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Learn to Paint a Landscape from a Photograph: 1.2 Monochrome Mountains

Let’s Layer Some Smokey Mountains!

In our last lesson we chopped apart the photo above into two main parts, the sky and the mountain range. Now that we have painted the clouds (maybe several times to further your cloud study) it is time to add in the earth below.

The layer of the clouds was a bit more fluid as we were dealing with just two colors, blue and white. This made it easier to correct mistakes since we could just blur it all together and start over if we needed to. This next segment will not be as forgiving since we are dealing with a much darker color palate.

mountain layers.jpg

Opaque and Transparent

The words that we need to internalize to present accurate layers are, opaque (o-pake) and transparent. Opaque means that the paint can cover other layers without the under-layer (first layer) showing through. Transparent is exactly what is sounds like. When you paint over a layer, the under-layer will still shine though.

These terms are especially important when using cheaper paints. These paints may not have the thick binders and pigment strength needed to cover the previous layer. (Please see my blog post on Cheap Paints vs. Expensive Paints for more of a break down on this). Some paints are naturally transparent while others are naturally opaque.

Dark over Light

There are a few techniques to overcome this obstacle, but we are going to look at one for this painting. The technique is DARK over LIGHT. Since most of the paints we will be using are transparent, it is important to start out with your lightest color and build the dark paints in layers. This painting portrays the dark over light idea very well. Due to the “atmospheric perspective” the mountains are already lightest in the far distance. We then make them a little dark and darker, until we reach the trees closest to us.

The easiest way to make something lighter or darker is to add white or black. White is tolerable to lighten colors, but too much can make a painting look “bleached”. Sometimes you may want it to look bleached and pale, like you will see with this painting as the mountains recede into the background, but a true black can quickly kill the life of your natural paintings. Not even the trees in the foreground are fully black. Look and see if you can see any color there.

If you look closely at the natural shadows around us, VERY rarely are they a true black. I see a dark purple, a greenish brown, a bluish gray, and on. The color of the shadow really depends on the color of the object and the time of the day, since the sun tends to shift from cool colors to warmer colors throughout the day. [I will discuss the difference between warm and cool colors and when to use them in a different lesson]. Think of these as some guidelines, NOT RULES per se since there is always an exception…

Thou Shalt Rarely Bleach your Paintings with White.

Thou Shalt not Murder your Paintings with Black Shadows.

In the video below, you will see that I will slow the video down during the mixing of the layers and speed it back up during the painting. The mixing is a process and I try it several times before I get the colors I want. I do this with every painting and especially with a study. I also try to make sure I am not bleaching out my lights with white to much or just adding black to make my darker layers. I use black as a last resort.

TIP: Don’t even put black paint on your palette when painting a natural photograph. See what you can do first with the darker colors you already have.


Happy Layering!




Ashley DowellComment