I recently went hiking at Mount Barney in Queensland and decided to paint one of the beautiful scenes of the mountain range. I will take you through this landscape painting tutorial from selecting the photo all the way through to signing.
Step 1 – Decide what you want to paint
First step in the painting process is deciding what you are actually going to paint.
For this landscape painting tutorial, I went with a scene featuring the stunningly blue Mount Barney in Queensland. I took a series of photos from my trip to this area and picked this one to paint based on the appeal of the composition.
In particular, I liked how there was not much to distract from the mountain, which I wanted to be a focal point in the painting. I also was interested by the sharp contrast created by the near shadows from the trees.
This is really just a perfect example of the Australian landscape.
Whilst this is a simple landscape scene to paint, there is still a difficult balance between adding enough variation to make the painting interesting but not too much to make it seem overworked and unnatural. Subtle variations in greens, yellows and blues are key in this painting.
Step 2 – Stain the canvas
I stained the canvas with a very diluted raw umber (paint plus lots of odorless solvent) and let this dry before continuing. If you are using acrylics, you can simply use water to dilute your paint.
This stain provides me with a solid base to paint on and gets rid of any glaring white canvas. The stained canvas also gives me the option of leaving certain areas of the canvas exposed in the finished painting, allowing the stained color to be slightly visible. This creates an interesting layering effect. In this situation, the burnt umber stain is a suitably earthy color to fill any gaps left in the grass areas.
Step 3 – Lay down a brief sketch
I roughly sketch the scene, picking up the horizon line, the mountain ranges and the dark shadows of the near tree.
I block in some of the dark areas, which will help me hit those very dark values later in the painting (although I will be painting over this sketch, it is much easier to hit those dark values if you are painting on an already dark surface, as your paint is often slightly transparent).
Step 4 – Start blocking in the general colors and shapes
Once I am happy with the sketch, I start developing the general color harmony of the painting.
As this is a simple scene to paint and there are large open areas of grass, you can see I use lots of broken strokes of color. As this builds up, it helps create variance and a more natural appearance.
For the brushes I am just using medium sized filberts and flats. Nothing fancy here.
The most important part of this stage is to get the general tones and values correct. The specific details are not important just yet (so no need to go grabbing your liner brush and start detailing individual grass strands).
Step 5 – Detailing
Here I pretty much just keep building up detail from the blocking in phase. This step involves lots of small adjustments until I am happy with where I am at.
Much of the detailing in this painting involved creating small areas of interest in the grass area. A touch of bright yellow here and some darker green there. My goal was to make it appear natural but not overworked.
I used more bright and saturated colors in the foreground to give the illusion of depth in the painting (more gray in the distance and more color in the foreground).
Also notice how I start adding small dabs of bright color to the shaded area in the foreground. This is to indicate light shooting through gaps in the trees.
Now I got to this stage and decided to make a very risky adjustment. I thought the sky and mountain range were not dark or saturated enough. I had basically added too much white and not enough blue. The mountain range was also slightly too green.
The painting was not completely dry but certainly not wet either. I decided to try an oil painting technique known as oiling out to bring that wetness back to the canvas. This involved taking a very small amount of linseed oil and gently dabbing it across the areas I wanted to rework. I then took a rag (which does not leave any stray fibers behind) and gently removed any excess oil.
This reinvigorates the canvas for me to paint on. I then carefully add a slightly darker blue in the sky. After all, it was the rich blue sky and mountain range which drew me to paint this scene in the first place.
Step 6 - Finishing up with a signature
Deciding when to call a painting finished is a challenging task no matter your skill level.
"It often takes two to do a good painting - one to paint it, and another to rap the painter smartly with a hammer before he or she can ruin it." Richard Schmid
I mark my painting complete with my signature.
As a general comment, sometimes towards the end of a painting I will notice mistakes or things I may have changed if I picked up earlier. However by the later stages of a painting I will often just leave them as is.
This is because the mistakes would be difficult to change in the later stages of a painting and also leaving them acts as a reminder of where I need to improve.
I do not lose any sleep over making mistakes. But I do like to be aware of them and learn from them. I try to only make the same mistake once.
You will notice the photo above has a slightly brighter appearance. This is because the progress shots were taken in my room which does not have the best lighting. The photo above is a more faithful representation of what the painting actually looks like.
What can you learn from this landscape painting tutorial?
- Larger paintings can be easier in the sense you can add more detail with larger brushes. If you generally only paint with small canvas sizes, try mix it up with some large scale paintings.
- Subtle changes in tone and value can create variance in an otherwise bland area on the canvas (for example, the vast area of grass).
- Sharp contrasts in value can be useful for creating points of interest in your painting (see the sharp contrast between the shadows in the bottom left of the canvas and the high key values of the rest of the painting).
- You need to be aware of what kind of light you are painting in. This was painted in warm indoor lighting as you can see from the progress photos. The final photo was taken in proper lighting and is much cooler by comparison.
I hope you enjoyed this landscape painting tutorial. Feel free to try and paint it yourself, however that was not the intention of this tutorial. Rather I just want to show you how I go about a painting and deal with problems I encounter.