How to paint a landscape for complete beginners
Landscape paintings are the most popular for purchasing and hold wide appeal amongst art buyers, critics, lovers and creators. Humans are so attracted to looking at and creating landscape paintings.
The good news is – there is no right or wrong way to paint a landscape.
The best way is to start and try multiple times. Begin by starting off simply, and progressing to more details as you practice more.
Here you will learn the most important tips to painting a great landscape for beginners:
- What is a landscape painting?
- What you need to know about landscape painting
- How to start
- Drawing a landscape first
- Paint washing the background
- Order of background to foreground
- Achieving details!
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… but 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.
The process for landscape painting is going to be different whether you are painting with watercolour, acrylic or oil paints. This is due to the drying time and opacity (whether you can see through the paint or not).
We will go more into that later.
Things a beginner needs to know before starting a landscape painting
- Which elements are in the background, middle ground and foreground?
- 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 appear 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 a beginner landscape painting
Choose what to paint on first, e.g. canvas or paper.
Choose what medium you want to use. E.g. Acrylic paint, pencils, oil paint or watercolour. To name a few.
Think of a landscape you want to paint. E.g. the beach, your home, a street, a field, the nights sky. Your options are endless!
Try and think what inspires you and excites you to paint. That normally has the best outcomes.
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 a 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 the landscape
For representational painting, drawing practice prior to painting is helpful!
Sketch the scene five so 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.
Drawing a landscape pro tip for beginners
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 paint!
Step 2) Paint wash the background colours of your landscape
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 your landscape 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, add them to your landscape
This time mix more colours, and spend a bit more time on detail.
Start with the darker colours first, and put the lighter colours on top!
The more layers of detail you can do the better!
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.
It takes many attempts and sometimes a lot of patience to feel completely satisfied with your paintings, but you can surprise yourself sometimes. That is the beauty of it.
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.
Good luck with your first landscape painting!
And remember, the famous painting Starry Night by Van Gogh is a similar style to his portrait work. You can apply the same techniques across both styles of painting.
Everyone has an individual style you just need to practice a lot to see what your personal style is. Don’t give up and most importantly – enjoy yourself.
- 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?
To achieve art in fine detail like hyper realism painters can take a lot of practice and time. Some paintings can take months even years to complete. When painting, look at a photo and mix your colours to match those of the photo. Copy the shapes from a detailed level at first you will copy solely from the photo, but as you learn the image you will start to complete sections from memory of the right colour and shapes. For example being able to paint the hairs and even little wrinkles on skin with just a brief reference to the photo. You can achieve fine detail by working off a photo in small parts and spending a lot of time mixing your paint to match that of real life. 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, even using a ruler to ensure that your dimensions are exact.
- How do you make a landscape painting?
There is no right or wrong method. But for best results either sit in front of the landscape or go off a reference photo. Try to mix your colours to match those of the scene as best as possible. Colour mixing is an important step in art. One possible technique is to start with drawing. Then a background paint wash, then add layers. Starting with the background, then the middle-ground and then finer layers of details in the foreground.
- What makes a good landscape painting?
This is completely up to you and the viewer! 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. Having said that, it is most satisfying as a viewer to be taken on a journey with a landscape artwork. So spend a bit of time planning your composition too. If you prioritise colour then spend your time mixing your paint to ensure you achieve the look that you want. However, it is up to you as the viewer what you consider to be a good landscape painting.
- How do you draw a simple landscape?
Consider painting it in an abstract style. This often simplifies the natural detail you need to work on when painting a scene realistically. You can reduce the elements in the scene to the bare essentials, or what you think is important. E.g. For a street scene try ignoring many of people and signs,etc. Try squinting and see which details disappear first. Take quick glances at the scene and paint the main ideas you are getting from it. Also, try doing the landscape with a reduced colour palette. This can make it easier.