Step by step guide to oil painting landscape
Capturing nature’s achingly beautiful transient wonders on a canvas using oil paints.
What is the difference between taking a picture of a landscape and painting it? A picture will always have a different meaning depending on who’s looking at it. A painting of that picture will always have one meaning or message and that of the painter – an impression fueled by the painter’s emotions towards the subject.
Our imagination tends to magnify what we see, intensifies our memories because it is always mixed with emotions. And when we rely on it to freeze or paint that hauntingly beautiful sunset that reminds us of our last walk with a lost lover, then painting that sunset is a far better choice than taking a picture of it.
But how do you exactly do that? Before painting a landscape or emotional one, you need to master the fundamentals and practice the rules to break them later. An instinct that will come naturally to put the emotions you feel towards the landscape as close and as accurate as you feel or felt.
But first here are the materials we will need for this practice:
- 10” x 12” stretched canvas
- Water Soluble Oil Paints (you can use the traditional oil paints that you need to mix with linseed oil and odorless thinner)
- Mixing Palette
- #8 Filbert brush, #3 fan brush, and #2 liner brush
Fundamental steps and tips that you need to master to freeze nature using oil paints (or any medium you prefer).
Step 1: Look for the subject and simplify it
This first step isn’t as easy as it sounds because of two reasons: First, a landscape should have a strong pull on you to enjoy painting it. Second and most important, you should simplify it. Nature has overwhelming details and colors that a painter can’t possibly put everything he sees on the canvas. Otherwise, he should take a camera.
Let’s take a look at our reference photo:
Look at the elements as shapes, not as what they are. You don’t have to include or paint every crack of the rocks or leaves in the foreground.
Step 2: Use limited palette
In this practice we will only use the primary colors- Deep Yellow, Crimson, Ultramarine Blue or Cerulean Blue, Burnt Siena, Burnt Umber and White.
Using limited palette forces and teaches you to mix colors instinctively and creates unity in your painting.
Arrange your colors around your palette from light to dark.
Step 3: Tone your canvas
Paint your canvas with a thin, light wash of Burnt Sienna. The reason for this is you can easily judge the color’s value and temperature when you paint on a neutral canvas than stark white, where the colors appear more intense.
Step 4: Sketch the scene
Using the same wash, sketch the scene. Just focusing on the basic shapes.
Step 5: Divide the scene into three
Background – The lightest and farthest, in this case, the sky and the mountain. As a basic rule, the sky should be the lightest and followed by the vertical elements. The background should also have less intense colors and soft edges, so they appear far.
Middle ground– This has darker values and a bit more colors than the background so they appear closer.
Foreground – More intense colors, darkest values and contrast and more details.
Step 6: Start with the lightest wash on the background
Paint the sky with a light wash of Cerulean blue. Taking note of where is the lightest part of the sky.
Next mix a light orange from Deep Yellow and Crimson and paint a very thin wash on the orange parts of the sky.
Make sure to use the same mix on the reflections on the shore.
For the clouds, mix a light purple using Ultramarine Blue and Crimson.
The mountain should be a darker mix of the same purple.
Step 7: Middle ground of oil painting landscape
Mix Burnt Umber with Ultramarine blue and paint the shore. Take note and this mix should be darker and establish the shadows for the parts of the shoreline’s that’s away from the light.
Step 8: Foreground of oil painting landscape
The foreground, using the same wash for the middle ground, adds a touch of Burnt Sienna to make the color warmer and start shaping the rocks. Make sure to leave the lightest parts exposed to the light. Use pure Burnt Umber as the dark shadow parts of the rocks. Paint the rocks’ highlights with the same light orange mix used on the sky but add a bit of Burnt Sienna.
Step 9: Take a break
No, I’m not kidding. Force yourself to get a cup of coffee, eat something. It would help if you stepped away from the canvas and refresh your mind not to overwork it. To avoid this, you need to see the whole painting from at least 7 feet away. This is the hardest part of the painting process. And probably the most important.
I’ve ruined too many paintings by not taking a break and overworking it in the process that it becomes unworkable.
Step 10: Put the details in the foreground of oil painting landscape
At this point, paint the details in the foreground. You can use paints straight from the tube to make it more intense or saturated. Add highlights on the grass
Oil painting landscape Tips:
- Use the photo as a reference only. Don’t be constricted by what exactly you see on it. Don’t be afraid to explore- remove or add elements to your painting. Change the colors if you like. If you don’t dare explore, you will not be able to find your own style.
- To practice painting the background, middle ground, and foreground without being overwhelmed by color mixing, practice with one color (preferably Burnt Umber) and white. This way, you can easily control the saturation (intensity) of the color and its values.
- Values and color temperature are much more important than the colors. That’s why tip #2 is a very useful exercise to learn and master values.
- Paint and practice on smaller canvas before transferring the scene into a much bigger one.
- Paint outdoor. – This way, you’re forced to simplify the scene in front of you and paint as fast as possible, chasing the light and concentrating only on the shapes. Worry about the details later. You can add them to the comfort of your studio.
- Get used to the frustrations when the scene in your head doesn’t come out as you envision on the canvas. If you love painting enough and are obsessed with the process and not the results, you will paint again. Just enjoy the process because it is one of the most pleasurable and fulfilling creative hobbies. If you keep on painting, more surprising than your progress and results are the changes you’ll notice in you and how you view the world.