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October 2007

How to Paint a Landscape

The above painting has all the elements you would find in most landscapes. There's the sky, some vegetation, a few people meandering about and some buildings.

The pallet consists primarily of seven colors:

Alizarin Crimson
French Ultramarine
Cadmium Orange
Viridian Hue
Titanium White
Ivory Black
Payne's Gray

Basically red, blue, green and orange diluted with black and white. For little details in the figures I also used a little Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber and Raw Sienna.

For a medium I prefer Liquin. It dries very fast, within hours, and has all the positive qualities of Linseed Oil.

Working from a photograph I took in Paris of the Arc de Triomphe du Carousel I map out the painting with Alizarin Crimson (AC), French Ultramarine (FU) and Payne's Gray. Payne's Gray (PG) is a marvelous color. Great for the figure and in this case clouds.

The first step is to get a very smooth fade from a mixture of French Ultramarine and Titanium White (TW) to pure TW where the sky meets the landscape. I use a big bristol brush right out of the package. I want a fresh soft brush to get the flawless shading. Most skies will begin this way. Get a lot of paint down and just keep stroking pack and forth horizontally until it's super smooth. Liquin dries slow enough that this is possible. It may take up to an hour to get it absolutely perfect. If you're going to come in later with clouds you can get away with a few flaws.

I study the photo of the clouds very carefully. It's important to get the logic of the light and what's in front of what. All cloud formations are different but a shadow where light should be or vise versa will appear awkward to the viewer.

After the first layer dries I want to get out a pencil and draw my architecture. If this was a landscape without buildings I would skip this step.

Measure carefully!

Just by eyeballing it my Arc was too tall and skinny. But with a pencil and a ruler I can get everything right.

If you spend a couple of hours working out the details with a pencil you'll love yourself later. The composition has already been established with the first layer. You want to do that from the heart, but never forget the Golden Mean. If you do a thorough job with the pencil at this stage you shouldn't have to worry about any details or edges for the rest of the painting.

Next I work out the finishing touches on the sky. Just a little detail on the edges of the clouds and some PG in their center to smooth out any unwanted clumsy looking areas. It's too late to do anything with the smooth blue in the background. Any change there will stand out and look awkward.

Also, now that the background is dry I can come in with the Cadmium Orange (CO) of the sunset without worrying about it getting diluted with the other colors.

Now I apply my first shadows. The same colors as the sky AC, FU, mixed with just a bit of Ivory Black (IB) on the right. On the left I use PG for the shadows over the CO. Payne's Gray is like magic. It mixes beautifully with almost anything. Van Dyke Brown is the same way but you have to commit to one or the other for a painting.

After the first shadows I come back in over the entire foreground with midtones.

The little details come last.

Because I've used liquin I can rest my hand on the dry parts of the canvas and because I've done such a detailed pencil drawing I know where all my edges are.

Note that the building in the background lacks detail and disappears a bit into the atmosphere. The bushes on the right get a glaze of Viridian Hue before spots of detail are added with the same color diluted with a tiny amount of TW and a much tinier amount of IB. Go away for a few days and come back with fresh eyes. fix anything that strikes you as odd. Remember, you're in no hurry.

Here's the finished painting. Click on it for a closer view.