Design Basics
Illusion of Space

resource material:
Design Basics
by David A. Lauer and Stephen Pentak (pages 166 through 197)
Launching the Imagination:Two Dimensional Design by Mary Stewart
(3-19 through 3-29)

The illlusion of space is an option for the artist.
The paintings below by Auguste Herbin are dynamic patterns of shapes that remain flat
on the picture plane, the frontal plane of the painting. Nothing encourages us to see "back"
into the composition.

Gustave Caillebotte's painting pierces the picture plane. Encouraged to forget that a painting is merely a flat
piece of canvas, we are almost standing with the figures in the painting, and our eyes are led to the distant
buildings across the bridge. Caillebotte's images suggest three-dimensional forms in a "real" space. An illusion
is created.

Illlusion of space conveys a feeling of space or depth.
With the problem of presenting a visual illusion of space and depth, artists have studied and used many devices.

In the paintings by Max Beckmann, the relative sizes of the various elements give understanding to the space
that is suggested.

Linear Perspective:
Linear perspective is a mathematical system for projecting the apparent dimensions of a
sculptural object onto a flat surface. This surface is called a picture plane.

One point perspective occurs when the lines receding into the space appear to converge at
a single point on the eye level.

Two-point perspective is used when the lines receding into space appear to converge at two vanishing
points on the eye level. This occurs when the viewer is confronted with the flat front of the cube, and
it results in a drawing in which vertical lines and horizontal lines parallel the edges of the paper.

Three-point perspective is used when the lines receding into space appear to converge at two
vanishing points on the eye level, plus a third point placed above or below the eye level. This
occurs when the viewer is facing a corner of a cube, rather than the front or a simple edge.

Other Spatial Systems:
Overlap. This is the simplest way to suggest space, and it can be especially effective when
combined with size variation. In Deposition, Rogier van der Weyden used overlap combined with
value to create convincing human figures within a crowded compositional space.

Size variation. Because the diminishing size of distant objects is a basic characteristic of human
vision, any systematic variation in size will increase the illusion of space. This effect is demonstrated
most clearly when the distance is great. In Ansel Adams' Yosemite Valley from Inspiration Point,
the large size of the cliffs in the foreground creates the illusion of space.
Definition. Sharply focused shapes also tend to advance, while blurred shapes tend to recede. In a
landscape, water droplets in the air blur outlines and add a bluish color to distant shapes, creating
an effect known as atmospheric perspective. Atmospheric perspective dissolves the most distant
mountains in Yosemite Valley from Inspiration Point, extending the space even further.

To introduce a dramatic, dynamic quality into their pictures, many artists have used what is called
amplified perspective. This device reproduces the visual image, but in the very special view that
occurs when an item is pointed directly at the viewer.
In Alexander Rodchenko's At the Telephone, we are presented with the top fo the figure's head
pointing directly at us. In this case we can see a foreshortened view of the receding body. The
body looks shorter than we know it to be in profile, and we are shown a dramatic unfamiliar view
of the figure.

Conctructed Space:
In his portrait of sculptor Henry Moore, David Hockney used multiple photographs to
expand space and suggest the passage of time. The repeated hands gesture to us.

Spatial Complexity:
When you have mastered the skills needed to create the illusion of space,
the creative and expressive possibilities expand. Thomas Hart Benson's
"Kansas City" from Politics, Farming, and the Law has been constructed using
a combination of conflicting spatial systems. The size and variation between
figures create conflict. Part of the wall itself disrupts the illusion of space by
drawing our attention to the interior physical space construction.
Thomas Hart Benton orchestrated contrasting compositional forces to create an explosive image.