Painting an Autumn Landscape

Here’s one fresh off the easel: New Zealand, Autumn Colors (see below). This depicts Arrowtown in the South Island of New Zealand, about a 10-minute drive from Queenstown. Chontele and I spent our honeymoon there back in April. This will be the first in a series of paintings based on that trip. I’ll walk you through how I painted it.

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024
Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024

(I also published a timelapse video of this painting here.)

Painting the Landscape (Free Workshop)

I’ll walk you through the entire process using one of my recent paintings. You’ll see how I go from idea all the way through to reflecting on the finished painting.

Reference

Here’s the reference photo I painted from:

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Reference Photo
Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Reference Photo

You can also download a high-resolution version of the photo here. Feel free to paint it yourself. Just let me know how you go!

Supplies

Here’s what I used:

  • Rosemary and Co brushes. A few flats, filberts, and a small round brush for detailing.
  • A few palette knives for mixing colors and making strokes.
  • Ampersand Gessobord, 12 by 16 inches.
  • Oil paints in ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, cadmium red, permanent alizarin crimson, magenta, cadmium yellow, cadmium yellow deep, cadmium yellow light, viridian green, cadmium green, transparent brown oxide, raw umber, and titanium white.

Refer to my supplies list for more details.

Step 1: Blank Surface

Every painting starts with a blank surface. Before I make the first strokes, I visualize the painting process, the possible challenges, and what I want the finished painting to look like. This is important stuff! It can be the difference between painting with a sense of purpose and fumbling your way through.

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (1)

Step 2: Stain and Basic Sketch

I stain the surface with transparent brown oxide. I use a large flat brush to apply to the paint, then I wipe away excess paint with a paper towel. This provides a strong foundation to paint on and makes it easier for me to judge my colors.

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (2)
Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (3)

Step 3: Work on the Foreground With Multicolored Strokes and Broken Color

I start with the foreground, for no other reason than it seems like an easy entry point and a way to build up momentum. I use multicolored strokes and broken color. This is an efficient way to paint the vast amount of information in this area—all the leaves, twigs, rocks, insects, highlights, shadows, and so on. If I were to try and paint this area detail by detail, it would take forever and the outcome would probably appear tight and plastic.

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (4)
Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (5)

Step 4: Block In the Trees and Path (Plus Introduce the Palette Knife)

I block in the basic shapes and colors of the trees and the path. I’m fairly restrained with my colors. I can add a few more colorful accents later in the painting. All I want to do for now is build a good foundation.

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (6)
Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (7)

The palette knife can be an effective tool for busy landscapes like this. I use it here to quickly apply color to the surface without building up too much paint.

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (8)

Step 5: The Crisp Blue Sky

The blue sky plays an important role. It acts as a point of contrast for all the warm colors of the landscape and adds a sense of depth and space.

For the color, I use cobalt blue and titanium white. Cobalt blue is perfect for this. Look how it sings in the progress shots below. The other blue on my palette, ultramarine blue, is a touch too warm and dark for this role. It just wouldn’t look the same. (On a separate note, I always find it interesting how small decisions like what blue you use for the sky can have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the painting. It makes you realize just how complex and dynamic painting is.)

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (9)
Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (10)

Step 6: Add Lighter Colors to the Trees and Path

I add a few lighter colors to the landscape. This gives the painting more variance and depth. It transforms the flat color shapes into trees and plants. But I’m careful not to go too light with these colors. If I overstep and go too light, it can be tricky to bring the colors back down in value. By slowly introducing lighter and lighter colors, I can avoid overstepping. As John Singer Sargent once said:

“You must classify the values. If you begin with the middle-tone and work up towards the darks – so that you deal last with your highest lights and darkest darks — you avoid false accents. That’s what Carolus taught me. And Franz Hals. It’s hard to find anyone who knew more about oil-painting than Franz Hals. That was his procedure. Of course, a sketch is different. You don’t mind false accents there. But once you have made them in something which you wish to carry far, in order to correct them you have to deal with both sides of them and get into a lot of trouble. So that’s the best method for anything you wish to carry far in oil paint.”

Wilson, K. (n.d.). John Singer Sargent’s painting techniques. Keene Wilson. Retrieved June 17, 2024, from https://www.keenewilson.com/page/2947/john-singer-sargents-painting-techniques
Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (14)

Step 7: Clean Up With a Brush

The strokes created by the palette knife can be a bit brash, so I use a brush to clean things up a bit. You can also create some interesting marks by weaving together palette knife and brush strokes like this. They complement each other nicely.

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (15)

Step 8: Add Dark Accents for Trees and Leaves

I paint in the dark accents that represent trees and leaves in shadow. These anchor the painting and provide contrast for the surrounding light colors. Without them, all the shapes and colors would melt together and it would be difficult to make out what’s going on.

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (16)

Step 9: Add the “White” Bark

I paint in the dead bark on the trees. It looks white but it’s really a light, cool gray. Pure titanium white would look out of place in the context of the painting—an easy mistake to make here. I’m rough in my approach. This is to play into the idea of dead, weathered bark. This also fits in with the impressionistic style of the painting.

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (18)

Step 10: A Bit More of Everything

I spend some time doing just a bit more of everything. I add more lights, more shadows, more colorful accents, and more intricate details. I’m basically trying to increase the complexity and sophistication of the painting.

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (19)

Step 11: Refine and Detail

The rest of the painting is about refining and detailing what’s already on the surface. This is quite a dynamic process. I work my way around the painting, tinkering and adjusting until it all works together. I’ll run you through a few of the key moments.

Scumbling highlights over the top, wet on dry:

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (23)

Making the sky more prominent and crisp with a palette knife:

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (24)
Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (25)

Using the edge of the palette knife to paint thin, dark lines for tree branches:

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (26)
Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (26)

Using a small round brush to reiterate the dark accents:

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (34)
Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (35)

More flickering highlights:

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (42)

Add a touch of cobalt turquoise light to the foreground (no logical reason; it just felt like the right thing to do):

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (43)
Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (44)

Step 12: Sign the Finished Painting

I sign the painting in the bottom right-hand corner using magenta and a small round brush. The thick, impasto texture on the surface makes it difficult to make clean strokes. I keep my hand relaxed and load the brush with enough paint.

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024, Progress Shot (46)

It’s hard to make out the signature due to dark on dark. Here’s a close-up:

New Zealand, Autumn Colors, Signature, 700W

Overall Thoughts

It was a challenging subject, but I’m pleased with how it turned out. The colors have a nice “pop” to them, it reads clearly, and it still has a freshness about it. There’s always room for improvement of course! I could have been more efficient in my approach and done a better job with the play between light and shadow on the path.

Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024
Dan Scott, New Zealand, Autumn Colors, 2024

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Happy painting!

Signature Draw Paint Academy

Dan Scott

11 Shares

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.


Enjoyed this post? Join over 123,000 artists who subscribe to the Draw Paint Academy newsletter.

Hidden
Hidden
Hidden
Hidden
Hidden
Hidden

41 comments on “Painting an Autumn Landscape”

  1. Dan,

    I have to tell you – this may be my most favorite thing that you have posted to date. The painting is wonderful. It made me linger on it to absorb all that is in it – the texture, the light, the shadow, the colors, the wandering path. Great job and so well done.

    -Gina

    Reply
    • Dan,

      I agree with Gina, this may be your best and my favorite.

      Frank
      (hopefully retiring in next couple months and taking your courses and really getting into this painting thing !!)

      Reply
    • Dan,
      What can I say? Gina said it best:) This is truly a gem!! 👏 Kudos!!

      Thank you so much for sharing your process!! It’s very inspiring and helpful.

      Reply
  2. Hi dear Dan,
    Artists are all different when they approach a canvas. If I were painting your reference photo I would have started by the sky and autumn leaves, coming upwards to downwards, then the way and the foreground. Onlyu at the end I would have painted the trunks of the trees from bottom to upwards and would have made the small branches in between the leaves. Your work is excellent . I’m not to compare to you. My friendliest regards, Isaura.

    Reply
  3. I’ve been oil painting with a one on one 94 year young instructor. I love it & always feel I could never paint without him by my side!
    Your paintings inspire me!
    Simple stated brilliant!
    Love your detailed instructions!
    Happy painting
    Kay🎨

    Reply
  4. The attraction of your painting style is evidenced here, it is the vibrancy of individual colours singing together whilst not overly blending so they become mud colours, beautifully handled.

    Reply
  5. Dan, this is my favorite painting. I have been following you for years and have appreciate your work but this one is a step above. Although it is created with your typical staccato brush work, in this painting your use of value compartmentalization makes the brush work secondary to the planes in your work. I find the scene inviting and serene.
    Thank you for posting and all that you do. Susan

    Reply
  6. Although I am in to watercolor, I like this one. Makes me feel as if I’m walking through the woods. You definitely accomplished your goal on this one!

    Reply
  7. Dan, this is so helpful! Seeing the difference between the reference photo and the painting, I now realize the importance of not trying to exactly duplicate a photo. The painting is so much more visually interesting. I also like your point about doing the mid tones, then adding the darks and lights. After struggling with going from darks to lights, I see the sense of starting with mid tones. Thanks so much for your help!

    Reply
  8. I like what you did there, those pure colors in the fallen leaves in the foreground might have looked out of place if not for the bright blue of the sky. Also I appreciate what you said about trying to paint every leaf and twig etc, I did that once

    Reply
  9. Your painting is much more warm and colorful than the photo. How you had the vision at the beginning of the painting is amazing. The various colors in. the path were wonderful. This painting may be my favorite of your work.

    Reply
  10. Hei Dan.
    Det er virkelig lærerikt og flott å få dne e poster om å male. Jeg har selv malt i 60 år,men aldri utlært på teknikker. Står i stampe mange ganger. Å lære blir man aldri ferdig med.
    Men du gir tydelige og ærlige signaler med dine egne motiv. jeg setter pris på det du skriver som er minst like viktig. Ja kanskje mer enn det. Igjen tusen takk.
    PS. Dette referanse bilde vil jeg prøve meg på.men først til innkjøp med farger til skriveren min.
    beste hilsen Inger Karin Sivertsen.

    Reply
  11. I like your process. Love the texture build up. Love the vibrant colors.
    I should get a lot looser with my technic.

    Reply
  12. You know for someone who is self-taught you are pretty damn good. You must enjoy hearing the sound of your own voice because you paid attention. (Little funny there.)

    Seriously, everything I have seen gives me hope that I can try harder and certainly develop a style like you have. You give me hope.

    Thank you for supplying us with your gifts.

    Kathy Fraser

    Reply
  13. I especially like the way you handled the leaves in the foreground. They make both an inviting entrance to the path and a buffer to keep your eye from wanting to leave that way.

    Reply
  14. Enjoyed the process, how you started with the transparent brown oxide stain and ended with your signature hidden in the leaves. I usually start with a toned canvas like gessoed yellow ochre or colored tint. Do you think staining is better for covering the white canvas? Thanks-Liz from Blue Hawaii

    Reply
  15. This time I paid attention to the steps which you take in putting the painting together.
    When I would begin a landscape painting, I would begin with the sky. I noticed in your painting you began with the foreground. Painting the foreground first presents a new idea for me.
    I also noticed that as you progress along with moving from bottom to top of the painting, you add spots that need to be returned to later with more detail.
    Very interesting!!!

    Reply
  16. Hi Dan,

    Very interesting approach. I enjoyed it! Thanks for sharing & your finished pain is lovely.

    Cheers,
    Connie Weber

    Reply
  17. Thank you! It is an interesting technique in painting a landscape. I’m a self taught artist who starts painting the sky first. The use of staining the canvas with a brown was interesting. Would staining the lower part of the board only have the same results? I like the use of the various colours on the path.
    I’ll experiment using your technique and colours ,hopefully I can get similar results.

    Reply
  18. Beautifully done Dan. Love it! I’m originally a Kiwi, now an Aussie, and many years ago I too visited Arrowtown in April. It was a truly beautiful spot, especially that time of year. You’ve really captured the Arrowtown I remember. I’ve followed your posts, and joined many of your courses for a while now, and find them all helpful in my journey back into painting.
    I especially love this one, and not just because it brings back memories!
    Thank you Dan.
    Suzanne.

    Reply
  19. This is so fun. I am new to the group and new to finding I can paint. Many years ago I started out using oils as my medium then lifes responsibilities made me put my brushes down. After my husband passed I needed a new focus and was encouraged to try painting again. I chose acrylics this time. I am loving it. Your picture, the history of it, the progression of your developing the picture are awesome. You are truly an inspiration for me. You take away the mystery and replace it with confidence. Thank you.

    Reply
  20. I really enjoyed following how you painted and described while doing this painting. It is a great Fall picture, and as some one further up the Comment line said, “it is warmer than the photo” that you used to paint. Thank you, I truly enjoyed it and learned quite a bit.

    Reply
  21. A beautiful painting of a day just like today. Cobalt skies and falling leaves. My favourite “Dan” painting.

    Reply
  22. ¡Me encanta el cuadro! Soy una admiradora suya y hace tiempo que le sigo, solo siento que como no se inglés no puedo apuntarme a sus cursos. Gracias por su dedicación.

    Reply
  23. Hi Dan,
    This painting is wonderful – the gorgeous Southland autumn leaves, wonderful pinks and purples in the path and the blue sky popping beside the yellow trees.
    Thanku for sharing your process too.
    Cheers Liz

    Reply
  24. Wow! This one is so 3D, especially the path. You feel like you could step down it. Love this one. I sometimes doubt that paintings should take so long to paint, but when you show us the closeup of the complicated colors in the path, I see the long process pays off.

    Reply
  25. Dan, thank you for sharing your process. This has been such a wonderful learning experience for me.
    Also, very grateful for all the resources, other demos you have presented.

    Reply

Leave a Comment