Oil Masterclass

I always start a landscape with a rough outline of the main features in pencil.  I don't stick religiously to this, but it is a guide so I don't end up with a big gap or having to cram everything into a small space at one end of the canvas.  The larger the canvas the more critical this becomes.


I tend to paint section by section completing one section before going on to the next.  There are exceptions to this, but most of my works follow this pattern.  I also tend to work from background to foreground simply because the foreground obscures the background so it’s easier to paint it last.  Trees in particular tend to grow by following what the paint wants to do rather than by any deliberate attempt by me to marshal it. So I can never be absolutely sure how much background gets obscured.


For this picture I've started with the sky. I do this by painting a layer of white and then splashing in an appropriate blue and blending it across the still wet white layer.  In this instance the sky was exceptionally clear so cobalt blue gives an accurate hue.  With polluted or dusty skies more typical of Southern Britain correleum or a blend of the two may work better.  Note that nearer the horizon you are looking through more dust so the sky tends to be a dirtier blue, so you may need to gradate between two shades across the sky.  Clouds are a very complicated affair best left for another session.


I then worked on the cliff. I chose this first, as the vegetation overhangs it, and also because once you use green in a picture it has the habit of getting everywhere you don't want it - especially when working with adjacent wet paint.  With the cliffs in shadow and such a bright sky it’s inevitable that they are a pale blue colour tempered with a little brown (making them greyish) to differentiate them from pure sky.  For rock in general I work into wet paint by applying small amounts of the colours I see. I put in flecks, panels and lines of colour, and then partially blend them with surrounding areas to build up a texture.  It can take time to get right, and there is the danger of over-blending and so losing the texture.  The skill comes in knowing the colours to use and how much to blend.

Buildings and other manmade features can be troublesome.  Unlike natural objects buildings usually have straight edges, though they can be partially obscured by vegetation sometimes.  As with cliffs, most buildings require the partial blending of several colours to generate a texture. This is particularly true of masonry and brick, but even on painted metal there is usually some subtle shading to depict.  Doing this whilst achieving a straight edge is not easy, but the trick I use is to paint the texture first and then adjust the edge by picking up bits of wet texture and nudging them to the edge.  One further trick to get texture on masonry in particular is to brush a fine layer of pigment gently over dry paint - but this needs a delicate touch.


Window panes and frames are particularly awkward due to their size and right angle corners. I sometimes paint a white box for the frame and deposit a dark pane which I nudge into a rectangle; and sometimes start with a dark pane to which I add a thin white edge - which again I can nudge from the surrounding wet paint.  Working wet on wet gives me this nudging option, but of course the downside is it’s hard to keep the colours clean – but then how often do you get a totally black window pane with a spotless white frame?

For convincing background vegetation, I found long ago that you need at least three shades of green (although you can use browns and yellows to extend a single hue), and that this needs to be partially blended to create a leaf texture.  Note it’s a rare tree that has even colouring all over, so some variation is needed to create convincing vegetation.  There is a tendency to produce lollipop trees.  This can be avoided by breaking out of the edges with random branches, leaving gaps where you can see right through, and gaps where you can see the shaded parts deep within the tree.


That brings us to the foreground shingles.  As with most sunlit rock I started with naples yellow, but here with a good dose of titanium white as it is very light rock.  Naples yellow is a very opaque and stiff paint which is great for sand, but also good as the starting point for all kinds of stone and masonry.  Once again I've used a combination of the cobalt blue from the sky with vandyke brown to give a bluish grey that varies according to light and shadow.  Using the same blue as was used in the sky helps tie the whole picture together.  At first this didn't come out too well so I left it a couple of days to partially dry and then added darker shadows and lighter highlights.


The final part was the foreground vegetation.  Once again I mixed shades of green direct on the board, but this time keeping the result coarser to reflect the apparent leaf size.  I then topped it off with dabs of pink for the wildflowers.  The completed picture can be seen below.  You may notice a few little details added for extra interest such as the couple walking down the cliff path, the couple sunbathing or the drying cloths against one of the huts.  These all help to give the illusion of more detail than is actually present.

The finished picture
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© Richard Paul