Monday, July 30, 2007

Landscape Composition

"Near Chimney Rock", Oil on Panel, 7x9 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

A few days ago, I promised to write something about landscape composition, so here it goes.

The hardest thing to understand about landscape painting is tone. When painting outdoors, the first thing to understand is that the range of tones (from the lightest white to the lowest dark) is much wider than you can accomplish with artist paints. JF Carlson explains this well in his book (see reference below)---noting that the range of tones outdoors is many times what you can produce on your palette. The tendency is to paint in the high range of tones, since sunlight makes everything appear so radiant. You must avoid this tendency to be a successful landscape painter. My friend Mitchell Johnson once told me that when in doubt he would take off his white t-shirt and put it out in front of what he was painting. Try this, bring a white cloth with you if you are painting outside and put it out in front of you. In comparison, nearly everything (if not all) of what is out in the landscape will appear darker. So, tone it down.

Landscape painting is also unlike most other types of painting for several reasons. First, in landscape painting, the tonal relationship between the various planes (for example, sky, land, mountains, etc.) are relatively consistent. For instance, in nearly all cases, the sky will be the lightest tone of the landscape--even on a cloudy day. The next lightest tone will be the flat ground plane--followed by sloping planes such as mountains. The darkest parts of the landscape will be those things directly up and down (i.e., uprights), such as trees, foliage, etc. To confirm this you can follow the lesson I used for the "Yellow Cup" and apply it to a landscape. Take a photo of a landscape you want to paint, then turn it into a black and white photo. You will notice the tonal relationships are quite different from the color relationships. If you are a beginning landscape painter, I would recommend you start with a monochromatic underpainting as I have been posting about over the last few weeks.

To learn more about landscape composition and how to control your tones, I would recommend two books. The first is by JF Carlson and has been around for many years--but is worth buying. You can get it in paperback on Amazon: Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting.

The second book I highly recommend is by Edgar Payne, Composition of Outdoor Painting. This book is harder to find, but has been reprinted lately-so you should be able to find a copy. I know there is one copy left at Franz Bader bookshop in Washington, so give them a call if you need it.

Anyway, that's it for today. Just some thoughts and recommendations. Hope they help. Keep painting, even if only for sixty minutes a day. Sxtyminuteartist

14 comments:

Carol Hadfield said...

I Jerry
Another very interesting article.
Can you remember what colors you used for the background mountains?

sixtyminuteartist said...

I don't recall. But I only have five colors on my palette for most paintings, Sap Green, Cadmium Red, Ultramarine Blue, Cad. Yellow, and Titanium White. If I was going to mix it again, I would try for a white and ultramarine mix, then grey in down with just a very light treatment of sap green and cad. red mixed to a slight redish neutral(as a neutralizer). It wont take much to knock it down. Let me know if you have problems and I will mix it up again and let you know the receipie. Jerry

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