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On the Easel: Sierra Nevada

Below is Sierra Nevada. It’s perhaps my favorite recent painting. Let’s take a look at how I painted it.

Dan Scott, Sierra Nevada, 2020
Dan Scott, Sierra Nevada, 2020

Reference Photo and Study

Below is the reference photo I painted from. It was taken by my brother from his hike through America. Given the recent lockdowns around the world, I have been exploring other sources of inspiration.

Dan Scott, Reference Photo, Sierra Nevada, 2020

I also painted the below color study in preparation for the main piece.

Dan Scott, Sierra Nevada, 2020, Study 2
Dan Scott, Sierra Nevada, 2020, Study 2

Details

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

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

Notes

  • I wanted the colors to appear clean, distinct, and bright. The palette knife was perfect for this.
  • I drew inspiration from Isaac Levitan.
  • A lot is going on in this scene. Simplification was important. I had to narrow down on the few details that really matter.
  • As with most landscapes, depth is an important aspect with the plants in the foreground, the land and water in the middle ground, and the mountains in the background. I needed to ensure these areas appear distinct whilst also appearing part of the whole.
  • If you look closely at the reference photo, you’ll see a cow hidden in the bushes on the right. I excluded the cow in the painting as it’s so subtle and would be tricky to paint. Little reward for effort.
  • Notice the texture in the foreground. This creates the illusion of detail and nature. It also suggests closeness and clarity.

Progress Shots

Step 1: A simple sketch focusing on key lines and shapes. I used more detail than usual as a lot is going on in this scene. The more complex the scene, the more care that is needed at the start of the painting.

Dan Scott, Sierra Nevada, 2020, 1

Step 2: Thin washes of bright color.

Dan Scott, Sierra Nevada, 2020, 3

Step 3: Start applying thick paint with palette knives.

Dan Scott, Sierra Nevada, 2020, 4

Step 4: Work on the foreground and add stronger darks. Continue to refine and make all the parts work together as a whole.

Dan Scott, Sierra Nevada, 2020, 5

Step 5. Photograph the finished painting (I still need to sign it). Keep in mind, I use a better camera to photograph my finished paintings. Hense why it looks different from the progress shots.

Dan Scott, Sierra Nevada, 2020
Dan Scott, Sierra Nevada, 2020

Key Takeaways

  • Change it up from time to time. I usually paint with brushes, but for this painting, I used almost entirely palette knives.
  • The more complex the scene, the more care that is needed at the start of the painting.
  • The physical texture of your paint can be a key feature of your painting. Use it to your advantage.
  • Don’t get caught up in the small details. Narrow down on the few details that matter and simplify the rest. Painting with a palette knife forces you to do this. You simply cannot paint intricate details, not easily anyway.

Additional Resources

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I appreciate it! Feel free to share with friends. Want to learn more about landscape painting? Check out my Landscape Painting Masterclass.

Happy painting!

Dan Scott

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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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