On the Easel: Sierra Nevada

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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 Ambersand 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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