Landscape oil painting techniques add depth and emotion to your artwork. Engaging in this art form not only serves as a medium for creative expression, but also helps develop an appreciation for nature’s beauty. For many years I found embarking on the journey of landscape oil painting a difficult but enriching experience.
I always struggled at the start and never knew where to start or what to do. I purchased many books to learn as I did not attend art school at the time and there was no YouTube.
What I have written is a guide for beginners, where you learn to capture and convey the essence of various landscapes with the stroke of a brush using my 10 simple to follow steps.
Understanding the fundamentals of oil painting is necessary for mastering landscape techniques.
It’s vital to use high-quality materials, including brushes, canvas, and oil paints, to achieve the best results.
Preparing for your painting involves planning a composition, selecting a subject, and deciding on variables such as the season, type of light, and landscape features.
Landscape Oil Painting Techniques – Tips and Steps
Oil paints stand out as a premier choice for landscape painting, primarily because of their slow-drying nature and their ability to yield magnificent outcomes.
Let’s delve into some of the stellar techniques to bring your landscape visions to life on canvas.
Underpainting and Line Drawing
Begin your artistic journey by crafting an underpainting and sketching out a line drawing on your canvas. This step provides a foundation, guiding the subsequent layers.
Working Back to Front
Always consider painting from the background towards the foreground.
This strategy aids in proficiently organizing colors and seamlessly overlapping objects, thereby ensuring depth and perspective.
Paint the Sky
The sky often takes precedence in a landscape. When painting it, remember that it’s generally darker at the zenith and gradually lightens as it stretches toward the horizon.
Accentuate the Foreground
The elements in the foreground should possess a richer tonal quality. Imagine painting a towering tree or a vivid flower.
Employ darker hues and meticulous details like intricate leaves or petals to make them pop.
Landscape is about cohesion. Ensure the colors across different sections of your painting harmonize well.
Consider the overarching shades and tones of, say, a dense forest. It’s all about balance.
Detailing Based on Proximity
A simple rule of thumb: the closer the subject is to the viewer, the more detailed it should be. It adds authenticity and pulls the observer into your artwork.
The Plein-air Technique
Elevate your landscape painting by stepping outside the studio.
Painting landscapes in their natural setting, known as ‘Plein-air’, allows artists to capture the true essence of the scenery and ambient light.
Landscape Oil Painting Techniques for Beginners
If you’re a beginner, you probably read all the tips and steps above and wondered, “okay… I don’t understand”.
For those who said that or something similar, I have created a series of landscape oil painting techniques and steps for beginners.
1. Starting with Basic Shapes
A good idea for the initial stages is to focus on painting basic shapes. Before diving into much detail, outline the main elements of your landscape. It provides a roadmap for your entire paintings and helps you not lose track of time in the details too early.
2. Understanding the Middle Ground
In landscape painting, understanding the middle ground is crucial. This is where elements like individual trees or telephone poles come in. They don’t need as much detail as the foreground but should be more defined than the background.
3. Blending with White Paint
A fundamental oil painting technique is to use white paint to blend colors. It can lighten a hue without changing its identity. But be cautious! Overuse can wash out a color. Ultramarine blue mixed with white, for instance, can create beautiful, subtle variances in sky tones.
4. Experimenting with Different Techniques
There are various techniques in the realm of oil paints. From the alla prima method, where you paint wet-on-wet, to techniques where you wait a long time between layers, there’s much to explore. Don’t be afraid to try acrylic painting too. It dries faster, offering a different experience.
5. Avoiding Over-detailing Everywhere
Successful paintings strike a balance. Not every individual tree or cloud needs a plethora of details. Save the much detail for focal points and let other areas be more generalized.
6. Mixing with Linseed Oil
Linseed oil is a common medium in oil painting. It can make the paint smoother and help in blending. Mix colors with a bit of linseed oil for a flowy consistency.
7. Observing Natural Surroundings
Observing natural surroundings is the best way to get better at landscape painting. Observing nature is a top landscape painting tip, whether it’s the subtle variances in greenery, the dark shadows under a rock, or the different ways light plays during various times of day.
8. Venturing Beyond Natural Landscape
While natural landscapes offer a plethora of inspiration, there’s no rule against painting urban landscapes.
Imagine capturing the essence of New York City in the contemporary style.
Skyscrapers, people, and bustling streets can make for as compelling a painting as mountains and lakes.
9. Tools Make a Difference
Stiff brushes are great for creating texture, like the bark on an individual tree.
Soft brushes, on the other hand, can be used to blend paints and create gradients in the sky.
10. Keep Learning
The realm of oil paints is vast. From portrait painting to large painting projects, there’s always something new to learn.
Remember, the best oil paint for one project might not be the best for another. Experiment, learn, and most importantly, enjoy the journey.
For photography lovers transitioning into painting, it’s a good tip to paint from your photos.
The time of day, shadows, and nuances you captured can be translated beautifully above painting canvas.
Understanding the Fundamentals
Recognizing Focal Points
A focal point is a key element in landscape oil painting. It helps capture the viewer’s attention and keeps their focus on a particular area or object in your painting.
Think of it as the “star of your show.” Start by identifying basic and general shapes in your desired focus point.
Keep it simple, and this skill will help make your paintings more engaging.
Grasping Horizon Lines
The horizon line plays a vital role in determining the overall composition of your painting. It’s the place where the land meets the sky, and it helps establish the vantage point or viewpoint for the observer.
Be careful with selecting the placement of your horizon line; a higher position will make the ground seem more expansive, while a lower position emphasizes the depth in the sky.
This choice affects the balance and appeal of your painting, so decide wisely.
Remember, understanding the fundamentals of landscape oil painting, such as recognizing focal points and grasping horizon lines, are essential to create captivating artwork.
Through practice, these techniques will become second nature, and your paintings will take on a breath of life and beauty.
Preparing for Your Painting
Before starting your landscape oil painting journey, it’s necessary to take some preparatory steps.
First, choose a reference photo that captures the essence of the landscape you want to recreate.
This photo will guide you throughout your painting process, giving you a solid foundation to work from.
Next, create your color palette by selecting a range of hues that fit your landscape theme. To encourage harmony within your painting, pick a limited set of colors instead of using every color in your paint box.
This step sets the foundation for a cohesive and visually appealing artwork.
After you’ve chosen the ideal reference photo and color palette, practice with small studies on a small canvas.
This approach helps you gain experience with your chosen colors, refine your technique, and understand how the various elements of your landscape interact with one another.
Experimenting with different compositions and perspectives can be beneficial at this stage, allowing you to explore your creativity and avoid being confined by a single idea.
Palette knives are essential tools for landscape oil painters, so make sure you have them in your arsenal.
These versatile tools let you blend, mix, and apply colors in various ways that brushes may not be able to achieve.
Using palette knives can also result in unique textures, providing your artwork with an added layer of depth and interest.
Remember, taking the time to prepare carefully for your landscape oil painting is a vital step in ensuring your artwork is a success.
Beginning with the First Layer
When starting your landscape oil painting, the first layer of paint is crucial. Use a large brush for covering more area and creating an even look.
You need to mix your colors and work with thin layers of paint, as this will allow you to build depth and detail later on.
Begin by mixing a combination of burnt umber and titanium white, which will give you a neutral tone for the underpainting.
This mixture will help you establish the shapes, forms, and tones of your landscape.
Next, apply this mixture of burnt umber and titanium white on the canvas using thin layers of paint.
Be careful not to overwork the first layer, as it will act as the base for subsequent layers. Paint with confidence, keeping in mind that any mistakes can be adjusted later in the process.
Once you have established the base layer, let it dry thoroughly before moving on to adding colors and details.
Remember that oil paints take longer to dry, so patience is necessary to avoid smudging and mixing unwanted colors.
By sticking to these tips, you will create a strong foundation for your landscape oil painting, allowing you to develop the piece with confidence and clarity.
Developing Oil Painting Techniques
Creating a Sense of Depth
Achieving depth in your landscape paintings is necessary for a realistic and engaging scene. Practice using chromatic perspective to create a sense of distance.
This involves adjusting the colors, value, and detail of elements in the painting, depending on their distance from the viewer.
Objects closer to the viewer will have more vibrant colors and detail, while those further away will exhibit desaturated colors and less detail.
Painting with Palette Knives
Experimenting with palette knives brings new texture and expressive marks to your landscape paintings.
With a palette knife, you can create both precise and loose strokes, perfect for painting a variety of surfaces like rocks, foliage, or water.
Palette knives can help you create an impasto painting style, where thick layers of paint create texture and depth.
Understanding Color Temperature
Knowing how to use color temperature will enhance your oil paintings.
Warm colors, such as reds, oranges, and yellows, tend to advance, while cool colors like blues, greens, and purples recede.
Placing warm colors in the foreground and cool colors in the background will enhance the sense of depth in your landscape.
Using Thick Paint for Texture
Thick paint application, known as impasto, adds depth and texture to your painting.
This technique involves applying paint to the canvas in a thick manner, creating raised surfaces with varying degrees of texture.
When working with thick paint, be careful with drying times, as thick layers may take longer to dry.
Creating Soft and Sharp Edges
Master the balance between soft and sharp edges in your oil painting.
Soft edges help blend elements together, while sharp edges create contrast and make certain areas stand out.
Use a dry brush technique to create softer edges, and work with wet paint for sharper, more defined edges.
Blending Paints Properly
Blending paints can be a key factor in creating smooth transitions between elements in your landscape paintings.
To blend your paints properly, ensure your brush is clean and work gently between the colors, so they transition seamlessly.
This skill requires practice but will significantly improve the overall quality of your paintings.
Mastering Landscape Painting
Painting Plein Air
Embrace plein air painting to capture the essence of the landscape directly.
This technique allows you to observe nature firsthand, enhancing your color choices and understanding of light and shadows.
Keep your outdoor painting setup simple, and remember to plan for weather conditions.
Depicting Natural Landscapes
When painting natural landscapes, consider these vital tips for a successful outcome:
- Break down the scene you want to paint; find the sky, terrain, and any water elements.
- Focus on the essential details first, like dominant shapes and values.
- Add smaller details and texture to give the painting more depth.
To paint a mountain landscape, determine the mountain’s overall shape and consider the light source.
Be careful when applying colors, as the play of light, shadows, and mid-tones creates a striking effect.
After establishing the basic structure, add texture, and detail to complete the scene.
Getting Atmospheric Perspective Right
Atmospheric perspective plays a key role in creating a sense of depth and distance in your landscape paintings.
Implement the following techniques to achieve a convincing atmospheric perspective:
- Use cooler and paler hues as objects move farther into the distance.
- Soften edges and reduce detail for distant elements.
- Consider the effect of light and weather conditions on the colors and tones.
By incorporating these techniques, you’ll enhance the scene’s depth and make your landscape painting more impressive.
Remember to practice and apply these methods in your work consistently for better results.
Enhancing Details and Textures
Adding Small Details
When working on a landscape oil painting, focusing on small details can make a significant difference in the overall appearance.
Use a fine-tipped brush to add delicate strokes and create beautiful details, such as leaves on trees or blades of grass. This adds a sense of realism to your painting.
Creating Rough Textures
Achieving rough texture is necessary for capturing the essence of certain landscapes.
For example, applying thicker paint with a flat brush can create the appearance of rock formations or bark on trees.
Experimenting with different brush strokes and layering techniques will help you develop a range of texture effects that enhance the overall depth and richness of your artwork.
Remember, finding a balance between intricate details and rough texture is vital for a compelling landscape oil painting.
Utilizing Color and Light
Mastering Color Usage
Utilizing color in landscape oil painting is necessary to create natural depth and atmosphere.
Choose a limited color palette to maintain harmony in your artwork.
Warm colors, such as reds, oranges, and yellows, can bring areas of your painting forward, while cool colors, such as blues and greens, can recede into the background.
Be careful with the lightest lights (highlights) and the darkest values (shadows) to create contrast and emphasize focal points.
Balancing Light and Dark
The balance of light and dark in your painting helps evoke emotion and gives a sense of depth.
Focus on your middle values as they carry a significant portion of the painting. Gradually introduce the darkest darks and lightest lights to create contrast.
Remember, your lighter values will have a yellow light, while your darker values will have a cooler tone.
Achieving this balance is vital for a harmonious and realistic depiction of your landscape scene.
Finalizing the Painting
The Final Step
The final step in creating a landscape oil painting is refining the rest of the painting.
This involves working on the smaller details, making any necessary adjustments to your colors, and ensuring that everything looks coherent.
You may find that some areas need more attention to achieve the desired effect.
Making the Big Difference
Your next step is to focus on elements that can make a big difference in your painting. This could be the sky, the main focal points, or noticeable contrasts in light and shadow.
Pay close attention to highlights and shadows, as these can bring more depth and realism to your work.
Achieving the right balance between these elements is vital for creating a captivating landscape.
Remember, practice makes perfect, so keep experimenting and refining your techniques. With consistent effort, you will notice improvements in your landscape oil paintings.
Learning from the Best Landscape Artists
The title “best” landscape artists is subjective and can vary based on personal opinions, cultural perspectives, and historical contexts.
Throughout art history, several landscape artists have been universally acknowledged for their exceptional contributions to the genre.
Here are some of the most notable ones:
- John Constable (1776–1837) – An English Romantic painter known especially for his landscape paintings of the area around his home, particularly scenes in the Stour Valley and Dedham Vale.
- J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851) – Another English Romantic painter, Turner is famous for his dramatic and atmospheric landscapes, often depicting storms, shipwrecks, and other dynamic natural phenomena.
- Claude Lorrain (1600–1682) – A French Baroque artist whose classical landscape paintings influenced many later European artists.
- Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902) – Known for his grandiose, dramatic depictions of the American West, Bierstadt was part of the Hudson River School.
- Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900) – A central figure in the Hudson River School of American painters, he is best known for large panoramic landscapes, highlighting the American wilderness.
- Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840) – A 19th-century German Romantic landscape painter, noted for his allegorical landscapes featuring contemplative figures silhouetted against night skies or morning mists.
- Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) – While he painted a variety of subjects, some of his most iconic works are his landscapes, like “Starry Night” and his series of paintings of wheat fields.
- Édouard Manet (1832–1883) – Often associated with Impressionism, Manet painted many urban landscapes and scenes of Paris.
- Isaac Levitan (1860–1900) – A classical Russian landscape painter who captured the vastness and spirit of Russia in his works.
- Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986) – An American modernist known for her paintings of enlarged flowers, skyscrapers in New York, and New Mexico landscapes.
- Hasegawa Tōhaku (1539–1610) – A Japanese painter of the Azuchi–Momoyama period, best known for his monochrome ink-on-silk landscapes.
Inspiration from Claude Monet
Claude Monet, a founder of French Impressionism, is an excellent master to study for landscape oil painting techniques.
His focus on light and his skillful use of color capture the play of sunlight on various scenes. To learn from Monet, study his works and observe his techniques, such as the way he blends colors to create a harmonious and natural look.
Some tips from Monet’s paintings:
- Use short brushstrokes for a more textured appearance
- Experiment with complementary colors to make elements stand out
- Observe natural light conditions to achieve an authentic atmosphere
Learning from Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh, a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter, has a distinctive and bold style.
His approach to landscape painting can provide insight into the use of color, texture, and movement.
Studying Van Gogh’s paintings can help you develop a personal style that breaks away from traditional landscape techniques.
Some key takeaways from Van Gogh:
- Layer colors boldly for added depth
- Explore expressive and dynamic brushstrokes
- Focus on emotion and energy to bring your landscape to life
Modern Contemporary Artists
Contemporary landscape artists merge traditional techniques with innovative ideas, providing a fresh perspective on landscape painting.
By studying the works of these artists, you can discover new ways to approach your own landscape oil paintings.
Some aspects to consider when exploring contemporary art:
- Experiment with different materials and techniques
- Look for inspiration in abstract and conceptual art
- Observe the balance between realism and abstraction in modern landscape painting
Following these tips can help you enhance your landscape oil painting techniques while incorporating methods from past and present masters.
Remember to practice, observe, and always keep an open mind to grow as an artist.
Expanding Your Knowledge
Exploring Online Courses
Online courses offer a fantastic way to learn landscape oil painting techniques.
With a variety of skill levels and topics, you can find courses tailored to your experience. Many courses provide guidance on painting elements such as trees, clouds, and water reflections.
By enrolling in a course, you can benefit from step-by-step instructions and expert feedback on your artwork.
Leveraging Social Media
Social media platforms are a treasure trove for aspiring landscape oil painters.
Follow artists whose work you admire to gain inspiration and learn new techniques.
Many artists share their creative process, offering their followers valuable tips and insights. Participating in online communities gives you the chance to connect with like-minded individuals, ask questions, and share your work for constructive feedback.
Photography for Painters
Mastering photography is a useful skill for any landscape oil painter.
Quality reference photos are key to creating a realistic or impressionistic painting. Develop your photography skills by practicing composition and lighting.
When you learn to capture the beauty and depth of landscapes through your lens, translating that vision to canvas becomes more attainable.
- Chromatic Perspective: Use chromatic perspective to create a sense of depth and distance in your landscapes. This technique involves using cooler colors for objects in the background and warmer colors for those in the foreground.
- Plein Air Painting: Consider painting on location, in front of the actual landscape. This approach helps in capturing the colors, textures, and atmosphere of the scene more accurately.
- Oil Painting Edges: Pay attention to edges while painting. Soften or blend edges of objects in the background, while keeping the edges of foreground objects crisp and defined.
- Color Mixing: Master the art of color mixing to achieve a harmonious color palette in your paintings. This knowledge will help you create more natural and visually pleasing landscapes.
Before You Go…
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Joseph Colella is a frustrated artist with over 40 years experience making art (who moonlights as a certified Business Analyst with over 20 years of experience in tech). While he holds a Diploma in Information Technology, in true wasted talent style he spent years trying to get into various Art degrees from the Accademia di Belle Arti (Napoli), and failed to get into the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) at the University of Western Sydney. His goal is to attend the Julian Ashton School of Art at The Rocks Sydney when he retires from full time work. In his spare time, he writes for the this blog, WastedTalentInc, where he shares practical advice on art, making art, and art materials. Joseph’s art has been sold to collectors all over the world from the USA, Europe and Australasia. He is a trusted source for reliable art and copyright/fair use advice and is committed to helping his readers make informed decisions about making them a better artist.
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