When a new painter starts thinking about landscapes, the first thing they probably think of is Bob Ross, whose pleasant meadows and valleys, along with his infectious personality, engendered a serene atmosphere and a general sense of calm and happiness. You may be surprised to learn that, in the military, Ross was actually a drill sergeant, and had such a distaste for shouting at his cadets that he vowed to work in a field where he would never have to yell at anyone ever again. That sense of keeping an inner calm even in the face of chaos drove Ross’s work, and it lies at the heart of many landscape artists.
Of course, there are also those who pursue fantasy landscapes, stormy skies and dramatic western vistas. Whatever drives you to create your own landscape paintings, here are a few tips that will help you on your way:
Remember: It’s Not a Photograph
One of the things that trips beginning painters up is trying to recreate every last little detail of an image. What you’re really going for is to give the viewer the idea of the landscape, the feeling of the landscape. Claude Monet is widely regarded as one of the finest landscape painters, and his pieces are rarely very intricate, rather, they capture a feeling of summer or a flowery garden or a beach setting. If you want to create photo-perfect pictures of landscapes, skip the painting and buy a really good camera. Otherwise, don’t worry about painting every single bush on that hillside, don’t worry about drawing every single pebble in the foreground, just create the right feeling and let the viewer’s brain fill in the rest.
Learn Your Way Around Green
Studies have shown that people are better at identifying colors when they give those colors a name. In other words, if you don’t know that there’s such a thing as eggshell, then you don’t even see eggshell, your brain tells you it’s just normal old white. Studying all the shades of green, then, gives you a language to work with when creating landscapes.
Check out some swatches and try doing some practice pieces with nothing but contrasting greens, because you’re going to be using a lot of them in landscapes. Whether you’re painting the beach or a forest or even a desert, there’s going to be at least a little green in there, and more often than not you’re going to be laying green on top of green. So stock up on a variety of green paints (you don’t need to mix it from primary colors every single time) and experiment. If you can tell the difference between forest green, India green and fern green at a glance, then you’ll have a much easier time creating beautiful landscapes.
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Black and Yellow
Here’s a nice, easy cheat: mix black and yellow whenever you need a quick muted green or khaki shade. This will save you a lot of time mixing greens and wondering why you can’t get the color just right.
Painting live landscapes is a lot of fun, but don’t be afraid to take some photo reference throughout the process. There’s no telling where that cloud is going to be in an hour or how the sun is going to affect the colors of the hillside, so go ahead and use the actual landscape as your primary reference point, but keep your digital camera handy and print out a few shots to keep on the easel for easy reference so that you can produce a more consistent landscape.
Try Painting a Series
When you finish that beautiful sunrise that you’ve been laboring over, why not turn it into a series? You can recreate the same landscape in overcast conditions, in the afternoon, in the evening, under a thick blanket of snow, or when it’s a little foggy out. Whenever an interesting change takes place, you can head out again and recreate your landscape. This is not only a lot of fun, it’s very educational, helping you to learn exactly how the light affects the colors of grass, clouds, trees and everything in between.
Paint What You Like, But Be Adventurous
If all you really want to do all day is head down to the beach and paint fluffy white clouds hovering over oil tankers, then by all means, do just that, but don’t be afraid to experiment within that preference. Study the great naval painters like François Aimé Louis Dumoulin, try creating naval battles if that’s what fascinates you, get up close to the ships and paint them filling the entire frame, put closeups of curious seagulls in the foreground. Finding your own voice as a painter really only occurs after a degree of experimentation, so even if you find out what you like to paint right off the bat, don’t be afraid to play around and try to determine exactly how and why you like to paint what you like to paint.
The most important thing is really to enjoy yourself. The truth is that there aren’t that many “tortured artists” out there, and even the great surrealists like Salvador Dali had a lot of fun creating their bizarre landscapes, so if you’re not enjoying yourself creating landscapes of grassy valleys, then try creating landscapes of city streets, dense forests or riverbeds. Whatever interests you, whatever you like painting, paint it, and paint it however you please.