5 Keys For Landscape Painting

5 Keys For Landscape Painting

When painting landscapes it is easy to become overwhelmed and confused about what to do when.

Landscapes can be a complicated subject but they can easily be simplified. One of the things I have observed watching very good artists is that they all have a working process and they all simplify the subject down. Sometimes knowing what to leave out is just as important to knowing what to include in a landscape painting.

As I have progressed with my landscape painting I have developed rules or principles that I work by. Actually I did not develop them … I just learnt them through observation. These 5 keys for landscape painting will give you a framework you can use to improve the quality of your painting.

The 5 keys of landscape painting are:

1/ Paint Thin To Fat – When you start out you should be painting with thinned down paint. This is true for both oil and acrylic painting. You want your initial application of paint (the block in stage) to be with thin paint. As you progress the painting you can then start using thicker paint with the thickest paint applied usually being the highlights at the end.

2/ Dark To Light – With oil and acrylic painting you are best to work dark to light. In other words you will want to start out painting your darkest darks and work progressively towards the lightest lights (highlights) in your painting. Now if you combine this rule with the first then it makes sense that your darks are the thinnest paint and as you work towards your lights the paint becomes thicker.

3/ Large To Small – Always start with big shapes and work towards small details. One mistake many beginners make is they get into detail work too early. Start out with big shapes and get those right first. Then progressively refine these big shapes and apply small details at the end. By doing so you will ensure you keep the big picture firmly in mind and keep everything in balance. The little details come right at the end of the painting.

4/ Big Brush To Small Brush – Start out your painting using big brushes. Remember at this point you are painting big shapes so it makes sense to use big brushes. Resist the temptation to grab your liner brush until right at the very end. You will notice from my online painting courses and the learn to paint DVD’s that I mostly use a 1″ bristle brush or a pastry brush for at least 80% of the painting. Using a big brush enables you to get paint down fast and block in all of your key areas.

5/ Limited Palette – You want to limit your palette to just a handful of key colours. This will create colour harmony through out your painting. Beginners get into trouble because they have 23 different colours on their palette and they never learn to mix colours correctly. You should learn how to mix colours by using just a limited palette. My palette consists of Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow, Yellow Ochre & Burnt Sienna plus Titanium White. So throw away your leaf green dark and learn how to mix colours from a limited palette. What you will find is much greater harmony and unity in your paintings.

If you follow these 5 keys you will see an immediate improvement in your landscape painting.

At first you will need to think about these keys consciously but after a few months you will find yourself doing them automatically. When you start to follow these keys unconsciously your painting will move to the next level as it frees your creative mind to focus more on things like subject matter, composition etc.

If you want to learn more about landscape painting then take a look at our online painting courses ‘Painting Landscapes – Level I‘ and ‘Painting Landscapes – Level II

Let me know your thoughts or questions about these 5 keys of landscape painting below.

How To Paint A Landscape – Step By Step (Part 2)

How To Paint A Landscape – Step By Step (Part 2)


In this series on how to paint a landscape I will take you step-by-step through one of the projects in our online course Painting Landscapes – Level 2. This is part 2 … if you missed part 1 then go here How To Paint A Landscape – Step By Step

In part 2 I continue developing the painting further and get into a lot of the detail work.

In the above photo I am now at the point where I need to start developing the middle distance trees and the foreground trees. These play a key role in the painting. The first step is to strengthen the dark’s in the trunks, branches and foliage shapes. Some of the dark’s where lost as I painted in the sky and background. So I remix the dark and strengthen it on the middle distance trees. Remember the middle distance trees do not want to be as strong or dark as the foreground trees. I also add highlights on the light side of these trees. The highlight colour is mixed using the dark and then warming the colour with Cadmium Yellow and Alizarin Crimson and then lightening it with a touch of Titanium White.

As I have developed the middle distance trees the farm buildings now need to be tightened up. So I make sure the edges around the main buildings are sharper and where the sun is catching the roof in a couple of places if brighter. This is the focal point where we want the eye to be drawn to so it is important that we have just enough detail to be able to make sense of the subject. When you use hard edges you draw the object into focus. The key is not to make all of the edges in the focal area too sharp. Just enough so that the farm building are brought into attention in the painting.

Now I go to work on the main trees following the same process I used on the middle distance trees. I darken the trunks, branches and foliage (this time with Ultramarine Blue & Burnt Sienna), and then follow the same process to highlight the light side of the foliage. The highlights on the tree trunks is a mix of Cadmium Orange and Titanium White. Do not over do the highlights on the trunks … just enough so that your eye understands there is light reaching the side of the tree. By having a strong shadow on the opposite side it further develops the illusion.

One of the most important things that I do when I am painting is to stand back a few meters from the painting. This way you get to see the painting as most people will when it is finished … as one whole unit. When we are busy painting we do not see the whole painting but rather the tree we are working on. If you do not develop the habit of stepping back from the painting then you can not see how the overall balance and impact of the painting is working. In our art classes I am constantly getting our students standing up and looking at their work from a distance.

You can see that I have the highlight colour on the foliage and I am now using a script liner (or rigger brush) to add in additional branches. Old gum trees have lots of broken and dead branches sticking out all over the place so I add a few of them in.

Time now to work on the foreground. We need to make the foreground interesting yet not dominate the eye. The foreground in this painting needs to be a pathway to the main center of interest in the painting. Here I am using a flat brush and I am flicking in some grass around the base of the tree. In this case I wasn’t that happy with it so I took some paper towel and wiped it all back and started again. Do not be afraid to wipe back parts of your painting if they are not working.

I did eventually get the foreground the way I wanted it … I added in a fence post in the right hand side to fill that empty space. I also added in an old dead tree trunk with grasses growing. Now we are getting close to the end I go over the whole painting and make adjustments to ensure everything is in balance. Here I am adjusting the bottom of the clouds to soften them back into the sky a little. I worked over the entire painting just making sure that there was nothing jumping out of the painting distracting the eye.

With the last minute adjustments made we arrived at a completed landscape painting. As a demonstration painting I was quite happy with it.

The most important thing about this two part article is that I want you to see that there are a series of logical steps you can follow when painting landscapes. These steps can be learnt and easily followed and they will greatly improve your landscape painting.

If you want to learn more about landscape painting then please take a look at our online courses Painting Landscapes – Level 1 and Painting Landscapes – Level 2.

Leave your comments and questions below and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Congratulations To New Art Students

Congratulations to our recent students from Saturdays sold out art class. This class was of the old gold mine building in Steiglitz and was from one of the episodes of the TV show ‘Yes You Can Paint’. It was not an easy painting however all of our students did really well.

Well done to Debbie, Angela, Barbara, Mark, Phipps, Giorda and William. Several of our students had never picked up a brush before which just goes to show that anyone can learn to paint when they have the right instruction. For more information on art classes check out the calendar of events and if you can not make it to one of our art classes then take a look at the online art classes.

How To Paint A Landscape – Step By Step (Part 1)

How To Paint A Landscape – Step By Step


In this series on how to paint a landscape I will take you step-by-step through one of the projects in our online course Painting Landscapes – Level 2.

Painting landscapes is one of the most rewarding challenges an artist can have as it gives us the opportunity to capture a moment in time in a way that a photo will never be able to. Landscape painting allows the artist to highlight that which he /she connects with in the landscape. Traditionally landscape painting has been the focus of most artists however true landscape painting has been on the decline in recent years.

In this two part article I want to give you a step-by-step overview of how I approach painting a landscape.

Note: The best way to learn to paint landscapes is from life. In this particular painting I had been to the location, walked around and taken lots of photos that I was using as reference for the painting. So make sure you are either painting on location (plein air) or working from a real life subject. Trying to paint landscapes from your imagination can only lead to imaginary looking paintings.


I start out every landscape painting by doing a quick sketch. Using a mix of Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson I outline the main shapes in the landscape. The key here is to simplify everything you see in the landscape into a hand full of large shapes. When you do your drawing as above the goal is to place these large shapes on the canvas in a pleasing composition. At this point I will use some artistic license if need be to move things around so that I end up with a composition that will be pleasing to the viewer.

When I am happy with the sketch I start to work on the sky. I am using a pastry brush (thanks to Robert Hagan) as the main brush I use for most of the painting. The sky is painted with Cobalt Blue and a little Titanium White and just a pin head of Alizarin Crimson. Notice that my brush strokes are random and I keep the brush moving to give the feel of movement to the sky.

In the lower part of the sky I add more Titanium White to the mix to lighten the sky as it gets closer to the horizon. I also start to work in some clouds. These are Titanium White with some Yellow Ochre to warm the clouds up. I rough them in initially and will come back to work on them some more later on. At this point the sky is quite wet as I have used a fair amount of thinner in painting in the sky … so now is the time to move on to another area to give the sky I chance to dry off a little.

Now I work on my most distant mountains. In order to have these look like they are in the distance you want to get the value and colour right. The value needs to be darker than the sky at the horizon but light enough to keep them in the distance. Using mostly blue helps to keep the mountains looking distant. Notice I take some time to work around the foliage of the middle distance trees. This can be a little tricky to do so you need to be patient.

Next comes the layer of mountains that are closer to us. Notice that it is a darker value … more Alizarin Crimson is used to darken the mix. You can see how it has pushed the first row of mountains back into the distance. Remember that all painting is about creating the illusion of three dimensions on a two dimensional canvas.

Moving forward I start to paint in the fields behind our center of interest which is the farm sheds and buildings. This is just Yellow Ochre with Titanium White. I also grey down the colour by using some of the mix that I used to get the initial sketch in. When you grey the colour down it helps to make it look more distant. Objects that are closer to us have increased colour saturation and as they go into the distance the saturation decreases (ie they grey  down).

I am now about to start on the middle distance and foreground fields. Notice I am still using the pastry brush at this stage as we block in the main shapes with the correct value and colour.

With the middle distance and foreground fields I start off with a light mix and low saturation. As it comes forward towards the viewer I strengthen the mix and saturation of colour. I also warm up the foreground more by introducing some Burnt Sienna and some Cadmium Orange. A good rule to remember is that warm colours come forward and cool colours go back into the distance. Notice the shadow of the main trees now plays an important role for a number of reasons … first it is a cool colour which contrasts nicely against the warm fields, and secondly it just breaks up the larger shape of the fields to keep it more interesting.

Now I move to a key part of the painting which is the farm sheds and equipment. I am now using the small flat brush. The key here is that I am just making marks to indicate the farm sheds etc. I am not actually trying to paint them directly. By giving the impression that these buildings and equipment are in the landscape the eye of the viewer and the mind fill in the blanks. Importantly around the lighter colour farm buildings I am adding in shadow colours of trees and bushes at the back. Again this is to create contrast in this focal area.

It is time now to move on to our middle distance and main trees. First thing I want to do is mix up a strong dark and strengthen all of the darks. This includes the tree trunks and branches as well as the foliage. For the middle distance trees we do not use as strong a dark as the foreground trees.

Well at this point we have blocked in all of the main shapes with the right colours and values. You will know if you have this right because you should already be seeing some depth in the painting.

Next week we will finish off the painting with the refinement and finishing touches.

If you want to learn more about landscape painting then please take a look at our online courses Painting Landscapes – Level 1 and Painting Landscapes – Level 2.

Leave your comments and questions below and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.


How To Paint Waves

How To Paint Waves


In this video I show you how to paint waves so that they look like they are standing up and rolling over as they break.

This video is taken from our new TV Show “Yes You Can Paint”.

The full painting demonstration is available on DVD or as a member of the DVD Club.

Take advantage of our special offer – click here  <<< Limited time offer

Robert Hagan – Painting Demonstration

Video Description from YouTube

30 x 40 inch painting jammed into a 2:12 minute video! Backlight painting are a delight to do, says Robert. But they must be sneaked up on-like catching a monkey, otherwise they just get away from you. The secret in painting this type of painting is patience. Its working from the middle tones up and then down, then up and down again a few more tones, until the full range of tones from light to dark is covered. When they are done with care and flair they can be stunning. The fall colors against the soft blue back hills and steel blue trees gives this painting a vibrancy and lift to excite the subject. With dots and dashes of light green, purple and yellow its a cacophony of small but intriguing strokes. The result is a painting that jumps off the wall under light. My Web Site: www.roberthagan.com My Blog: www.blog.roberthagan My Travel Show: www.splashofcolor.tv My Painiting Show: www.letsgopainting.com