Some of the most typical landscape painting problems are so easy to avoid, as long as we’re aware of them. As a beginner painter, I was guilty of all of these. It took years and multiple teachers to really weed them out. So, I present them to you now in this easy-to-digest format. You’re welcome. 🙂
Problem 1: The horizon line is too sharp, and contrasts too much with the sky.
Solution: Blend it! If you’re painting in oils you can use a clean, soft brush – or your thumb! – and fuzz it into the sky. If you’re working in acrylic or water colour, you can focus on working wet into wet to keep the line soft. This will add greatly to the sense of depth and atmospheric perspective in your painting.
Problem 2: The tree branches are all parallel to each other. Or similarly, the rocks are all the same size. Or the clouds are all exactly the same. What we’re talking about is unnatural patterns, not found in nature (or, found in nature one day but looking unnatural on your canvas!).
Solution: Really pay attention to your brush strokes and make sure you’re varying them as much as possible. Break up those tree branches and switch up the angles. No matter what the clouds actually look like on your painting day, make them interesting in your painting (similarly with rocks). Don’t let them echo each other.
Problem 3: The sky is all the same colour. Some days it appears that way in nature (especially on those blue, blue sunny days!), and it will more frequently appear that way if you’re working from a photograph. But in reality there is atmosphere between us and the sky, and it is shifting and moving and creating dazzling effects for us to enjoy.
Solution: Paint the sky in short, vertical strokes (in oil or acrylic). Vary the hue slightly between strokes – move between blue and blue/violet or blue/green or blue/grey. Warm the sky as you move from the top to the horizon: starting with ultramarine (plus white) as your base, move into cobalt or cerulean (plus white), and close to the horizon shift the sky into the green with a bit of lemon yellow or viridian.
Also note: the “sky holes” – or areas where the sky can be seen between tree branches – will be darker in value than the remaining sky. Think of all those leaves (or needles) blocking part of the light.
All of the above was in the back of my mind while I painted the “plein air” above (actually a demo in studio for my plein air students, available here). Do you see any areas where I could have improved the concepts above? What easy fixes would you add to the list?
‘Til we meet in the field!