Colour · Drawing · Painting

Why Do My Drawings and Paintings Look Flat?

I see a lot of artwork in my teaching role and one common problem is artwork that looks flat.  This artwork is often attractive and technically well executed but just seems to lack a certain depth and drama.  I offer some suggestions on why this might be and what can be done about it in this blog post.

Charcoal drawing
Aim for a tonal range


The most likely cause for a flat drawing or painting is the lack of a tonal range.  This means not enough variation in lights and darks (values). Often flat drawings lack the extremes of light and dark, what is known as contrast. Making the darks darker can really add drama and depth to artwork and leaving highlights areas of white is also very important to create a sense of three-dimensional reality.

Use all that darks and lights of the pencil

While creating artwork try to consider if you have used the full tonal range, are your darks, dark enough and have you got some areas of light?

Dramatic lighting can really help create artwork that has more contrast so perhaps consider the lighting if you are struggling to see the extreme darks and lights.

Consider using dramatic lighting to boost contrast


Sometimes the issue of flatness is because of a lack of depth, a sense of distance is one way to create depth in artwork.  The simplest way to do this is having a more painterly or blurred background.   Colour is another way to create depth, brighter, warmer colours in the foreground will help bring subjects forward and cooler colours in the background will give the impression of receding.

A soft blurred background will give the idea of depth

A painting or drawing that is mostly one colour may look flat so adding a complementary colour can help make a piece look less flat and more interesting.

Have you got any tips about drawing and paintings looking flat?  Share your comments below.


2 thoughts on “Why Do My Drawings and Paintings Look Flat?

  1. Hi Rebecca, I always enjoy your posts. Besides fading colors in a background I often use aerial perspective by making the objects like mountains smaller when I can and of course things in the foreground would be larger. That helps to not have flat paintings- faded mountains or small mountains as an example.Thanks.

    1. Thanks Liz and this is a good tip, thank you for sharing. I agree, I think experimenting with viewpoint is one really good way of transforming the interest level in an artwork.

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