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DFH: Drawing Landscapes

10 May. ' 20

The time we've all been spending in doors has made us long for nature, instilling in us a new appreciation for wide open spaces and distant horizons. Whilst unable to stop and take in the landscape, we can re-visit memories of landscapes past from photos we have to hand in preparation for our future return.

Compared to the figure and still life subjects that we have explored in these blogs landscape offers new drawing challenges of composition, texture, and simplifying complex subjects and landscape drawing will help us develop skills that transfer to other genres.

Thumbnail sketches

When you get started, it is a good idea to plan more invested efforts with thumbnail drawings. These are small experimental studies, and they don't need to be fancy! Do lots of thumbnails and quick studies - the more you do, the more ideas you can test out. 


(J.M.W. Turner - 'Heidelberg Castle and Town from above the end of the Garden Terrace' Turner's sketchbooks were filled with simple studies like this. Small, quick efforts are the foundations of bigger pieces)


These quick, exploratory drawings are a great way to learn how to simplify complex details. When you scale them up to the larger piece you want to work on, retain their simple shapes and slowly go down the ladder to the smaller details. It is easy to get too involved with complex details, such as leaves or grasses, early on, so take care.

Framing is essential in landscape. It can be tricky to use unusual formats (the proportion and orientation of your image) in figure or portrait work, but landscapes provide ample opportunities. When you create your thumbnails, try experimenting with portrait orientations, or more stretched out or compressed compositions.


(This painting is 9'' x 5'', an unusual ratio I personally like to use. Try experimenting with different proportions)

If you include all the elements of your composition early on, you can see how they play off each other. Working on everything at once means that you can finish the drawing in a less detailed state if you prefer. 


(Ivan Shishkin - 'In the Woods' Although this is a fairly detailed drawing, when you look carefully at the foliage, there is a lot of simplification. Note how distant objects and shadows become silhouettes)


This leads us to the final stages of a drawing. When drawing textures and details, focus on including them in well light areas, and around light-shadow boundaries – avoid adding too much detail to shadow areas. A good rule of thumb is that less light means less information, which means less detail can be seen. This is balanced by the fact that each mark you make adds tone. If you have a light tonal area, use just enough textural marks to describe the texture, or it will start to appear too dark.



Composing Landscapes

Composition is an powerful tool; a weaker drawing with great composition will usually look better than a well drawn image with poor composition. There are a few broad ideas that can help us get started with creating better compositions. It is generally a good idea to be cautious using even proportions in compositions. This might be in terms of how elements in your composition are divided up, or how subjects are placed. A common convention is to use the rule of thirds to avoid doing this. 


(Edgar Payne – 'Laguna Beach' The rule of thirds is used to place the horizon, with the boat slightly off-centre)


The rule of thirds, simply put, involves dividing the composition into vertical and horizontal thirds. Key elements, such as horizon lines or focus points, are then placed on third divisions, or places where vertical and horizontal thirds intersect. This is effective, but not absolute! If you divide things unevenly, it doesn't matter if you use thirds. Indeed, pushing more extreme compositions can sometimes yield more expressive results.


(Edgar Payne – 'Eucalyptus Trees' This painting doesn't follow the rules of thirds, but is deliberately avoiding even divisions too)


Look for rhythms. The rhythm of a composition is an abstract idea that describes how the eye will travel through it. This could be due to contrasting edges, objects that 'point' in a direction, or elements with a directional flow, such as a colour gradient.


(Issac Levitan – 'Zolotaya Osen' On the right, the red lines show the directional leads created by elements in the composition)


You may need to use simplification more heavily at times. For instance, with groups of trees, or other visually 'busy' subjects, it often helps to merge them into a single clump by reducing their contrasts if they have similar tonal values. 


Tips for Working with Photos


Photography can be a useful tool, especially when we cannot go out. However, don't neglect working from life – even if it is only at home. Learning how colour and light work in reality will help you compensate for the weaknesses of cameras, and create better work from photo reference.

  • Avoid photos that are over or under exposed. The light in your photograph should be bright enough to show clear details, without washing them out.
  • If you are taking your own photos, whenever you can, try to get quick sketches or colour studies as well. This can be tricky, but worthwhile if you can, as cameras don't necessarily capture value and colour as well as the eye.
  • Crop out what you don't want. Don't feel like you need to use the whole photo – whilst it helps to take well composed photos, if you can improve it by cropping, do so.
  • Pick photos with clear dark, midtone and light areas. In particular, avoid reference materials that have very fragmented tonal shapes.


Over To You – Landscape Drawing from a Photo 


1.     Start by planning your composition in thumbnails. I've been looking at how to break up the sky and land sections of my composition.



2.     Once you've decided on your composition, lay it out by sketching the big shapes.


3.     Here I've added a bit more definition to the contours. I've tried to limit how many harsh, sharp lines I'm using by focusing on areas with more definition.



4.     Start to shade in the shadows – focus on shapes rather than details here. Try to  'weld' shadow shapes together into bigger masses.



5.     Build up details, especially in lit areas and shadow boundaries.  Remember, you don't need to draw every single thing – think about how you can imply complex textures with your marks.





6.     Here I have added the final details. I have also continued to simplify the shadow shapes, by fusing them together around the rocks and tree.




This is the ninth of our weekly 'Drawing From Home' blog posts, commissioned during lockdown to help you draw more at home. Please do share your drawings with us, as we would love to see what everyone is up! Just tag us with @Draw_Brighton on social media or use the #DrawingFromHome #DrawBrighton hastags. These articles are written by Lancelot Richardson, commissioned using money raised by the Draw Patreon.

Published by Lancelot Richardson on 10 May. ' 20

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