Learning how to create atmosphere and recession in a landscape painting is an essential skill for a landscape artist. Artists will have their own techniques to achieve this effect but in my new DVD Pastel Demonstration Lingcove Bridge, I explain my methods. I like to give a painting a sense of space and a strong feeling of atmosphere.
My favourite techniques for creating recession are through the use of colour, tone and detail. Cooler, paler colours in the distance: warmer, darker colours as you progress towards the foreground. Less detail in the background and more in the foreground, especially around the focal point. The relative sizes of objects in the landscape is also a consideration. Trees in the distance, even if they are larger than foreground trees, need to be depicted as smaller. As Father Ted says, “this cow is small but those are far away”
Atmosphere is something that becomes easier to understand if you sketch outdoors, in front of your subject. There is nothing like getting out in the countryside to give authenticity to your landscape paintings.
These are not new ideas, the old masters excelled at giving a sense of depth through these methods. You almost certainly have heard these tips before, but it can’t be said too often.
The new DVD is 1 hour 23 minutes long and is filmed in close detail so you can see every mark I make, with a running commentary about my thought process. There is an excerpt on You Tube
My entry for the Cox & Kings competition is finished.The final stage of any painting is a dangerous time. The temptation to put in every detail is great but it must be resisted. In the photograph which I posted on 28th October, (you can see this if you scroll back through my blog) there were a lot of trees and bushes so these have to be simplified. Also the hillsides were dotted with scrubby bushes but to include all of those would be spotty and distracting.
There was no obvious pathway leading the eye into the painting so I created one that led towards my focal point, the building. I had moved the building closer to the wadi so that it fell in a more pleasing location, directly below the main peak of the mountain and within the Golden Section. The strongest tonal contrast is on the building and I have added a figure, a Berber woman in bright clothing which I had found in my 1993 Morocco sketchbook.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this exercise and I want to thank Katie Parsons of Cox and Kings for inviting me to take part. It was the incentive I needed to get painting again after a long absence. I wish my fellow competitors good luck.
I have made further progress on my painting for the Cox & Kings Morocco competition: The middle distance in a landscape painting is often a tricky area to tackle. It’s important to keep in mind the relative size of features compared to the foreground such as trees and bushes; the colour temperature must be carefully controlled; and we must resist the temptation to render too much detail to features that are distant.
Stage 4 – middle distance
In the photograph there were very strong, sharply defined cloud shadows on the hills on the right and initially I painted these in as they were in the photograph but I quickly realised that they were drawing the eye too much and would compete with my focal point so I softened them considerably. The hills on the left were lighter in tone with less tonal contrast so there was no need to soften them too much.
The next stage will be the focal point, the building, and the foreground. See you in a few days.
Yesterday I made more progress on my painting for the Cox & Kings Morocco competition: Stage 2 – Sky: When painting landscapes, I generally work from the top of a painting downwards. This serves two purposes. Firstly it helps prevent the heel of your hand smudging the work where it rests on the support and secondly it helps create a sense of recession. If you think of the landscape in terms of distance, the objects farthest away are usually lighter in tone, cooler in colour and less distinct. Translating this into the painting process means that you use paler, cooler colours in the distance and less detail. By working down the support you can remember that meme in your choice of colour and tone.
Stage 2 – Sky
Stage 3 – The mountains: The sky was painted down over the drawn lines that defined the mountain tops. This is to ensure that there are no gaps between the sky and mountains and also to give the impression that the sky is, in effect, behind the mountains. Sticking to cooler colours and pale tones, the mountains are painted with sharp edges in places and softer edges in others so that there is not a hard line all the way across the painting. Soft edged cloud shadows helps define the ridges.
Stage 3 – the mountains
The next step will be coming soon.
Every now and again our plans are thrown off course and we have to adapt to the new circumstances. In April I suffered one such ‘bump in the road’, a slipped disc and I ended up in hospital. At the same time I was given the news that I need a major operation for an unrelated issue this summer so I have had to cancel all my demonstrations and events for the foreseeable future. I am sorry if any of these cancellations have affected you. I may not be accompanying David at his events either and will miss seeing old and new friends. but I hope to be back on course again by the autumn.
The pastel painting below was the last demonstration I did this year, for Llantarnam Grange Art Group in Cwmbran in March. The theme was ‘creating atmosphere’ and pastel is the ideal medium for this purpose. Softening the edges of the distant features in order to create a sense of atmosphere is relatively simple with pastel. To create this effect of clouds over the hilltops, just gently stroke some of the sky colour down over the distant hills. This pushes them into the distance.
Crickadarn, Mid Wales, Pastel by Jenny Keal
The same method was used lower down in the distant hills, softening the green colour of the lower slopes into the blue/grey. This softness is emphasized by making the edges of the focal point sharper and the tones darker. All these techniques help to create the illusion of recession in a painting.
You can see this technique and many others, demonstrated in live action on my DVD, Painting with Pastels, available in our online shop.
I hope you find time to get out in the countryside this summer to paint and sketch and store up subjects for the coming winter months. Nature has a way of invigorating and at the same time restoring tranquility in our busy lives.