Creating Depth in Your Artwork

Creating Depth in Your Artwork

Learn 4 easy ways to make your drawing or painting have depth. Want to learn how to draw? You must to read this or your drawings will look flat and fake!


4 Easy Ways to Draw Depth

Drawing depth is easy once you follow these simple rules. New to drawing? Stick around…you will improve your drawing skills almost immediately!

You want to learn how to draw well, but you just can’t seem to be able to get things right. While drawing does take practice and you will not become an expert artist overnight you can learn a few strategies that will make you better at drawing right now.

In order to draw well an artist must understand how to represent our 3D world on a 2D surface. This is the process of looking at real things and drawing them on paper. How do we create this illusion of depth on paper so that our drawings will look more realistic immediately?  The following is 4 simple ways to create depth in your drawings or paintings.


1. Overlapping

You can create depth in artwork by overlapping.  When an object moves in front of another object it overlaps it. This overlapping is nothing more than the closer object obscuring the farther object. Sounds easy? It is! You can use your outlines, shading or color to make sure that the two objects become separate from one another and create an overlapping effect. Next time you draw, try overlapping your closer objects on top of your farther objects.

Creating Depth in Artwork: Overlapping

2. Size

You can create depth in artwork by altering the sizes of things.  When drawing objects that appear closer to us your drawing will need to represent these objects larger. The reverse is also true. Make sure you draw things smaller as they get farther away from you. This simple rule is often overlooked but extremely important when drawing everything from realism to cartoons.

Creating Depth in Artwork: Size

3. Placement

An artist can create depth in her artwork through clever positioning of the drawn elements.  When looking at the world, your eye level has much to do with how you see things and interpret a drawing. When objects are below your eye level they appear to rise as they get farther away. The opposite is true for objects that reside above your eye level. Objects that are above your eye level need to be drawn lower as they get farther away. To sum this effect up, draw objects closer to your eye level line as they get farther away. Look at the diagram below and see how objects approach the artist’s eye level line as the objects get farther away. Note, if you ever decide to study perspective drawing, the eye level line is referred to as the horizon line.

 Creating Depth in Artwork: Placement below eye level

Creating Depth in Artwork: Placement above eye level


4. Color

Advanced artists know that they can create depth in artwork by altering their colors.  When objects get farther away more space exists between the artist and these distant objects. This means there are more atmospheric particles in between. Under short distances you’ll never notice this atmospheric effect, but over greater distances such as those that occur in landscapes you will notice a fading effect with the colors of distant objects. This fading effect is called atmospheric perspective and can be a great technique for showing depth in your drawings. Even if you’re not drawing a landscape and your objects are not miles away any artist can take advantage of atmospheric perspective to help create the illusion of depth within their drawing.

How should I shade distant objects?

You’ll want to alter the color of your objects as they move farther away from you. Study some realistic landscape paintings from a few famous artists and you’ll get the idea. Checkout some paintings from Thomas Cole or Albert Biedstadt and you see the effects at work.

Objects that are farther away should be shaded:

  • Lighter in value
  • With less contrast (darks become lighter closing the contrast gap)
  • Using the color of the sky/atmosphere – Things become bluer in color under a normal blue sky

Creating Depth in Artwork: Color


Putting it All Together

Most of the time you are going to want to use several of these drawing techniques together for full effect. Below is a very simple example of creating depth in artwork by using all 4 strategies at once. Now you’re ready to use these techniques in your next work of art. Don’t forget to visit your local museum and study how artists are using these strategies in their own artwork. These depth creating techniques have been in use for hundreds of years and can be applied in many creative and successful ways.

Creating Depth in Your Artwork : 4 Easy Ways to Draw Depth


Attention Art Teachers!

Are you an art teacher? Would you like all the images presented here in one tidy infographic? Here’s a handy pdf you can download and print to make posters from or hand out to your students!

Creating Depth
Creating Depth

Creating Depth in Your Artwork: 4 Easy Ways to Draw Depth


Keep practicing and as always, ask a question or leave a comment below.




    1. I love painting cow’s, how do I create depth in the cows nostrils

      1. John Morfis says:

        It’s difficult to describe this in just words, but it all comes down to values (light and dark). Making the inside of the cow’s nostrils darker will make them seem like they recede (like a hole) and if the outside of the nostril / nose is shaded like a sphere / cylinder then that will help make it appear 3D.

  1. I’m trying to create kind of a surreal background with a huge floating orb (like a planet or moon?) in the distance. I’m having an issue with actually creating the illusion of depth, and I just can’t seem to get that ‘vast’ feeling…do you have any tips?

    1. John Morfis says:

      An important signal of depth is size relationships Maya. I would have some things that progressively get smaller to make the large orb seem close. Level of detail can also affect the way we perceive distance along with many other factors. Have the closest object (large orb) very details and the more distant/smaller objects slightly blurry and less detailed.

  2. Thank you for helping us beginners. I am having a hard time with depth, probably would help and make it a little easier if I could scetch,

  3. how do I draw depth I the bottom right of a butterfly (it is for a school project :()

    1. John Morfis says:

      Shade the wings that are farther away slightly darker.

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