Acrylic landscape painting for beginners

Almost every culture and art movement through history has explored landscapes. From Hokusai’s “Great Wave off Kanagawa” to Monet’s “Water Lilies”.

Landscape paintings are the most popular for purchasing and hold wide appeal amongst art buyers, critics, lovers and creators.

There is no right or wrong way to paint a landscape.

You can use the same techniques to paint a portrait or still life. For example, the painting Starry Night by Van Gogh is a similar style to his portrait work. it is an iconic landscape painting celebrated across the world. Likewise, Sidney Nolan’s landscapes are far more like his Ned Kelly portraits than compared to landscapes by other artists.

Not the actual image but a representation copyright free for your reference!

What is a landscape painting?

For simplicity we will refer to a landscape as any scene that has a foreground, middle-ground and background. The scene can include people though they usually are not the main focus.

For example, look where you are right now. The wall or trees in the distance could be the background. Your computer/phone would be the foreground. Anything in-between would be the middle-ground.

When you look at a completed landscape painting it’s often unclear if it was painted with oil or acrylic. The finished product can be quite similar.

But the process is radically different due to the faster drying time and high opacity. When painting with acrylic think about the below first to make the process easier and more enjoyable.

Considerations

  • Which elements are in the background, middle ground and foreground? Even if it’s not clear try to distinguish them as it will determine which things we paint in what order.
  • Colour differences in background to foreground elements. This is especially true in outdoor landscapes. Things further away look greyer (less saturated), and less contrasted. This is because of the atmosphere between our eye and the further objects. Look at the example below Pierre-Auguste Renoir. below. Particles in the air mean that the mountains and sky further away have far less contrast.
  • Which elements are you going to include? Landscapes usually contain an infinite amount of detail. There’s nothing wrong with including everything, if you had unlimited time and patience. But for most of us we need to start by choosing which elements to include / exclude and in how much detail. More detail does not simply make a painting “better”, but does mean more work.

How to start

Choose whether you want to paint “representational” or “abstract“.

Representational art means that things in the scene are recognisable as what you intend them to be. E.g. trees look like trees, houses look like house.

Whereas abstract art uses concepts like shapes, forms, colours and other ideas to represent aspects of reality but not portray them realistically.

Step 1) Draw

For representational painting, drawing practice prior to painting is essential.

Sketch the scene five, ten or twenty times with 5 minute drawings. This will help you with:

  • Composition of the overall painting
  • Object positioning and size
  • How much detail to include and where
  • What angle you like best

Once you are happy with your drawing, draw it again on canvas.

Use this drawing tip to make your painting super easy!

Print off a reference photo of the landscape of your choice, measure the picture into thirds as seen below. Draw the sections across the picture and do the same for your canvas.

Use an HB pencil and press very lightly on the canvas.

This helps to separate your art task into smaller ‘bite-size’ chunks. Sketch out each section as based on the photo.

Once you are happy with the drawing, we can have some fun with acrylic!

Step 2) Paint Wash

The easiest thing is to start with for both styles of painting is a wash. Below image on the left.

Follow these steps:

  • Use the largest brush you feel comfortable using.
  • Mix just a couple of colours that you feel are important in the painting (5 colours at most).
  • Dilute them with a fair amount of water so that the paint has a milk-like consistency.
  • Then roughly apply this colours onto the canvas.
  • Ignore all details.
  • Relax your body and stand as far back as you feel comfortable.
  • We’re simply trying to fill up the canvas with a layer of colours.

Step 3) Paint Background to Foreground

From this point on there are many strategies, but we suggest painting from background to foreground.

This means painting all the elements in the background, then middle ground, then foreground.

The advantage of this is that you don’t need to be very neat in the background or middle ground. If your lines or strokes in a background mountain accidentally go over a foreground tree, that’s ok. You’ll paint the tree later and it will be fixed.

You can also use a reduced colour palette for this step, and bring more colour the closer to the foreground that you go.

Again, don’t worry about detail too much. Then repeat this step again.

Step 4) Mix more colours

This time mix more colours, and spend a bit more time on detail.

The more layers you can do the better. For a beginner, try 3 – 5 layers. That means painting the background, middle ground, then foreground 3 – 5 times.

Achieving fine detail

Each time try to fix little things and make it a little bit better.

Remember that its ok if your first painting doesn’t feel like a masterpiece.

Try the above techniques a few times, even with the same scene. Even experienced landscape painters often paint the same scene many times before they get it looking close to what they want. Practice is key.

Detailed landscape painting

FAQ Questions:

  • How do you start an acrylic landscape painting?

Drawing is the most important first step. Start with a 2 minute sketch, then 5min, then 10min. The more drawings you can do of the landscape, the easier the painting stage will be. When your drawing is as good as you would like it to be, draw it again onto your surface. Following this mixing the right colours is very important. Practice is key.

  • How do you paint realistic landscapes in acrylic?

Realism is a genre in art and can refer to subject matter (i.e. realistic everyday scenes). Realism can also refer to colour (e.g. impressionism) or making something look more like a photo, like the hyperrealism painters. Think about what aspect of the painting you want to focus on. E.g. If you want the colours to be realistic then spend more time mixing colours. Each layer try to adjust the colours to make them closer to your source image. If you want the proportions to be realistic then draw the scene over and over again.

  • How do you make a landscape painting?

There is no right or wrong method. One possible technique is to start with drawing. Then paint quick washers, then layers of background, middle-ground, foreground.

  • What makes a good landscape painting?

This is completely up to the viewer and you should not be influenced by what other viewer’s or artists like. When the impressionists first painted their landscapes most viewers were not at all impressed. Likewise, many traditional realistic landscapes may now be seen as boring and simplistic.

  • How do you draw a simple landscape?

Reduce the elements in the scent to just the bare essentials, or what you think is important. E.g. For a street scene try ignoring most of the people and signs,etc. Try squinting and see which details disappear first. Also, try doing the landscape with a reduced colour palette.

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