Welcome to lesson 2 of the Painting the Landscape workshop.
In lesson 1, I chose a reference photo to paint. Now it’s time for the planning and strategy phase.
This phase will allow you to start the painting with direction, momentum, and a plan of attack. It will also make the painting process smoother, you’ll make fewer mistakes, and the outcome will be better.
What this phase looks like in practice will vary from painting to painting. It might be a brief visualization and brainstorm before you pick up a brush. Or it might be something more concrete and detailed. It depends on the complexity of the painting relative to your skill level.
A word of warning: Don’t get stuck in this phase. Planning and strategy are important, but they shouldn’t get in the way of action. If you find yourself stuck, just start painting and see how it goes.
Here’s the reference photo I chose to paint in lesson 1:
Adjust the Dimensions if Necessary
The first thing I do is adjust the dimensions of the photo to make the composition more appealing. By cropping certain parts, I can reposition the focal point, alter the sense of balance and space, or exclude parts that don’t add anything to the composition.
In this case, no adjustments are needed. The photo is fine as it is.
Tip: When you take reference photos, you should do so with the composition and painting in mind. The less editing you need to do before painting, the better.
Let’s take a look at the photo in grayscale using my grid and grayscale tool. This gives us a clear look at the value structure (how light or dark the colors are).
I’m interested in relationships rather than individual values. That is, how light or dark is one color in relation to the surrounding colors. Or how light is the sky compared to the trees? Or how dark are the shadows compared to the mid-tones?
The grayscale tells me a few things about the subject:
- The grass forms a compressed value range (the colors are similar in lightness). When painting the grass, I’ll need to vary the hue and saturation of my colors whilst keeping the value fairly consistent;
- The feature plant has both the lightest lights and darkest darks in close proximity. This is a high-contrast area, which is suitable given its role as the focal point.
- The sky is much lighter than the trees.
- There’s a slight value gradation in the grass. Notice how it gets darker in the bottom-left corner and as the land slopes up before hitting the distant trees; and
- There’s a lot of “noise” in the foreground, with light and dark colors tightly woven together.
For complex subjects, I might apply a three-by-three grid to the reference photo and my painting surface to assist with my drawing. I go into more detail on that in this post.
As this subject is relatively straightforward, a grid won’t be necessary. But I’ll show you what it looks like for the purpose of this lesson.
Overall Strategy, Challenges, and Opportunities
Before I pick up a brush, I look at the photo and try to visualize the painting process. What path will I take? What challenges will I encounter? What opportunities will there be to demonstrate my skills? Will the planned strategy work? What techniques will I use? Can I visualize all the way through to the finished painting?
I don’t follow templates or predetermined strategies. I have preferences, but I start every painting fresh and come up with a strategy tailored to the subject.
For this painting, I’ll focus most of my attention on color and brushwork. Drawing and perspective won’t be as important. Landscapes tend to be more forgiving and less of a feature in these areas.
The main challenges will be (1) Capturing the brilliance of the colors as they were in person, particularly the tiny blue flowers scattered around the ground; and (2) Getting the colors right for the white flowers (white objects are always tricky).
The main opportunities will be the interesting use of color and brushwork, particularly around the grass, flowers, and plants at the bottom.
I’ll use broken color and impasto brushwork to capture the vast detail in an interesting and efficient manner.
I think a larger painting would suit this subject, so I’ll paint on 18 by 24 inch Ampersand gessoboard.
I’ll do as much of the painting as I can wet on wet, then I’ll finish wet on dry. Ideally, I would paint entirely wet on wet in a single session, but larger paintings like this need more time.
Do I Need Any Special Supplies or Equipment?
I use roughly the same supplies and equipment for every painting. Below are my staples:
- Titanium white;
- Raw umber;
- Ultramarine blue;
- Cobalt blue;
- Viridian green;
- Permanent magenta;
- Cadmium red (though I’m thinking of replacing this with another red; I don’t find myself using cadmium red that often);
- Cadmium yellow;
- Cadmium yellow light;
- Odorless solvent;
- Tablet (for viewing the reference photo);
- Canvas or Ampersand gessoboard;
- H-frame easel;
- Glass palette;
- Rosemary and Co round, flat, and filbert brushes of various sizes;
- Palette knives; and
- Paper towel.
You can find more specific details on my supplies page.
Sometimes the subject requires the use of special supplies or equipment. This may be out of convenience or necessity.
For example, I often add naples yellow to my palette for painting ambient sunrises or sunsets (inspired by Joseph Turner who was particularly fond of that color). I add this for convenience. I could mix naples yellow using my usual palette, but having it there on my palette saves me considerable time and energy.
Or perhaps I need a vivid orange. I could mix cadmium yellow with cadmium red for this, but it won’t be the same brilliance as cadmium orange from the tube.
For this painting, there are two colors that I might struggle mixing with my usual palette: the vibrant, cool greens and the purple flowers. Adding manganese blue to my palette will help with both these colors. Mixing it with cadmium yellow light will produce a brilliant green and mixing it with magenta will produce a brilliant purple that I can tone down as necessary.
No other special supplies or equipment will be needed for this painting.
Tip: It’s important to have some kind of consistency with your paints and brushes. This will allow you to build familiarity and proficiency with them. Choose versatile colors and brushes and be selective. You don’t need every color or every type of brush to get the job done. Less is more here.
Look at the reference photo and come up with a strategy for painting it.
Consider the potential challenges, opportunities, your strengths, preferences, and your chosen medium. Keep in mind, your strategy will likely be different from mine, as what works for me might not work for you.
You can use the comment section below to share your answer. (Don’t worry, this is a judgment-free zone.)
This exercise is only optional. Feel free to sit back and enjoy the lessons if you prefer.
That’s it for today! The next lesson will be about painting and technique.
Draw Paint Academy
PS. If you want to invite any friends to the workshop, just copy and paste the following link: