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Landforms – Teacher Preparation

The Museum has developed several lessons for use in conjunction with its on-line Collections.

To The Educator: Teacher Preparation

Have examples of landscapes available to explore the following ideas about perspective and other techniques used in landscape painting. Try to identify the three parts of a landscape in each of the images.

There are often three parts to a landscape painting related to space:

The Foreground is the part of a landscape painting that appears nearest to the viewer. The Middle ground is the area in a landscape painting between the foreground and background. The Background is the area farthest away creating a sense of perspective or relative distance.

  • How do the colors change in the foreground verses the background?
  • How does the clarity of detail change?
  • How can you tell what appears closest to you in a painting?

Learner applies concept to a problem, question:

Landscape artists want the viewers of their paintings to feel as if they could walk in through their pictures and wander around. Landscape artists have to paint infinite space on a flat canvas! They have to make some things look really, really far away and some things look close up.

  • How do they do this?
  • How do they manage to make a two dimensional surface look 3D?
  • How do they create the illusion of space on a flat surface?
  • How would you solve this problem?

Explore these ideas:

One way to make a picture look like a real place is to use the “tricks” or tools of perspective.


In which of these paintings can you see the farthest? Why? Look at this painting by Carl Rungius, Bow Valley, and compare the size of the trees in the background, to trees in the foreground and how do their sizes relate to trees in real life?

Look out the window or go outdoors and see if you can compare the size of trees close up compared to trees far away.


Paint a landscape that looks like you could walk in and wander around. Use a photo or work from a sketch made on location. How can the illusion of space be created in your artwork? Consider using tricks such as change of size, position, overlapping.

Consider these questions:

  • What can be seen far, far away?
  • What does it look like way out there?
  • What is between here and there?
  • What would your friend look like way out there?
  • What would she/he look like way up here?

Note to teacher:

It may be helpful to explore these ideas outside or in the gym where students can compare relative sizes in deep space. Choose three students of relatively the same height to stand at a close distance, medium distance, far distance. Close one eye and measure their apparent heights.


Ask students to identify parts of a landscape (foreground, middle ground, and background)

Observe student artwork to determine if they understand the size relationship in the realistic depiction of space. What other tools of perspective have they utilized?


Create an expressive landscape describing how you feel about human impacts on the land.
Write a story or poem of your experience of a favorite landscape painting or outside location.

Here is an example of a poem written by the landscape artist Reuben Tam (1916-1991)Among Mountains Ultimate in a serrate sky, In a balance of ice planes and peaks, The range of white mountains shone, Signed in parallels for my landscape. But place fell into shields, scattering Contours on an undivided plain. A glacier turned the ridges around, Against the heave of a warm time.  And night was groundwater seeping Through labyrinths in rock. Terrain Was the stay of sediment After each passing anarchy.  Stones of the moraine, what terminal? Crack of quartz, facet of which dark?  Taut at my step, the fault . Staggers this day I’ve walked into.

From A Sense of Place – The Artist and the American Landscape by Alan Gussow (New York: Island Press, 1969.)

Additional Resources

Landforms – Lessons

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