Jan 30 2009

The Interpretive Landscape

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Sometimes it’s too much of a challenge to get outside to paint the landscape.  Photos can be a great aid to constructing a landscape scene, but many artists get too reliant on the photograph to direct the painting.  In that way, it can be as much of a crutch.

When painting from a photo, it’s a good idea NOT to try to paint every detail of the photo, but to instead use it as a reference point for a composition.  Push yourself to simplify shapes and to choose colors that stray from those in the original photo.  Complete “realism” is not the end-all to good painting.  Choosing a different color scheme for your piece is one way to add drama and to a personal flair to your work.

Here’s some more examples of artists who interpret the landscape in a personal way through use of abstraction, expressive brushstrokes, and intensified colors:


(Ianthe Moule: http://www.iantheart.com)


(Tracy Turner, www.tracyturnerart.com)

Sometimes, a simple indication of “sky” and “land” is enough to render a powerful expression:


(Marina Broere: marinabroere.com)

Another artist who proves that “less is more”:


(Georgina Forbes: www.georginaforbesart.com)

One of my favorite early 20th century artists was Charles Burchfield (most active 1910-1920).  He explored the landscape theme as much through his ears as his eyes.  By attempting to give visual reference to the buzzing of insects and the vibration of light, he created paintings that were expressively personal (and ahead of his time):

Here’s some landscape painting tips:

Paint What you Feel, as much as What you See
Remember that you’re not a camera, so you sense things with your eyes, your sense of touch, as well as your emotions.  Attempt to use your whole being in your painting, not to slavishly attempt to copy everything that’s in front of you (or in a photo). Be selective, include the strong elements that characterize that particular landscape.

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.
Get to Know How to Mix Greens
The variety and intensity of greens that occur in nature is quite awesome. When mixing a green, use the fact that greens have either a blue or a yellow bias as the starting point in determining the proportions you mix.  Adding a bit of yellow ochre or raw umber can also tint a green into more natural tones.

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.

Pointers for Using Color and Perspective in Landscape:

  • Colors become progressively lighter in value as the distance away from the viewer increases.
  • Colors become progressively cooler in the distance.
  • Colors become increasingly muted, less intense in the distance.
  • Details diminish in the distance.
  • Edges become softer in the distance, as though slightly out of focus.
  • The slightest hint of linear perspective in a landscape moves the eye back in space.This means that proportions of every compositional element (such as fence posts) diminish in a logical progression from foreground to background.
  • Overlapping shapes and forms will also contribute to an illusion of perspective.

Regarding Copying/Painting Photos Found on the Web:

The easiest solution to avoiding copyright issues when painting from photos is to take your own photos, or use  Artist’s Reference Photos that are pronounced as copyright-free, such as Morgue File, which provides “free image reference material for use in all creative pursuits”, or to use several photos for inspiration and reference for your own scene, not copy them directly. Another good source of photos are those labeled with a Creative Commons Derivatives License in Flickr.

(note: if you don’t intend to sell your work, copyright is less of an issue… though it is certainly something to keep in mind whenever your art is displayed anywhere outside of your own personal space)

Live Painting Demo by artist, Kwong Ko Wah:

(This is not a speed painting, but actual time. If you want to speed it up, just move the bar once the video has fully loaded).

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