmospheric perspective is, let's talk about the principles that govern it in cityscape art. These principles aren't just rules to follow, they're your secret weapons for creating cityscapes that leave viewers in awe.

  • Linear Perspective: This principle is all about lines and angles. It's the idea that parallel lines appear to converge as they recede into the distance. In cityscape art, it helps create the illusion of three-dimensional buildings on a two-dimensional canvas. Remember, the further away the buildings are, the more they should appear to converge towards the horizon.
  • Overlapping: When one object partially covers another, it's clear which one is in front. In your cityscape, use overlapping to show which buildings are closer and which ones are further away. It's a simple yet effective way to create depth.
  • Size and Scale: Objects closer to the viewer appear larger, while those further away appear smaller. This principle applies to everything in your cityscape, from buildings to trees to people. By varying the sizes of elements in your cityscape, you create a sense of depth and distance.
  • Aerial or Atmospheric Perspective: Remember how we talked about colors softening, details fading, and contrasts decreasing with distance? That's the principle of aerial perspective at work, and it's a powerful tool for adding realism to your cityscape art.

These are the guiding principles of atmospheric perspective in cityscape art. Yes, they can seem a bit science-y, but remember, art is all about experimenting and having fun. So, play around with these principles, mix them up, and see what works best for your style of cityscape art. Who knows? You might even discover a new principle of your own!

Choose the right cityscape

Creating a stunning piece of cityscape art begins with choosing the right cityscape. But how do you do that? Here's a simple guide to help you choose the perfect cityscape for your next masterpiece.

  • Consider the complexity: Some cityscapes are bustling metropolises with towering skyscrapers, while others are serene small towns with quaint cottages. The level of detail you're comfortable with, and the time you're willing to invest, can help you decide on the complexity of the cityscape you choose.
  • Look for interesting elements: Bridges, tall buildings, winding roads, or a bustling marketplace—these elements add intrigue and depth to your cityscape art. They can serve as focal points, guiding the viewer's attention through your artwork.
  • Think about atmospheric perspective: Remember the principles of atmospheric perspective in cityscape art we talked about? Choose a cityscape that allows you to play around with those principles. A cityscape with depth and dimension can make your art more realistic and engaging.

Remember, the "right" cityscape is one that sparks your creativity and aligns with your artistic vision. Whether it's the sleepy side streets of your hometown or the dynamic skyline of New York City, the best cityscape for your art is the one you're excited to bring to life.

How to depict depth and distance

One of the biggest challenges in cityscape art is illustrating depth and distance effectively. But don't fret! Here are some foolproof tips to help you master this tricky aspect.

  • Size matters: Objects closer to the viewer are larger than those further away. So, when you're drawing or painting your cityscape, remember to make the buildings in the foreground larger and more detailed, and those in the background smaller and less detailed.
  • Overlap objects: One of the easiest ways to show depth is to allow objects in your cityscape to overlap. This gives your artwork a three-dimensional feel and helps create an illusion of distance.
  • Use atmospheric perspective: We've already discussed the principles of atmospheric perspective in cityscape art, and this is where you get to apply them. As objects recede into the distance, they become less detailed, lighter in color, and their contrast decreases. This technique can really enhance the depth and dimension in your artwork.

By implementing these techniques, you'll soon find that depicting depth and distance in your cityscape art isn't as daunting as you thought. So why not give it a try?

How to create a focal point

Creating a focal point in your cityscape art is akin to throwing a spotlight on a stage. It's where your viewer's eye is naturally drawn to. Let's explore how you can achieve this.

  • Location, Location, Location: The placement of your focal point is key. Usually, it's not smack in the middle of your artwork, but rather off to one side, creating a more dynamic composition. Remember the rule of thirds? That's a handy guide for focal point placement.
  • Bright Lights, Big City: Bright colors or high contrast areas naturally attract the eye. So, if you're painting a sunset cityscape, for example, the setting sun could be an ideal focal point. Or maybe it's the brightly lit windows of a skyscraper in an evening cityscape.
  • Detail Oriented: Detail attracts attention. In the world of atmospheric perspective in cityscape art, the most detailed parts of your artwork will naturally draw the viewer's eye. So, consider adding more detail to your chosen focal point.

Remember, the focal point is the star of your cityscape. It's the first thing people see when they look at your artwork. So, make it count and watch your cityscapes come to life!

Use of color and contrast

Color and contrast are like the secret spices in a chef's special dish. They can make your cityscape art go from "Oh, that's nice" to "Wow, that's amazing!" Let's see how you can add these spices to your art dish.

  • Color Me Impressed: The use of color can dramatically influence the mood of your cityscape. A sunset cityscape could be bathed in warm orange and pink tones, while a rainy cityscape might be dominated by cool blues and grays. Remember, color tells a story, so choose your palette carefully.
  • Contrast is Key: In atmospheric perspective in cityscape art, contrast can be a powerful tool to depict depth. Objects closer to the viewer will have higher contrast, while those further away will have less contrast. This can create a sense of depth and distance in your artwork.
  • Play with Light: The interplay of light and shadow can add a whole new dimension to your cityscape. Brightly lit buildings can stand out against a darkening sky, or street lights can create a path of light in an evening cityscape.

Remember, color and contrast are not just elements of your artwork, but storytellers in their own right. They can add depth, create mood, and breathe life into your cityscape art. So, don't be afraid to play with them and see the magic unfold.

How to add detail and texture

Think of your cityscape as a large puzzle — it's made up of a myriad of small pieces, each unique in its detail and texture. These pieces are the secret to creating a cityscape that feels alive and real. Let's get into the nitty-gritty of adding these details and textures to your artwork.

  • Start Small: Begin by adding small details like windows, doors, or street signs. This will help to establish the scale of your cityscape. But beware of going overboard; in the world of atmospheric perspective in cityscape art, less is often more.
  • Texture Tells a Tale: A brick wall and a glass skyscraper will not look the same. By adding textures, you give character to your buildings. This can be done through different drawing strokes or using different materials in your art.
  • Consistency is Key: Make sure to keep your details and textures consistent throughout your artwork. This will make your cityscape look cohesive and believable. After all, a city is a well-oiled machine with every part playing its role.

Adding detail and texture can elevate your cityscape art to new heights. So, pick up your brush, or pen, or pencil and add those little touches that make a cityscape uniquely yours.

How to capture light and shadow

Ever noticed how a city seems to transform with the changing light? The play of light and shadow in a cityscape is an artist's playground, creating drama and depth. Here's how you can master this element in your atmospheric perspective cityscape art.

  • Observe and Absorb: Pay attention to how light falls on buildings, how it creates shadows and highlights. The early morning sun will cast long, soft shadows while the midday sun will create sharp, short ones. Use this to your advantage.
  • Shade with Purpose: Shadows aren't just darker versions of the object. They have different tones and can be cool or warm depending on the light source. So don't just darken—shade with purpose and understanding.
  • Let there be Light: Remember, where there is light, there is shadow. Use highlights to indicate the light source in your cityscape. This can make your artwork pop and look three-dimensional.

Next time you look at your cityscape art, don't just see buildings—see the light and shadow that give it depth and emotion. With practice, your cityscapes will not only depict a city; they'll tell the story of a day in the life of that city. So, grab your tools and let's start painting with light!

How to draw architecture and buildings

When it comes to atmospheric perspective in cityscape art, the structures themselves—the buildings and architecture—are the stars of the show. Drawing them correctly can be challenging, but immensely rewarding. Let's dive into three key principles:

  • Shapes, Not Details: In the early stages, think of buildings as simple geometric shapes. Squares, rectangles, triangles—every building starts with these. Don't get lost in the details too soon.
  • Lines Lead the Eye: The lines in your buildings are powerful tools. Vertical lines can create a sense of height and grandeur, while horizontal lines can give a feeling of stability and breadth. Diagonal lines, on the other hand, suggest movement and dynamism. Use them wisely.
  • Angles and Perspective: The view angle can dramatically change the look of a building. A low angle can make a building seem towering and imposing, while a high angle can make it look more approachable. And remember, the farther the building is, the smaller it should appear in your cityscape.

From skyscrapers kissing the sky to quaint houses snuggled together, the architecture in your cityscape art can transport viewers into a whole new world. So, keep these tips in mind, and let your cityscapes tell their own unique stories!

How to bring your cityscape art to life

Now, let's talk about the real magic in atmospheric perspective in cityscape art — breathing life into your cityscape. You've mastered the buildings, but how do you make them seem alive? How do you make the viewer feel like they could step into your canvas and walk down the streets? Here are a few tips:

  • People and Movement: Adding figures to your cityscape, even if they're tiny, can make a huge difference. It gives a sense of scale and activity. Cars, birds, or even fluttering curtains can suggest life and movement.
  • Weather and Time: Is it a sunny day or a stormy evening? Is it dawn with a soft light filtering through the buildings, or a vibrant sunset painting the sky in brilliant hues? The weather and time of day can drastically alter the mood of your cityscape and make it feel more real.
  • Reflections: Reflective surfaces like windows, water bodies, or wet streets after a rain can add depth and realism to your cityscape. They're tricky to get right, but once you do, they can make your cityscape art truly shine.

Remember, the beauty of cityscape art lies in its ability to transport the viewer to another place. By adding these elements of life and activity, you can make your cityscape more than just a collection of buildings — you can make it a world of its own.

If you're eager to enhance your skills in atmospheric perspective and cityscape art, we highly recommend checking out the workshop 'A New Perspective on Perspective' by Roberto Bernal. This workshop will provide you with invaluable tips and techniques to take your cityscape art to new heights and master atmospheric perspective, making your artwork even more visually stunning.