On the Easel: American Landscape

Here’s another painting based on one of my brother’s photos from his hike across America. It’s a showcase of nature’s light, color, and texture.

Dan Scott, American Landscape, 2020
Dan Scott, American Landscape, 2020

Reference Photo and Study

Here’s the reference photo I painted from (thanks again Tim). Feel free to paint it yourself. Tim doesn’t mind. Just let us know how it turns out.

American Landscape, Reference Photo

I also painted this color study in preparation:

Dan Scott, American Landscape, 2020, Study, 1200W


  • Oil on Ampersand Gessoboard. 18 x 24 inches.
  • Main colors: Ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow, cadmium orange, viridian green, and titanium white.

Refer to my supplies list for more details on what I use.


  • The foreground is a key feature of the painting. It’s filled with color, texture, and contrast. This area is all about the illusion of detail. I wanted to capture the countless leaves, rocks, twigs, branches, insects, shadows, and highlights without actually painting all these things. To emphasize the foreground, I simplified the rest of the painting to some extent.
Dan Scott, American Landscape, 2020, Detail 1
  • I painted a few dabs of vivid red in the foreground to represent flowers (see the photo below). These aren’t in the reference photo. I exercised my creative license to depart from the reference.

Tip: Don’t feel bound to the subject. As the artist, you can exaggerate, hide, or create whatever details you want. But do so with care and reason.

Dan Scott, American Landscape, 2020, Detail 2
  • The palette knife played an important role in this painting. I used it to scrape away paint, build up texture, and paint the crisp sky.

Tip: The palette knife is perfect for painting clean strokes of color. You don’t need to worry about the colors mixing, as they do with a brush. In this case, I needed the sky to be a bright and clean blue. The palette knife allowed me to use thick and clean paint for this.

  • There’s an overarching theme of thin, ambiguous shadows and thick, luscious lights.
  • I started fast and finished slow.
  • For the first half of the painting process, the colors looked off. It wasn’t until I painted the darks and the sky that everything came together. That’s one of the challenges of painting: there will be times when your painting looks wrong even though you are on the right track. You will need to trust your judgment and ignore the warning signals going off in your head.
  • The painting depicts a clear day, so the edges are relatively hard. Compare this to soft edges in my New Zealand, Foggy Mountains painting.

Progress Shots

Step 1: A simple sketch, focusing on key lines and shapes.

American Landscape (1)

Step 2: Block in the dark trees and the foreground. I also spent a fair amount of time on the tree trunk at the bottom. I wasn’t sure if I would include this feature. I skipped it in the color study, but I figured it could be a key feature if painted well.

American Landscape (2)

Step 3: Block in the middle-ground, mountains, and sky.

American Landscape (3)

Step 4: Add stronger colors, particularly for the darks and highlights.

American Landscape (5)

Step 5. Finishing touches, sign, and photograph the painting.

Dan Scott, American Landscape, 2020, 700W
Dan Scott, American Landscape, 2020

Additional Resources

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I appreciate it! Feel free to share with friends. If you want more painting tips, check out my Painting Academy course.

Happy painting!

Dan Scott

Draw Paint Academy


Dan Scott is the founder of Draw Paint Academy. He's a self-taught artist from Australia with a particular interest in landscape painting. Draw Paint Academy is run by Dan and his wife, Chontele, with the aim of helping you get the most out of the art life. You can read more on the About page.

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