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