Top 7 Tips for Landscape Painting

Tips to help you with your landscape paintings.

Mature man painting picture in field
Marc Romanelli/The Image Bank/Getty Images

There’s something about a spectacular landscape that makes my fingers itch to capture its essence on canvas, to be able to create a landscape painting that generates the same intense emotion in someone who views the painting as the landscape did in me. Here are some tips to help you with your next landscape painting.

Don't Put Everything In

You're not obliged to include everything that you see in the landscape you're painting simply because it is there in real life.

(In fact, I’d go as far as to say that if you do this, then you might as well take a photo and have it printed on canvas.) Be selective, include the strong elements that characterise that particular landscape. Use the landscape as a reference, to provide you with the information you need to paint the elements, but don't slavishly follow it.

Use Your Imagination

If it makes for a stronger painting composition, don't hesitate to rearrange the elements in the landscape. Or take things from different landscapes and put them together in one painting. (Obviously this doesn't apply if you're painting a famous, readily identifiable scene, but the majority of landscape paintings are not of postcard scenes, but rather to capture the essence of a landscape.)

Give the Foreground Preference

Don't paint the whole landscape to the same degree of detail: paint less detail in the background of the landscape than you do in the foreground.

It's less important there and gives more 'authority' to what's in the foreground. The difference in detail also helps draw the viewer's eye into the main focus of the landscape painting.

It's Not Cheating to Buy Green Paints

You're not 'cheating' if you buy green paints in a tube rather than mixing your own.

One of the main benefits of doing this is that it means you always have instant access to particular greens. But don't limit yourself; extend the range of 'ready-made' greens by adding blue or yellow to it.

Get to Know How to Mix Greens

To quote Picasso: "They'll sell you thousands of greens. Veronese green and emerald green and cadmium green and any sort of green you like; but that particular green, never." The variety and intensity of greens that occur in nature is quite awesome. When mixing a green, use the fact that green have either a blue or a yellow bias as the starting point in determining the proportions you mix. (But remember the shade of green something is in a landscape does change depending on the time of day and what was a bluish green this morning may well be a yellowish green this evening.)

Each different blue/yellow combination will give a different green, plus the variations from the proportions of each you mix. With practice it becomes instinctive to mix the shade of green you're after. Take an afternoon to practice mixing your own greens, making a color chart to record which paints gave you what results. Also experiment mixing with two blues and two yellows; and mixing blue or yellow to a 'ready-made' green.

Instant Muted Greens

Mix a little black with various yellows and you’ll see that it produces a range of muted (or ‘dirty’) greens and khakis. (Remember to add the black to the yellow, not yellow to black; you need mix in only a little black paint to darken a yellow, but it will take a comparatively large amount of yellow paint to lighten a black.)

Do a Series

Don't think that because you've painted a particular landscape once, you're now done with it. Be like the Impressionist Claude Monet and paint it again and again, in different lights, seasons, and moods. You won't get bored with the scene, but instead you start to see more in it. For example, the way a tree's shadow tracks around it through the day, and how the different the light of the harsh midday sun is to that of sunrise and sunset.

For further inspiration for painting the same scene again, take a look at the photos of landscape artist Andy Goldsworthy of a particular scene taken through a range of light conditions and seasons.