How to give relief to a painting?

What do you notice about these hot air balloons?

Don’t you seem to be embossed like a 3D digital image? Yet it is indeed a painting…

In this article, I will give you my technique to paint your subjects as if they were coming out of the canvas!

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In the approach of realistic figurative painting , this “third dimension” that has always been sought after by painters is the essential element to achieve a convincing result.

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The technique I will reveal to you will make all the difference in your next achievements. I call it: “Proof by 4

Evidence by 4

The foundations of this technique are not new, they are based on principles derived from drawing, color theory and photography . After using them a lot, I grouped them into a method that breaks down into 4 points:

  • The Perspective
  • The complementarity of colors
  • Multi-directional lighting
  • Depth of field

Each of these elements will act in a particular way to deceive the observer’s gaze and give him an impression of reality by optical illusion .

In the same table, one or more of these 4 points can be used depending on the desired effect. You can also use them all at the same time as they are not incompatible.

In the first place we obviously have:

1-The Perspective

It is she who, based on the basics of the drawing , “trompe l’oeil” for the first time giving the lines main effects are a “inbound” or “outbound” effect.

The vanishing lines used in the construction of a perspective allow the look to dive inside the board.

There are several types of perspectives that we will not discuss in this article, but we must know that it is through perspective that the dimensions of an object, building, street or landscape are effectively represented in space.

2- The complementarity of colors

Early colour theorists like Johannes Itten introduced us to the notion of complementary colours . These are colors that oppose on the chromatic circle.

Today we know that the complementaries of Itten are not fair from an optical point of view because its circle chromatic was incomplete.

The complementary colors of the universal color circle are the ones you need to use to create a powerful contrast phenomenon and achieve maximum relief .

Two complementary colors always give the maximum contrast between a warm color and a cold color .

It‘s called temperature contrast.

The temperature is used to suggest remoteness with cold colors or approximation with warm colors.

That’s what interests us in finding relief for a painting.

In our example, you can therefore notice that, since the background of the painting is in a dominant of cold color (purple-purple), by contrast I have chosen to paint hot air balloons in the foreground in a dominant of warm colors (yellow-orange).

Conversely, the furthest hot air balloons are painted with cool color chords , allowing them to perceive them more in “resemblance” to the background and thus further away.

3-Multi-directional lighting

Here is the most important strategies to create the illusionmultidirectional lighting of three-dimensional subjects. This technique comes from photographers and filmmakers: it is .

It is about artificially creating several light sources on a subject, arranged in different places. By doing this work correctly, we put the volumes into light. Instead, look at the example of hot air balloons.

I imagined a warm sunset light coming from the right, which first illuminates the mountains and then the hot air balloons: this is my main light source, it floods the whole picture.

Then, as a secondary light, I used the moon. This time it is a cold, white light that illuminates the hot air balloons from behind.

In this way, the volumes stand out enormously from the bottom and the warm light/cold light complementarity further accentuates this effect.

You can even add a third light source. In this painting I simply chose to represent the flames of the burners in a few balloons. It gave me the opportunity to add a little transparency to their texture.

4-Depth of field

Well known to photographers, the depth of field gives us the effect of a focus of objective by detaching a subject very clearly in the foreground on a background more or less blurred . The more blurred the background, the farther the subject will be.

In the table “Let’s go to the other shore” (hot air balloons), I did not use much of the depth of field except a little in the foreground thanks to the grasses that cut out on the small waves of the lake and on the sky.

crisp on a completely blurred backgroundHere is a better example from my painting “Cosmos” The cosmos flowers are . We realize here that the flower is very far from the background.


We saw together how the 4 points of “proof by 4” affect our visual perception:

  • Perspective → allows the gaze to plunge into the
  • table Complementarity of colours → plays on the proximity and distance of a subject
  • Multidirectional lighting → reinforces our perception of volumes
  • Depth of field → makes a subject stand out from its background

Now you know how I do to give depth to all my paintings.

It’s up to you to play!

By systematically using the method of proof by 4, you too will be able to give relief to any subject you wish to highlight.

If you liked this article, tell me in the comments below what are your own tips for giving relief to your paintings.

Waiting to read you…