May 2023

Making Space

10 Cues for Creating the Illusion of Three-dimensional space

All Art is an Illusion

Creating a three-dimensional image on a two-dimensional surface is a form of magic. An artist starts with a two-dimensional surface; it may be a wall, a canvas, a board, paper, or a pavement. Using paint or other media an illusion is created that invites the viewer into the universe of the picture and the tensions that reside within it.

In art, the term “space” is used to refer both to depth—real or represented—and to the general surface area within a work of art. Contrasts of color, volume, line, and texture activate expanding and contracting forces designed to breathe and pulsate, interact, and struggle within the space of your picture world, just as we interact and struggle within our own universe.

Whether your work is representational or abstract your picture contains a world of contrasts; a sense of movement through several planes, a flux between positive and negative visual energies, and the jostling between forms for frontality. 

3-D Joe and Max

Our brain and eyes use depth cues to describe things as being in front, behind, above, below, or to the side of other things. The ability to perceive relationships in three-dimensional space is necessary for movement and the orientation of our body in relation to the objects around us. Navigating from one point to another depends on the ability to perceive depth, and even reaching out a hand to pick up a paintbrush, relies on depth perception.​​ 

Rob Gonsalves "__"

Imagine you're driving in a car and you see a castle far off in the distance.

How is it that the castle begins to look bigger as you drive closer? The castle obviously isn't growing while you drive, so what is causing this?

Notice when you drive on a long flat road like Alligator Alley, the road appears to get smaller and smaller before disappearing entirely over the horizon. The road doesn’t change in size so why does it look that way? 

When you drive through mountains do they appear blue and hazy in the distance and then become green and sharply focused as you approach them?

These illusions are all cues used by our brains to calculate distance and depth.

Bob Dylan "__"

During the Italian Renaissance (c. 1400-1600) artists worked very deliberately to understand and create convincing illusions of three-dimensional space in two-dimensional media. These artists dedicated themselves to combining as many depth cues as possible into a system known as linear perspective.

Linear perspective refers to the fact that we perceive depth when we see two parallel lines that seem to converge into a “vanishing point” on the horizon. The other depth cues they used are the overlap of objects, the relative size and closeness of images to the horizon, and variation in color, value, light, and shadow caused by distance.

The first known picture to make use of linear perspective was created by the Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446). Painted in 1415, it depicted the Baptistery in Florence from the front gate of the unfinished cathedral. The linear perspective system projected the illusion of depth onto a two-dimensional plane by use of ‘vanishing points’ to which all lines converged, at eye level, on the horizon. Soon after Brunelleschi’s painting, the concept caught on, and many Italian artists started to use linear perspective in their paintings.

Look how Raphael creates an illusion of three-dimensional form in La Donna Velata. Through careful variations in value, particularly shading — using darker colors to create the illusion of shadows — Raphael convinces us that the woman in the painting is really there in three dimensions.

Light strikes her from her left, casting her right side in shadow. The folds of her voluminous sleeve are a particularly splendid example of the illusion of space. Even examining a small detail of it, it is hard to believe that there is no depth, at all, just thin layers of paint on a flat canvas.

Raphael "La Donna Velata"

In his 1474 portrait of Ginevra de’Benci, Leonardo da Vinci painted a narrow band of blue trees and a blue horizon at the back, behind the brownish trees that frame the pale stern woman whose bodice laced up with the same blue. He loved atmospheric effects and wrote that when painting buildings, “to make one appear more distant than another, you should represent the air as rather dense. Therefore make the first building…of its own color; the next most distant make less outlined and more blue; that which you wish to show at yet another distance, make bluer yet again; and that which is five times more distant make five times more blue.” 

Da Vinci "Ginevra de’Benci"

Coordinating depth cues correctly is critical for creating a familiar world on your paper or canvas for the viewer to enter and feel at home. 

When you work abstractly distorting these cues or applying only a few of them is one of the ways an artist can create tension and interest in the work.

Look at these works by Mark Rothko. Notice how he uses color saturation and edge quality to create the illusion of space in this painting. The longer you gaze at this artwork the shapes seem to shift and change color and details will suddenly appear that you may not have noticed at first. Do some of these shapes appear solid, while others seem to be like veils hiding other layers from view? How deep would you say the space is in this painting? One foot? Six inches? Three feet? Rothko’s work is very subtle but the cues he uses to place one thing in front of another are the same ones used by realist landscape painters. 

Rothko - No 6 1951 - Violet Green and Red and No 8 1952

Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) was one of the most important figures of postwar American art and is considered one of the greatest twentieth-century teachers. Hofmann played a pivotal role in the development of Abstract Expressionism (1940 to present).

He believed that modern art must remain faithful to the flatness of the canvas support and he devised the term “push and pull” to describe the dynamic relationship between flatness and depth in an abstract painting or drawing.

Push and pull “are expanding and contracting forces activated by carriers in visual motion. Planes (a plane is a flat shape contained within a line) are the most important carriers, lines and points less so.” Hofmann felt Cézanne exemplified this concept. “At the end of his life and the height of his capacity, Cézanne understood color as a force of push and pull. 

Cezanne example

Hans Hoffman’s “push and pull” teaching is based on the same cues and concepts used by Renaissance artists and the same ten cues I present to you today. 

These ten cues are the same ones our brain uses to determine our location in space and the approach of a speeding car or tennis ball. When applied together or separately in our paintings as contrasts of line, form, color, and texture a sense of dynamic depth, dimensionality and movement are created.

Hans Hoffman's "Goliath"

Hans Hoffman "___"

10 Cues

for creating the illusion of

three-dimensional space

1. Overlap - Objects in the front cover and hide objects behind

2. Shading - describes how light falls on a three-dimensional form using darker colors to create the illusion of shadow.

3. Relative Size - Smaller is farther away, Larger is closer. And a familiar object can be used as a reference.

4. Shadows - Objects create a hole in the light. The hole describes the shape of the object in a shadow that falls on anything behind it.

5. Value/ Focus - Further away blends into the background (loses color & value)

6. Placement - higher is farther away

7. Perspective - parallel lines come together at a vanishing point on the horizon; the closer together the two lines are, the farther away they seem. Perspective applied to the human form is called foreshortening.

8. Color/ Temperature - warm advances, cool recedes

9. Edges - sharp advances, blurry recedes

10. Color/ Saturation - bright advances, dull recedes

Imagine that you would like to paint a pond full of water lilies. 

Each lily pad should get smaller and higher up as it goes back toward the horizon. Each one will lose color and detail as it gets farther away. Whether the lily pads get darker or lighter will depend on the light in the background. If the background is darker the small ones will begin darkening to blend with the background as they get farther away. If the background is light then they will get lighter as they near the horizon.

Making sure all of your cues agree will improve the illusion.

Claude Monet "Waterlilies"

Maybe you want to paint boats in a harbor. Each boat should get smaller and higher up as it goes back into space. Whether you'd like to paint a field of poppies, sunflowers, or a vase of flowers these cues will help you add interest, realism, and depth. You can vary some of your flowers so they get smaller and higher up as they move into the background. Others can get cooler, and less defined as they become more distant. Flowers in the foreground can become warmer and more detailed. Cast shadows will add even more depth.

Whether you are painting a realistic scene or an abstraction of one you can use warm colors to make your shapes appear larger and cool colors to make them appear smaller. You can blur and sharpen edges to make them advance and recede within the space. When finishing a painting I often warm up my foreground with gold paint and cool the back with blue or purple to make my foreground more dimensional.

Common spatial errors are “kissing” and relative size. Kissing objects touch instead of overlapping each other or the horizon. Kissing will flatten your space, so you may want to invent an overlap even if wasn’t in your resource image.

Architects commonly add people to their drawings to demonstrate the scale of their designs. A familiar object allows the viewer to compare the relationship between one object and another. If you have a single object, like a house, a boat, or a person on a street or in a crowd, that repeats as it goes back in space, make sure that the size gets smaller in a logical way, so you don’t have one giant person in the midst of your crowd. 

Unless you are trying to add tension and danger, check to make sure all your cues agree and your shadows are all going in the same direction. 

My early work is filled with examples of conflicting spatial cues. It took me years of study to internalize these cues and there is still room for improvement. These works below are mine from 2016 and they could use more depth for me to be satisfied with them. These are pieces I set aside to finish when I acquire the knowledge I was missing when I started them.

When you look at the images below can you observe some of the cues giving conflicting information about the space? Can you list the cues being used in these paintings? What do you see that could be improved to make the space more believable?

The use of perspective to create a convincing illusion of depth does not make Da Vinci or Raphael a “better” artist than Rothko or Cezanne, nor does it make their works any “better” or more sophisticated.

Assigning value between abstraction and representation, or between gestural, expressionistic styles and geometric forms is not useful in judging whether a painting is successful.  The universal goal of every style of art is visual unity, and form that stimulates interest in the viewer, whether pleasing to the eye or not. 

The illusion of depth is one of the many tools in the artist’s toolbox. It is a useful technique for creating a heightened emotional effect and drawing us, the viewers, into the composition, as if we are in the scene. The process of creating a believable three-dimensional illusion on a two-dimensional surface is a work of magic because we are creating an idea in the mind of our viewer, not an actual 3-dimensional form.

Our struggle and interaction to create this illusion within the universe of the picture is a mirror of our interaction and struggle with the truth of our outer universe. Attempting to translate the conceptual world of the imagination into a believable physical universe of three dimensions is a worthy effort that can raise our work to a level of mastery few artists attain.

This month I used the following books and articles as resources:

Rebecca Solnit - The Faraway Nearby

If you would like my guidance and advice in adding more depth and dynamism to your paintings I am happy to share my insights and my knowledge with you. I welcome the opportunity for conversation, cooperation, collaboration, and commissions. 

With Light and Delight

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Susan Convery
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P.S. If you didn't get the chance to download your free gift from me: Here is my "Inner Artist Inspiration Package" - a series of illustrated quotes in watercolor based on flower photos taken by family and friends.
Inner Artist Inspiration Package


The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.

For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains. “Longing,” says the poet Robert Hass, “because desire is full of endless distances.” Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in, for the blue world.

- Rebecca Solnit “The Faraway Nearby”

Florida Watercolor Society


 It's official! I've been voted onto the Board of the Florida Watercolor Society! I'm the new treasurer and I'll be starting in June.

I will also be one of the demo artists at the FWS convention in September talking about Depth of Space.

On Sunday, June 25th I will be explaining my painting process at a Zoom Confab.

I am very excited about this new opportunity to meet and work with dedicated watercolor artists!!

Coming up in May

Martha's Vineyard

I am spending the month of May on Martha's Vineyard for a very special occasion. My dad is turning 90 and we are throwing a big party to celebrate. It's also my birthday month so I'll be celebrating too. If you are on MV in May let's meet up and enjoy some art and maybe lunch too.

Old Sculpin Gallery

OPENING MAY 26TH FOR THE 2023 SEASON. My work will be there all summer even when I am not.

This Happened in April

Yayoi Kusama


Perez Art Museum Miami

1103 Biscayne Blvd

Miami, FL

An icon of contemporary art, Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929, Matsumoto, Japan) has interwoven ideas of Pop art, Minimalism, and psychedelia throughout her paintings, performances, room-size presentations, outdoor sculptural installations, literary works, films, designs, and architectural interventions.

LOVE IS CALLING is the largest and the most immersive and kaleidoscopic of the artist’s Infinity Mirror Rooms. Representing the culmination of her artistic achievements, it exemplifies the breadth of her visual vocabulary—from the signature polka dots and soft sculptures to brilliant colors, the spoken word, and, most importantly, endless reflections and the illusion of space. The darkened, mirrored room is illuminated by inflatable, tentacle-like forms—covered in the artist’s characteristic polka dots—that extend from the floor and ceiling, gradually changing colors. As visitors walk through the installation, a sound recording of Kusama reciting a love poem in Japanese plays continuously. Written by the artist, the poem’s title translates to Residing in a Castle of Shed Tears. Exploring enduring themes including life and death, the poem poignantly expresses Kusama’s hope to spread a universal message of love through her art.

Admission to the galleries is $16 for adults and free for PAMM members. Tickets to Yayoi Kusama: LOVE IS CALLING are subject to availability and are not available online. Once general admission tickets are purchased, access to the show comes at no additional cost. Tickets to enter are available at our Visitor Services desk during regular operating hours. Due to limited capacity, guests are allowed one ticket per person, per visit.

I had a wonderful day exploring the Perez Museum. This was my first experience with a Kusama Infinity room. I wish I could have stayed there longer. The Perez has a beautiful cafe with an expansive view of Biscayne Bay. The collections are interesting with lots of iconic works from contemporary artists, many of them interactive. I highly recommend dropping in for a few hours.

Visions of Women

Sunrise Civic Center

10610 W Oakland Park Blvd, Sunrise, FL 33351

National League of American Pen Women - Fort Lauderdale Branch

Opening Night at the Sunrise Civic Center Art Gallery.

Pictured is my entry “The Way Out is In” & a piece of my other entry “Serenity Now”. The exhibit runs to May 29, 2023, and is open Tuesday through Saturday; Tue 10 am to 5 pm, Wed 12 pm to 7 pm, Thu 12 pm to 7 pm, Fri 10 am to 3 pm, Sat 10 am to 3 pm

Miami Watercolor Society

Pinecrest Community Center

5855 Killian Drive, Pinecrest, FL 33156, United States

Susan Convery

Demonstrating Artist


1st Place Spring 2023 Show

Wirtz Gallery -

5750 Sunset Dr, South Miami, FL 33143

Here’s a photo with my first place painting at the MWS - Miami Watercolor Society spring show reception.

I had a great experience with the Miami Watercolor Society this month. My demonstration for the Miami Watercolor Society on ways to add "Magic" to your work was well attended and lots of fun.

Paint Party At Savor Cinema

Savor Cinema did a great job welcoming us with snacks, drinks and art projects. We had great fun getting together and enjoying this hilarious film,

Susan's Interview on MVTV

The Vineyard View features short interviews with local personalities digging deeper into the rich cultural heritage of Martha’s Vineyard. My interview with Ann Bassett was filmed last September while my art was on display at the Old Sculpin Gallery on Dock Street in Edgartown and the video was just released in January of 2023.

Here is the link:

Watch the Vineyard View Interview with Susan 

2023 Portugal Retreat


Despite my best efforts and intentions, the timing is just not right for us to gather together this June in Portugal. Portugal is an amazing country with so much to see and experience. I am going to keep trying to put together just the right opportunity for me to share my love for Portuguese food and culture with you in the near future. If there are particular things you have in mind or have heard about Portugal please reach out to me and let me know so I can create an irresistible experience for us to share.

I know some of you are very disappointed. I wanted to give you as much notice as possible in case you have still been trying to figure out how to add this retreat to your busy summer calendar. Thank you so much for all your love and support now and in the future.

Painting Joy

Created especially for artistic women in the third stage of life who are dissatisfied with their artwork and want to have more fun connecting with themselves and others. In this three-day watercolor workshop, we experiment with visual cues that inspire joy, discover personal symbols that resonate, and provide ways to bring more effervescence into our life and art.

Please recommend any venues you know that might be interested in hosting this workshop in 2023 or 2024.

I would very much appreciate your help in getting the next booking.

Reach Out to Me

Private Art Retreats

Private Art Retreats

A personalized experience, full of art and discovery, for those who….

  • are traveling alone, or with a couple of friends
  • would like a much more flexible, and free experience, and lots of fun, too, tailored exactly to your needs, interests, and experience level
  • may want to combine painting with organized discovery trips and tours and really get to know the ‘real’ South Florida
  • would like to book in for a shorter or longer time than most workshops
  • don’t want to have to bring a mountain of supplies in their luggage

Private Art Retreats

Private Lessons and Events

Master Classes for High School Students
Private, highly personalized classes in mastery for artistically-minded US & international students virtually on Zoom or in person at my home.

If you have a student who is a visual thinker, willing to push the boundaries of their own work, and serious about improving their options for college, I want to hear from you! Schedule a time to discuss how I can collaborate with you to build a portfolio that will give your student the greatest chance for success.

Art Workshops, Critiques & Presentations
Invite me to present or lead a workshop for your school, club, or guild.

I can customize a program for your event or present my skills programs on composition, color theory, drawing faces, coordinating light/shadow or understanding the cues for depth. I am available for judging, confidence-building critiques and recorded tutorials.
Improve Your Artist Statement
If you would like to delve more deeply into your own inner questions and clarify your thoughts as you create an artist statement for your website, a gallery show, a sponsor, or another project, please reach out, and let’s talk. I have helped many students write compelling statements for AP Art, college applications, and competitions.

Sketchbook Prompt:

Set up a simple still life with a mirror behind it and draw the object and its reflection. A vase of flowers, your breakfast, a favorite teapot, or coffee mugs. Paint the objects and their reflections in the mirror. Use as many of the 10 cues as you can to create deep space in your image.

Available Paintings

Please contact me if you are interested in adding any of the paintings below to your collection.

I will deliver if you live within a 2-hour drive and if you live further away, I will give you a reasonable price for shipping.

Venmo, CashApp, PayPal and Zelle are welcomed.

Title: Peace River

Media: Watercolor and Gouache on Arches

Size: 22" x 15" Unframed

Price: $350.00

This painting is from memory of a place where the kids and I used to go paddling and camping. I was very interested in trying to capture the light coming through the trees at the end of the day. (notice the depth cues :-)

Title: It's a New Dawn, It's a New Day

Media: Acrylic on Canvas

Size: 16"x 20" framed


Frame: Gold frame

This painting is an experiment using texturing and stencils to try to capture the emotional impact of a sunrise.

Title: Bluebird

Media: Mixed Media Monoprint

Size: 11" x 14" unframed, 16" x 20" framed


Frame: Gold frame with 2" mat

A beautiful bluebird flies through an imaginary garden of printed blue begonia leaves

Title: Enigma

Media: Mixed Media

Size: 22" x 22" 

Price: $450

Frame: Gallery Wrapped Canvas Gold Edge

This painting revealed an inner presence to me when I was trying to create an abstract painting featuring veiling and texture.

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