Landscape adventures in Oil Paint

Disclaimer: Painting landscapes will give you a new found respect for a good landscape.

I love painting, drawing, and sketching the human figure but I won’t be able to excel if I don’t broaden my art skills. I’ve been oil painting for maybe 2 years at this point and I’m not afraid to admit I don’t yet have the patience to achieve really well rendered images using oils.

This class really pushed me into a better understanding of colors, values, and my medium. Before we even pulled out our paints we would trek out to a local park near Utah lake and just sketch quick value studies. It was important to notice more than just a tree or mountain range. We had to really focus in on what made the image or crop of the scene interesting. What story were we trying to tell by choosing to sketch it. If an image was boring what could make it become alive? Maybe crop it in and zoom in on what made you stop and look originally. In the end remember you are telling a story.

We started out doing simple value studies often in a Thalo Blue/Ivory Black or Burnt Sienna mixture. A recommended artist to look at was Charlie Hunter and his monochromatic value studies. We were also recommended to prep our boards with gesso to fill in the textures trying to make for a more smooth surface to work on. Alternatives were to do a 1/3 gesso and water mix 1/8″ thick on masonite board or glue linen on gator board and then gesso over that. Our teacher also recommended purchasing the book Carlson’s Guide To Landscape Painting by John F. Carlson.

An important note was to keep your value study near you. Plain air painting takes time. The sun doesn’t hold still long enough for you to complete your entire painting so having something to remind you of where your shadows were helps your painting maintain the proper light source throughout.

As we progressed through the semester we moved on through different color palettes. While you have a story to tell things like color, composition, and value will help emphasis your idea. If you use a dark warm under painting it makes it feel more alive. Once you do this then add cools over top.

If you want to study compositions and value studies N. C. Wyeth, Cornwell, & Harvey Dunn are some good starting points. Look at how they used color value to control the eye in the compositions.

We used the Zoran palette to introduce colors. While there is some argument on what exactly the Zoran palette comprises of my teacher had us use White, Blue/Black (Thalo Blue/Ivory Black mix), Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red Light, & Thalo Blue or just the Blue/Black. We were allowed to use Alizarin Crimson or Quinacuidone Rose as substitute for the reds.

For each assignment I would do a basic value sketch first. Then I would do a few quick oil paint color studies to help decide my color direction. Once I had these ready to go I would move on to the actual painting. You can image how different the lighting would have changed even at this point. My class started around 2 pm and we would have around 5 hours to work on site. Of course we photographed the scene for later referencing. I would often take multiple pictures with different exposures.

Landscapes were the main focus of the course but we did study cityscapes as well and one assignment was based around that. The most notable difference was that buildings acted against the normal rules of vertical object being the darkest. They instead have a larger range of value and can be lighter than the sky depending on your subject matter.

This was a really fun course and I discovered I needed to develop more patience when dealing with landscape painting. It was interesting to discover the amount of vivid colors in this type of painting. I kept wanting to match the color and would muddy it up a lot or tone it down. My teacher often would push me to keep more vivid colors visible which in turn make the image seem more real.

There are a lot of really cool concepts and insights about landscape painting but I would have to write a whole book to fit it in. Check out the book mentioned above if you want a good read.

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