Tutorial on Adding Details to Simple Painted Landscapes

Zed had requested a tutorial on how to paint in the details on the simple painted landscapes that I showed you last month. I found the painting of the basic landscape tutorial/video by Jude Atkin at the Start2 website.

This tutorial is what I do to add some depth and finish the paintings. One thing I would suggest is to take a look at landscape photos or paintings and look carefully at what gives the illusion of depth to the landscape. There are several ways to create more depth. I think one of the most important ways is to realize that things in the far distance are lighter, hazier and more blue-grey than those in the foreground. So the colors in your foreground should be a little brighter than those in the background. Also, there are changes in size as you move from bigger in the foreground to smaller in the background. If you google how to create depth in a landscape, there are numerous tutorials and articles that explain this better than I can.

original web

Here is one of my mini landscapes. I have been doing almost all of these on a 4″ x 6″ pieces of paper that I can then use to make 5″ x 7″ note cards. This is what the landscape looks like after I follow Jude’s instructions on painting simple landscapes. I do some in vertical orientation and some in horizontal orientation. I think one of the more important tips that Jude gives is to use a mix of complementary colors (on the opposite sides of the color wheel) to create your mountains and your foreground. With acrylic paints, the colors separate out during the drying process and give more variation than if you used just one color straight out of the bottle. The foreground here is a mix of purple and yellow ochre. The mountains were a mix of several colors including black and purple that I remember for sure. I tend to mix up some colors and then keep adding extra colors in or mixing two of the mixed colors together. I also like to let the sky get mostly dry before adding the foreground and the mountains. I paint the foreground, quickly add salt and then quickly paint in the mountain color and add the plastic wrap. If you let the foreground paint dry, you end up with a hard straight line across the top of the foreground which is distracting to me. If you paint both the foreground and mountains at nearly the same time, the paint colors mix together in the transition area and I like this effect better.

supplies web

Here are the supplies that I use to add details including colored pencils, Derwent Inktense pencils, Caran D’Ache water soluble crayons and a water brush. I use these because I can travel with them and many times I take these little landscapes along with me when I have to wait somewhere so I can work on them while waiting. You could easily use watercolor paints and a regular small brush. Or you could use watered down acrylic paint. With the watercolors, I don’t wait for the paint to dry completely between layers of paint. With acrylics, it will work better if you let it dry in between or you will lift the paint away from the paper when trying to add another layer.

The first step is to use a colored pencil that matches the color of your mountains hard edges. I used black here. Then I draw in the top edges of the mountains where there are funny jagged edges left from the plastic wrap. The photo on the right shows where the mountain tops have been drawn. Remember to draw unevenly and make the mountain tops different sizes and shapes.

To use the water-color crayons and the water brush, squeeze a little bit of water into the brush and brush some color from the crayon. It doesn’t take much. Start with less, you can always add more. Fill in the spaces created when you drew in your mountain tops. I usually dab the paint on with some areas lighter and some areas darker but not dark black. These are the furthest mountains and therefore will be more gray than the foreground ones. If your mountains are a different color, choose a color that is closest to the main paint color in the mountains.

mountain tops painted black web

Here I have completed painting in the grey on the tops of the mountains.

Now I like to add in further color into the mountains. Depending on the color of your mountains, choose a second color that works with your secondary mountain color. I chose purple and then added dabs of purple paint in different areas of the tops of the mountains. Again, some areas may be lighter or even mid tone but none that are really dark or really bright colors.

mountain tops painted purple web

Here is what mine looked like after adding in some purple to the tops of the mountains. You can also leave some of the areas the original sky color and it ends up looking like there is snow on the tops of the mountains as long as your sky color is light. I hope that you can see the subtle differences in each of these photos as I don’t really add that much paint to these details.

Next I like to take the secondary mountain color and add a bit more into the areas of the mountains that look really pale. These seem to be too light against the dark mountain color here so I added purple to these areas. In the second photo, I took some of the purple down into the transition area and then even into the foreground. If your foreground seems too bright, one way to tone it down is to use its complementary color and paint a wash over top of the entire foreground. I didn’t do that here but have on several that were overpowering and bright. The photo on the right shows the piece after I had painted in all the purple.

The next color that I used is a yellow ochre. This is the main color of the foreground. I like to take some of the foreground color and work it up into the mountains just a little ways. I also add more yellow ochre over the top of the purple that I just painted in the transition area between the mountains the foreground. Again, I just dab on the paint. I may work over the area several different times with the two colors that I am using. Or I may add in a third color if I want to add some more variety.

Then I went back to black paint. I chose an area in the scene where I felt would be a good separation of the background mountains from the ones that were closer. I added black paint all along that line. I just do light grey to start and build up the black to give the illusion of depth along that line. I also work some grey up into the background mountains to create further depth. I usually let that dry and then if more grey is needed, I add another layer.

While I have grey on the brush, I add a bit of grey to the transition area to create a little depth from the foreground. I paint the grey in dabs across the area where the mountains transition into the foreground and may even bring some grey or darker areas into the foreground at this point. The photo on the right shows after I am finished with the grey in this area.

The last details I add are to the foreground. Here I used an Inktense olive-green pencil to draw in a few suggestions of grass or leaves near the “flowers” that are created from the salt. You don’t need very many of these. Just a few clumps that are created with varying lengths of lines.

finished 1 web

And here is the finished landscape. I am usually surprised how much better they look with just this little bit of detail added. Don’t go overboard and try to draw or paint in specific “things”. I find that less is more and you’ll be happier with the results if you don’t over do it.

Now I will show you three more that were done a little differently. I will show you before and after details and give an explanation of what I did on each one.

This one is to show that you don’t need to make hard lines on all the mountain tops. On the left, you can see where I drew in on the left side to fill in the mountain sides. I forgot to take the photo before I drew on it. On the right is the finished piece. I did nothing to the soft edges of the top of the main mountain. It just makes it look misty and snow-covered. I added in grey paint to fill in the areas on the left inside my drawn lines. I added a bit more purple on the bottom but then I decided I needed a bit more color. So I added some orange into the “flowers”. I darkened the base of the mountain just slightly with grey and added in some shadow at the base of the distant mountain to make it appear a bit more distant.

This is one that I was attempting to get a water/sea-shore scene. In the original on the left, I thought the water was too green and I didn’t like that smudgy bit up on the left hand top corner. So I first filled in the center rock with a mixture of purple, orange and black in several layers. Then I added a dark blue over most of the water. Next I added a lighter turquoise blue in places in the water. The lighter water needs to go closer to the rocks and shore. The next step was to add white paint. Notice that I made a big wave to cover the upper left corner that I didn’t like. Not sure it is so believable but it’s OK. The last step was to put in the bright white accents with white gel pen. The white is put in mostly where the waves are crashing against the rocks.

Then there were a few of the landscapes where I put the plastic wrap too far up into the sky. The mountains took over the entire sky as you can see in the photo on the far left. So I flipped it over and made what was initially supposed to be foreground into the sky. The center photo shows where the piece has been flipped over. The far right photo shows the finished piece. All I did was add a purple line for the tops of the mountains and fill in with purple. I added a blue “haze” over the distant mountains to make them drop back further into the background. I added a little more purple into the base of the mountains and a little pink into the sky.

Here are three more that I have decided to turn over and make the original foreground into sky. I haven’t added any details yet. The original is on the left and the turned over version on the right. I could probably leave the top right landscape as it is but I don’t really like that piece that reaches the top on the left side. It will be easier just to turn it over and fill in the blue part to make it into mountain. In the middle landscape, you can see that there is a green blob in the left hand top corner of the original sky. Instead of calling it a total waste, I will add more green into the now foreground and lower mountains. And the last one I think definitely looks better flipped over without even adding any details. So if you are unhappy with the landscape you painted, turn it upside down and see if you like it better that way.

These are the rest of the landscapes that I painted that day. I have been painting a dozen at a time. All of these will be fairly simple fixes, penciling in the mountain top edges where they are needed and adding a few shadows and blue grey for creating distance. The bottom left one is bugging me a bit because it looks so much like a dome. I will probably take the mountain top edge off to the left and draw the edge above the pink sky. That won’t give such a regular shaped appearance to the resulting mountain.

I hope that this tutorial is helpful for adding details to your landscapes. It really doesn’t take a lot of artistic ability, just a bit of knowledge on how to create an illusion of distance and a little practice. So why don’t you give it a try and show us your results over on the forum?

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15 Responses to Tutorial on Adding Details to Simple Painted Landscapes

  1. Lyn says:

    I love your water/sea-shore scene – you’ve altered it so well that the water really is slapping up against the rocks and you have transparency where the water would be almost see-through.

    Well written, clear tutorial with great examples.

  2. Karen Lane says:

    I agree with Lyn, very clearly written tutorial Ruth, thank you. I will give the technique it a try this week and report back.

  3. Leonor says:

    Ruth, this is beautiful! Love it how you “corrected” what you didn’t like in the water scene, and now I know what the clear water pen is for in those packages 🙂

  4. zedster66 says:

    Can I just send you mine? 🙂 Thanks for this Ruth, it’s really helped. I had the same problem with the lines, I did a few pieces last week with just sky and was going to add the foreground, let it dry, then do the mountains, but I’ll do the foreground and mountains together now. It’s addictive isn’t it?

  5. luvswool says:

    Enjoyed reading your landscape painting tutorial, Ruth. That is precision detailing, for sure. Saw several people using those water pens at my last workshop, along with the water soluble crayons and gave it a try in my journal. Thanks for sharing your techniques!

  6. Marilyn aka Pandagirl says:

    Oh so much detail in such a small space! Thanks for sharing your technique. I have all the tools, just not the guts!

  7. Very Cool Ruth. You have lots of talent.

    • ruthlane says:

      Thanks Ann – as I told Zed, I don’t think it is “talent”, just practice and learning about art and design. The more you work at it, the better you get.

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