Learn to Paint a Landscape from a Photograph: 1.1 Monochrome Mountains

Let’s deconstruct a landscape photo together!

We will take one piece of the painting apart at a time to analyze the shapes and colors that make up the various parts. This will help us know how to become better painters from photographs.

When starting a painting, it is smart (and highly advised) to start with the background first. The background in the painting below and in most landscapes include the sky. From there I move to the next closest object, which in the picture below would be the mountains. The mountains will get darker and darker as they come closer to the viewer.

As the objects receded farther and farther away from view they get lighter and we call this “atmospheric perspective”. Just implementing this value change into your paintings is going to make a huge difference in the representational outcome.

I typically want you to be able to see a picture as a whole before you begin painting, but in the case of this exercise I want you to see the picture as lots of pieces put together. Each area will come with its own techniques and challenges to overcome as you learn how to represent the objects to the best of your abilities.

 We will start this study series with a simple photo to demonstrate the terms Background, Mid-ground, and Foreground. As you are learning to draw and paint, landscapes especially, it is nice to know some directional terminology. Well Here we go!


The Background

It is easy to get bagged down with the thought of, “So, where do I start?” when looking at a picture like this. There are several “layers” that we will need to build as we progress through. I hope you are thinking of an onion when I say layers because that is EXACTLY what I mean.

In an onion there is the core and then onion layer 1, then 2, then 3, etcetera, until you get to the crusty, papery shell.

In the painting above there are actually two sets of layers: the clouds in the sky and the mountain range below. Here is the split of the clouds and the mountains with the layers numbered:

Cloud layers.jpg
mountain layers.jpg

It is always a bit more difficult to split the could layers since in this picture, there are few bold lines that separate them. We are more so looking at masses of color.

There are more distinct lines when looking at the mountains. We will separate out all of the future photographs this way so that you can see a clear place to start every time.

Since the sky is the farthest thing from us, we will start there. The background of the sky is a layer of pinkish white that gradually fades into a darker blue at the top. See here:

no clouds 2.jpg

We then would paint in the clouds for layer 1:

(This is some fancy Photoshop work here…not)

(This is some fancy Photoshop work here…not)

Then layer 2:

Cloud layer 2.jpg

Then layer 3:

clouds layer 3.jpg

Now my Photoshop, “chop-shop” skills do not do justice to the picture in terms of layers, but it gets the point across for you to see the layers. See the time-lapse video below for me painting the clouds above with acrylic paint. This is a very quick painting of these clouds because this is a “study” or a “sketch”. It is good to practice and do several studies before you begin a large piece or purchase fancy, expensive supplies.


My next post will show the detailing of the mountain layers so stay tuned!

Happy Cloud painting!

Ashley Dowell