Welcome to lesson 1 of the Painting the Landscape workshop. Glad to have you on board!
Before I get into it, I’ll recap what to expect from this workshop.
The idea of this workshop is to give you practical insight into the landscape painting process. I’ll walk you through the creation of my most recent painting, from idea all the way through to reflecting on the finished work.
There will be 4 lessons covering the different phases. I’ll notify you by email when a new lesson is ready.
Lesson 1 (today) will cover the idea.
Lesson 2 will cover planning and strategy.
Lesson 3 will cover painting and technique.
Lesson 4 will cover self-reflection.
Whilst I’ll be using my work as an example, keep in mind there are many ways to go about painting. What works for me might not work for you, so don’t feel you need to copy what I do.
If you want to invite any friends to the workshop, just copy and paste the following link:
Ok, here’s lesson 1.
Every painting starts with an idea.
The stronger the idea, the stronger the potential for your painting. The idea doesn’t need to be complex. It might be as simple as an interesting display of light and shadow. But it needs to be strong enough to compel you to paint it.
Most of my ideas are stored in the form of reference photos. I explore the world looking for interesting displays of light, color, shape, emotion, or story that I would like to capture in a painting. Photos allow me to store these ideas so I can paint them back in the studio.
I’m primarily a studio painter. I do paint on location from time to time, but I find the comforts of my studio allow me to get into the “zone” easier. In this workshop, I’ll be painting from a reference photo. For those of you who prefer to paint from life, you’ll still be able to apply the information from this workshop, but your process will need to be more impulsive. I might also do a separate workshop where I paint from life if that interests enough people.
When I want to start a new painting, the first thing I typically do is look through the photos on my phone. This is my inspiration hub and where many years’ worth of ideas are stored. I also have a favorites album with photos I have starred as having potential.
If nothing catches my eye, then I must go exploring to get more photos. (I won’t go into the details of exploring the world and taking reference photos in this workshop. I’ll cover that another time.)
I look for photos that are backed by a strong idea and through which I can see a finished painting. If I don’t see a finished painting at the end of the line, I don’t paint it. Simple as that. You should be able to envision yourself painting the subject. The painting rarely turns out as planned, but that doesn’t matter. It’s more about having the vision, energy, and motivation to start and see the painting through to the end.
I don’t care if the photo isn’t “good” by photography standards. I’m not going to be judged on the photo, only on the painting.
The photo’s core purpose is to provide me with a rough guide and, most importantly, to remind me of my first impressions of the subject. Those first impressions are gold and should form the foundation of an artwork.
I prefer using recent photos, whilst my memory of the subject, place, or event is still fresh. As time passes, my memory fades and I’m forced to rely more on the photo. This typically leads to a painting that’s less inspired and creative and more of a reproduction of the photo.
Remember, the photos represent ideas, and it’s the ideas I want to base my paintings on. The photos are flawed by nature: they don’t capture how I see and experience the world. A photo cannot capture the wind, rain, movement, feelings, what happened before and after taking the photo, or what’s happening outside the photo. It’s just a snapshot from that point in time. As artists, our job is to capture all this other stuff. That’s what makes our work unique.
Having looked through my recent photos, I narrowed down on these two:
These were taken at Maleny, Queensland. Chontele, Elora, Kobe, and I were there on a family holiday back in October 2022. It was an overcast day and we were exploring the surroundings (trying to get Elora to nap). The landscape shimmered with these tiny blue flowers which reminded me of the bluebonnets in Julian Onderdonk’s paintings. The photos don’t do them justice. I remember them being richer and more brilliant in person.
I decided to paint the latter photo. The composition seems stronger and more coherent.
The flowers will be the big idea of my painting. Both the tiny blue flowers on the ground and the white and purple flowers on the feature plant.
Some other strong aspects of the photo are:
- The feature plant provides a clear focal point to build the painting around.
- My eyes are taken on an interesting journey with all the curves and slanted lines.
- There’s a sense of depth and space, with a distinct foreground, middle-ground, and background.
- There’s an interesting play between positive space (the trees) and negative space (the sky).
- The feature plant pushes up and overlaps the middle ground. This creates a sense of cohesion between the different areas in space.
- There are many opportunities for interesting displays of brushwork and color, particularly with the grass, flowers, and plants around the bottom.
Most importantly, I can see a finished painting at the end of the line.
The photo isn’t perfect. I can see aspects that I’ll change in the painting. For example, I don’t like how the bottom appears awkwardly cropped. And I’m unsure about the single fence post on the right-hand side. But these are minor things.
Now that I have a photo to paint from, it’s time for the planning and strategy phase. That will be the topic of the next workshop lesson.
For those of you who want to paint along with me, do the following:
- Download the high-resolution version of the reference photo.
- Print the photo or move it to your tablet or whatever device you use to view reference photos whilst you paint.
We will dissect the photo in the next lesson.
If this workshop goes well, I’ll get you to paint from your own reference photos in future workshops. But for now, I’ll keep it simple and get you to paint from mine.
This exercise is only optional. Feel free to sit back and enjoy the lessons if you prefer.
I’ll see you in the next lesson!
Draw Paint Academy