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Classic Graphic Design Theory Elements of Design: Space

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Classic Graphic Design Theory
Elements of Design:Space

Illusion of Space and Depth

We live in a three-dimensional world of depth. When we look around us, some things seem closer, some further away. The artist can also show the illusion of depth by using the following means:

  • Size & Vertical Location
  • Overlapping
  • Detail (Aerial or Atmospheric Perspective)
  • Linear Perspective


Pic:depth by size and vertical location

Size & Vertical Location

Since objects in our environment look smaller when they are farther away, the easiest way to show depth is to vary the size of objects, with closer objects being larger and more distant objects being smaller. As well, we perceive objects that are higher on the page and smaller as being further away than objects which are in the forefront of a picture. 


When objects are partially obscured by other objects in front of them, we perceive them as further back than the covering objects.
We do not see them as incomplete forms, just further back.


Detail (Aerial or Atmospheric Perspective) 

Pic:Aerial Perspective

Atmospheric perspective uses color and value contrasts to show depth. Objects which are further away generally have less distinct contrast - they may fade into the background or become indistinct dark areas. The foreground objects will be clear with sharper contrast.  Here is a link to Leonardo da Vinci's use of aerial perspective: Investigating aerial perspective

Linear Perspective (Converging Lines)

Pic:Linear perspective

Linear perspective is based on the idea that all lines will converge on a common point on the horizon called the vanishing point. You have observed linear perspective when you notice that the lines on the highway appear to meet at a point in the distance. Artists use linear perspective to create a focal point for a picture. Any walls, ceilings, floors or other objects with lines will appear to come together at the horizon line. These lines converging lead our eyes towards that point. Often, the most important object or person in the picture will be located at that point. You can see in the drawing above how all the lines in the drawing seem to lead your eye toward the church in the center back of the drawing.

Other types of perspective, such as two-point or multipoint perspective are also used. Two-point perspective, which occurs when you display a building from a corner view, as opposed to a front view, is often used by architects to show a more three-dimensional view of a building. To learn the mechanics of setting up a picture using linear or multipoint perspective check out this site: Art Studio Chalkboard

Here is a web page which investigates linear perspective in Leonardo da Vinci's work: Exploring Linear Perspective

Elements & Principles of Design: [Line] [Shape] [Texture] [Value & Color] [Space] [Movement] [Balance] [Emphasis] [Unity]

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