Every Landscape Painting Is Better Outside
I have painted a lot of paintings, but the ones in plein air are my favorite. What always strikes me is the difference in the light in my paintings vs. painting from a photograph. A camera can only do so much, but your eyes can adjust to the light capturing it the way you see it. That aw-inspiring moment when I'm like grab the camera fast...is all too far lost in trying to edit the photo to make it look like how I saw it. If you want to paint great landscapes, go outside and enjoy them with your own eyes. Paint the scene as fast as you can and try to get the important parts that created your inspiration in the first place. Let me share with you how to do that and some more landscape painting tips.
#1 Keep Supplies Simple
If you have a lot to set up, you will miss the moment. An easy solution is to have an easel that holds everything you need to start painting. The easel I use has a drawer inside for all my paints and brushes. I use a special palette that keeps my paints wet always. My palette has a closing lid and sponge to keep my paints wet, so I can paint as soon as I open my palette. This saves the time it takes to put paints on my palette. It sets on top of my easel good and ready. Along with my easel is a gallon jug of water and paper towels. This is all I need! There is absolutely no need to have a ton of art supplies.
I list all the art supplies I use here and I paint plein air with acrylics. You can see what I use for acrylic paintings, but I don't use my different mixing mediums to keep it simple when painting plein air.
#2 Know Your Color Mixes
Landscapes are full of colors and you want to have an easy way to get your colors correct and fast! This is so easy to do when you have a color chart. This way the colors your seeing in nature can be matched (if you want) to the paint colors you use. Please watch the video tutorial on how to make a color chart and take it with you until you have color making down and don't need it anymore.
While your watching, please subscribe to my Youtube channel if you haven't already! Hit the thumbs up button if this helped you and leave me a comment and I'll comment back.
#3 Have Your Step By Step Method Down
Here is where you can find simple landscapes to paint. I have created many tutorials that share my step by step process on painting landscapes. You may want to change things up as you paint more, but having the basic steps down will make painting landscapes much quicker with great results.
My steps follow a layering pattern, not always the same, but most of the time.
#1 Paint Sky
#2 Paint the composition, usually an outline with paint.
#3 Paint Main colors. I do this by blocking in shapes
#4 Add colors and details from the background to the foreground.
#5 Step back and make changes as you see needed.
As a rule that can be broken, the foreground usually has the most detail and contrast. Break that rule when you want the focal point (point of interest) to be noticed first in your painting. Watch these, step by step, tutorials on how to paint landscapes and paint along if you wish. The more you paint the better you get!
Watching these tutorials will help you get my painting system down so you know where to start and what steps to take in the middle to get to a finished painting. Once you understand what is required to get the painting down on canvas you can work more quickly.
#4 Know Your Value Distribution
Value is the difference between dark and light. When you look outside at this very moment, can you see where the darkest object is? Where is the lightest object? When painting a landscape you want to find those areas, as they are key to creating your composition correctly. It is the play between dark and lights that makes our painting look correct or amiss. I can paint with different colors than the ones I see, as long as I get the value correct. This is the key thing I use to make my art unique to me, my play on colors. If you are wanting to paint more realistically than the colors and the values need to match what you see.
Not that it is always the case, but if you have ever seen a blah painting, it just may be that there isn't enough change between light and dark areas. Here just below is an example of a place that I wanted to paint that didn't have a great difference in values. You can see in the background that the darkest color is a light grey and if it wasn't for the lights I wouldn't have much of anything for a light value. Those lights weren't on when I was painting this. So I created the contrast by adding more in the sky, the sailboat, and darkening up the buildings. So in this case I didn't follow the values I saw to try to create a less blah painting.
#5 Follow the Light
The color of light effects the color of everything. Light makes colors warmer, while shadows make colors cooler. There are three primary colors red, yellow and blue. The colors between those have a lot to do with the original color of the object, but more to do with the light hitting them. When you see a red barn for example, that color where the light is hitting it will be a brighter red moving towards the the other primary color yellow. It won't go so far as being orange...but you may need to add yellow to create the color you are seeing. Now that same red barn where the shadows are hitting will move towards the blues, it may not go so far as being purple but you will need to add blue to the color to reach it. This is why I can simply use my primary colors, with black and white to reach any color I wish.
#6 Learn How Colors Play with Each Other
The friends you play with, change you. So choose good friends. That's not actually the lesson with painting, but it's a good one that can be carried over into painting. Colors next to each other, change each other. Complimentary colors for example, make colors stand out. Colors that are similar, mute each other. Grey can be the equalizer when they are fighting for attention. Black is always so dramatic! White always softens the situation and adds the much needed light when things get dark and dreary. I can go on but I think you get the point that colors are so fun and bring their own personality into a painting. You may put two colors together and one of them throws the other off, for example putting brown next to blue can make your brown look more orange than you want it. When this happens, remember what color friends do. Look at the color chart below to help you learn more about colors, and play with colors to get to know them.
#7 Challenge Your Perspective
Getting the perspective right in a painting is fun and challenging. Atmospheric perspective is the space between you and the furthest thing you see. The greater the distance the more atmosphere between you and that object in the distance. This will change the colors and values you see as things get further or closer. It's really fun how this happens. So when you see those hazy mountains in the distance that look blue, but you know that they are full of green trees that you can see next to you, that's what I'm talking about! The further an object is away from you the grayer and lighter it gets. Once you understand this you just use your sky color and add a little grey to it for those mountains in the background and your done with that layer. As you get closer the colors are more pronounced and the differences in values are more drastic.
I like to teach each of these principles broken up into simple bite sized pieces. Below is my kids art lesson that teaches the value change in atmospheric perspective.
There is more to Perspective
There is much more to perspective. If you see lines in your landscape, look for that vanishing point or points. Vanishing point is the point in which the lines meet. So when painting buildings for example, look for where the lines in the buildings are headed. Make it the same in your painting and you will get the perspective or composition correct. If they don't match up, it will look weird. So challenge yourself in this way, to look for them and learn how to copy them in your paintings.
Since we are still talking about perspective. Look for different landscape perspectives. Like for example if you hiked up a huge mountain and can see this great enormous valley below that is aw inspiring, YES, paint that! That's a perspective. A perspective it just how you see things. Looking always from the same angle gets boring, so switch things up and help others to see something they have never seen from that perspective before or may never get to see.
There is a lot to perspective isn't there?
#8 Let's Get Back To Simple
Remember to keep the painting simple. You don't need to add every single detail. Nor do you have to even incorporate huge chunks of it. Keep what you like and leave out what you don't. Busy elements in your painting will become the focal point (the first thing your eye sees). So if you don't want it to be, simplify it. You can do this by adding less contrast in colors and values and make it less detailed. Remember that anything that isn't the focal point, or main thing you want the eye to see first is a detraction from it. You want everything to flow and emphasize that focal point.
To create a great flow for your eye to follow in your landscape paintings follow these simple tips.
1. Leave out any distracting tree branches, airplanes, electric poles, traffic signals, trash, cars, or even some roads can be distracting.
2. Leave out animals or people unless they are the focal point or near it.
3. Create leading lines that move towards the focal point and stay on the painting. A horizontal line for example leads the eye to the horizon. A river can lead to the sky. Leading lines tend to work better when started in the bottom corners of your painting and lead to the focal point. The leading lines don't have to be a long continuous line. It could be broken by gaps and layers in your painting.
4. Don't paint the same shapes and colors for the same objects. If you have ever scene a line of trees that all look the same, you know what I'm talking about.
#9 Welcome Variety
In nature God created (ya, I'm a believer) everything to be unique. Not one tree is the same. Not even every blade of grass (just don't paint every blade of grass). While something may be similar, nothing is exact. So when you paint, you want to add that variety into your landscape. Especially if you want to paint realistically, you must train your eyes to see differences as not flaws but beauty. There is an entire life lesson in humanity right here at my finger tips but I won't get preachy. The point is, variety is your friend and add that variety by varying your colors, shapes, and details. I most commonly see lack of variety in trees. Yes, the trees can all be green in the summer, but train your eye to see different subtle changes in the values or hues of green. Train your eye to notice the different shapes of the trees even if subtle. Notice how the trees changes as you get closer, further and change your angle. The variety is there and learning to paint it will bring life into your landscape painting.
#10 Learn by Painting
I have learned a lot just by painting. Every painting teaches me something. I never expected my art to be great when I was learning. I don't even expect to love every painting at this time. When my art turns out in my opinion, I'm always surprised. With these expectations, I give myself room to grow and have fun while doing it. Having the expectation to turn out a great landscape every time is unrealistic and leads to frustration. Put your heart into your work, but don't leave your heart with it. This will make it much easier to part with it, when it sells too. Jut be happy in the process of painting. Soak in the calm and natures beauty around you. Live in that moment and create that moment to enjoy later in your painting.
#11 Transfer Your Emotions Into Your Art
Art is a way to communicate what is inside you without using words. Why else paint? If your not sharing yourself in your work, you are doing it all wrong. Whoever sees your artwork should be getting to know you and if they can't figure out what your trying to communicate, explain it. Being mysterious to your audience is like running away when they are trying to talk to you. Make your art conversation, a story, an invitation to see how you see the world. By creating my artwork I share my love to travel, my love for nature, my need for calm, my love of colors and my love for teaching. My work of art will always be unique to me, because I am one of a kind. So share your unique qualities in your landscape paintings.
#12 The Most Important Tip
Keep learning. Don't ever give up or believe you're just not a good artist. Remember there is no end to growing as long as you keep trying. An artist is always evolving when they commit to a life of learning. Take advantage of the opportunities you have to grow around you with tutorials, workshops, lessons and books. What a great world we live in, where we can come together and learn from each other.
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