Part Three, Project 3, Exercise 2 -Foreground, middle ground, background

Choose one of your sketches or photographs – or if you prefer, return to a location and draw on the spot. You’ll also need to use your viewfinder and a grid if you’re enlarging one of your sketches or working from a photograph.  The aim of this exercise is to establish a foreground, middle ground and background in your drawing. If you can compose and structure your drawing to include these divisions, you’ll begin to establish a sense of space in the structure of your drawing. This way of organising space is characteristic of the French classical painters Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain, who in turn influenced the British landscape artist, JMW Turner.

Before I did this exercise I had a look at work of the artists referred to in the course notes:


Landscape with a Calm (Un Tem[p]s calme et serein) (1650 – 1651) Nicolas Poussin (French, 1594 – 1665) oil on canvas.  Described by website as follows:

In the late 1640s and early 1650s, Nicolas Poussin turned from historical narrative to landscape painting. Landscape with a Calm does not illustrate a story but rather evokes a mood. The ordered composition and clear, golden light contribute to A Calm’s utter tranquility, while glowing, gem-like colors and fluid paint strokes enliven this scene of benevolent nature. Poussin’s sketching campaigns in the Roman countryside with his friend and fellow landscape painter Claude Lorrain account, in part, for its fresh observation of cloud-scattered sky and grazing goats.

Look also at the following link for examples of paintings by Claude Lorrain:  In many of these paintings the landscape is organised so that there is a clear fore- middle- and back-ground with a strong sense of the scene receding far into the distance before you.

JMW Turner, who was greatly influenced by both Lorrain and Poussin, also achieves this in his works.  For example, in this watercolour Mountainous Landscape: A Scottish River c.1801–3 where the fore- mid- and background are clear.  The background, which is less defined, more hazy and more blue, recedes away, while the foreground is clearer and more detailed. The midgound shows the effect of light and includes a small feature to emphasise the distance from the foreground.

Mountainous Landscape: A Scottish River circa 1801-3 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Mountainous Landscape: A Scottish River circa 1801-3 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

I used one of the sketches from project 2 for this exercise.



Lymm Dam: Conte crayons and soft pastels on A3 Pastel paper

I chose my sketch of Lymm Dam to work on.  There were various things about the sketch that I liked:

Compositionally, I liked that the page was divided into three vertically and that the church tower sits about a third of the way along horizontally.  The railings lead the eye across the page and divide the page.  There is also a fore-, mid- and background receding away from the viewer with the trees sitting in the mist beyond.  As suggested in the course notes, the edge of the water where it meets the trees serves as a feature that frames the middle distance.  The background “horizon” is the line of trees beyond the dam, and the church tower in the background.  These are not actually that far away and I did not make the division between these and sky particularly hazy as suggested to create a sense of distance.  Would this have been appropriate in this case?

I also like the colours.  It is just autumn now and the colours in the trees are reflected in the water.  The reeds in the foreground are dark green, more defined and darker in colour so that they sit very much in the foreground- this helps give a sense of depth.

However, I was frustrated by the process of painting this picture. I am struggling to master using pastels- I started with conte crayons and then added stronger colours and highlights using soft pastels.  The effect works really well when viewed from a distance but up close it looks very clumsy and I don’t like the way the colour skims across the surface leaving white “spots” where the valleys in the paper are.  I struggled to get the pastels to fill the valleys and to create deep full continuous colour.  If I were to do this again I would either master pastels properly(!), use smoother paper(?) or use a different medium (Colour pencils?)

I think the sense of depth works- the background trees are misty and recede into the background while the foreground reeds are larger, darker and more dominating.  The water has a different texture which I think looks like water.  I really like the reflections and the autumnal colours.  The railings also stand out in the foreground and add to the sense of structure in the pictures composition.  I was torn between making these bright white so they really stood out and adding some creamy yellow so they were not quite so dominant.  In the end I made them brighter close up  and less so as they receded.

There was not very much directional light on the day I viewed this scene and the world was shrouded in an autumnal mist with a cold grey sky.


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