How artists make images appear to be 3D
In some ways artists are very much like magicians, they use artistic tricks, to make us think that a flat surface actually contains a 3 D image. It wasn’t always like that. In pre-renaissance times, (before c.1450) before perspective was understood, the story of the painting was more important that how the image was depicted. If you look at very early paintings by Duccio and Giotto, around the early 14th century creating a realistic interpretation was not the most important factor.
The renaissance changed things, perspective was understood and became very important. Since then the use of perspective has become the standard way of creating 3 dimensions on a flat surface. In the 19th century Cezanne introduced a different form of perspective.
Cezanne used a different artistic trick known as ‘Aerial’ perspective. This form of perspective is not based on geometry or line, but colour. Cezanne understood that colour could be used to create depth in a painting. We all know that cool colours recede and warm colours tend to come forward, but that is very crude interpretation. It is quite possible for a cool colour to ‘float’ on top of a warm colour. Cezanne taught us that colour relationships are all relative, an orange can look very dominant and bright against a blue, but quite insipid against a yellow.
Look at Cezanne’s many paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire, notice the great depth in the paintings, but also notice there is no linear perspective. The depth in the paintings is created purely by the use of colour. For a more in-depth explanation have a look at this webpage.
The top image painted around 1400 has no real understanding of traditional perspective. The second painting painted around 1514 uses one point perspective as shown.
The third painting by Cezanne uses no linear perspective, but achieves depth in the painting purely by the means of colour – aerial perspective. Standard perspective is referred to as ‘Linear’ perspective, in other words line and geometry is used to create, on a flat surface, what we see with our eyes. Simply that things get smaller the further away they are. Without the artistic tricks used by artists, paintings which are produced on a flat surface, would not appear three dimensional.
Check out this article on Landscape Painting for more information about making paintings look three dimensional