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How to paint a landscape with acrylics for beginners

Updated on December 17, 2013

In this hub, I'm going to walk you through the steps you need to take when painting a landscape in acrylics. The video below is a time lapse video of me painting my most recent piece, called 'golden dawn' and we are going to use it as an example and point of reference. So watch that now.

I use Windsor&Newtons Galeria Acrylic paints set.
I use Windsor&Newtons Galeria Acrylic paints set.

So as you have seen, you should always start with the distance, that way you can later paint on top creating a greater sense of depth in your painting. In most cases this will be the sky. I have used a large brush for this to create a flatter colour and blend the different tones more. It can also be helpful to spray water on the canvas during this process as this will keep the paint wet and, once more, help it to blend. Remember that your sky should always be lighter closer to the horizon, so slowly start to incorporate more white in your sky colour as you move down.

In your sky, you may want to include some clouds. The main problem beginner painters face here, is not creating realistic shapes, as they include the clouds in a far too formulaic and even way. It's important to remember than in nature, things are complete random so try to vary the clouds in shape, size and distribution.

In addition, try to have some kind of correlation between the colour of the sky and the colour of the clouds. In general, you will want to add a white or black to your sky colour to do this. In my piece I have just added some black to the yellow ochre I used for the sky to create the basic cloud shape.

Next, you must give your cloud some depth. It is important to emphasise the areas of cloud in shadow and those in the light. Many beginners, do not make their shadows large or dark enough making the clouds look flat. Usually you will want to us warmer colours for the highlights on the clouds and cooler colours for the areas in shadow (this is not the case in my painting). If you are painting a time of day where the sun will be below your clouds (dusk or dawn) you may want to highlight the bottom of your clouds as I have done.

So now you have completed your sky you can start to paint the more interesting features. If you are painting something complex you may want to lightly draw out the main shapes on the canvas with a pencil. Don’t worry if it isn’t completely accurate it is just a guide to get you started.In this case I haven't.

I started by drawing out a faint line, again using the yellow ochre of the sky mixed with white, marking the horizon. This is the most distant part of the painting so use lighter colours and don't include much detail. Always work from the back of the painting forward as you can then paint over the background you have set, creating more depth.

I then created a closer background leaving a bit of the horizon to be seen in the distance. It is darker than behind as we move forward in the picture. I used a fan brush for this to create a grassy effect. If your grass is green, be sure to add some highlights to it using the fan brush again.

Use a fan brush to create a grassy effect.
Use a fan brush to create a grassy effect.

In most cases, the foreground will be the most important part of your painting as it will include the most detail and put the rest of the picture in perspective. For me, this is certainly the case. I will usually start the foreground by laying out the basic shape in black, as this is the darkest part of our painting. You can then later add highlights to it. Again, don't be to precise about your shapes, remember that the natural world is random.

Then you need to slowly go over your black foreground adding the colour - start with the darkest and finish with the highlights. In my tree, I have used five different shades of essentially the same sap green.

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to know where your light source is coming from and to keep this consistent throughout the picture. Make sure that most of your lighter tones are one one side of your tree and that the other side is left relatively dark.

After this, your work is complete! Remember that it takes practice to get good, so be patient and keep painting. If you have any questions feel free to ask them in the comments below.

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    • Amanda6868 profile image

      Amanda M 2 years ago from Unknown

      Your "Golden Dawn" painting is beautiful. I can tell you are an experienced artist. Even when you were just staring to paint the clouds, the painting was great already. Thank you.

    • carlarmes profile image

      carlarmes 3 years ago from Bournemouth, England

      I enjoy reading different people's techniques on painting pictures and I like your style, this technique would suite a picture I am about to work on.

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      Thanks for the great art lesson. I don't paint, but do sketch on occasion. I've found myself making some of mistakes you mentioned, the most common being getting my shadowing wrong and having seem as if there's more than one light source. Thanks for the tips.