The background layers

Painting Landscapes - The background layers

Before I start I am going to get a 4 inch brush and dust my canvas to rid it of any contaminates that will ruin my flat expanse of the blue sky.

Next I will take my soft pencil and draw the outline of my mountain feature as a guide. I don't sketch in every detail of my painting like it was colour by numbers and between the lines. By working in Layers my composition will develop in stages. My first layers of deeper tones will only cover all the sketch lines anyway. It is good to keep those proportions correct so a simple sketch of the main features may help you keep focused. Keep it simple though!

Stand back often from your canvas to eye the proportions and reflect on what you're doing and what you will be doing. Remember most of your viewers will be looking at your canvas from a distance where detail will come together like it does in real life. Lets mix up some blue paint for the sky.

One of the most common colour mixing mistakes I see in oil painted Landscapes is the colour of the sky. The sky is not the exact Cobalt Blue like it would be if we mixed it straight out of the tube with some white paint, nor is it Ultramarine Blue or the stronger Prussian blue.

The sky has a hint of green in it, not much but it is there. Mix a little Lemon Yellow to the blue or mix Cobalt with maybe a hint of Prussian Blue.

As a Landscape Artist who is passionate about representing what is around you, then you must open your eyes and look around you. What colour is it really! Study the colours you see and then the fascinating world of colour mixing will slowly but surely come to you.

I cannot in a million years teach you what can only come with practice. Understand the spectrums and the science introduced in chapter 2 of this e-book and keep notes as you work.

Lets look at colour casting and how this will affect the overall look and feel of our painting. This is important, as is often a strong feature of a sky.

Cool tones are blue in nature and warm tones are reds. You will have heard of the warm tones of sunrise and sunset. Decide if the over all feeling of your painting is going to be warm with lots of reds and violets or cool with lots of blue colour casting.

I am going to go with cool tones in the sky and the mountains. The warm tones in the tussock will contrast with this.

It can be assumed that in most cases what is further away from the viewer is going to be lighter and less contrasting to what is close to us. Atmospheric haze is usually the reason this is so. In my painting the sky area closer to the horizon will be slightly lighter blue then what is above it.

To achieve a blended low contrast of blue tones I am mixing up three tones of blue from darker to lighter with just a hint of violet in the lighter tones. I mix Titanium White, Cobalt Blue, Lemon Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, Prussian Blue and Cobalt Violet to achieve this. Watch that Prussian Blue, it is very dominant.

Mixing the paint I use my large spade like palette knife and fold the paint over and over. Because I am working in the under layers of paint I mix a little lean mix with the pigment. Remember the fat on lean rule! Not much, just enough to loosen the paint and make it easy to apply

I now have three tones of blue all well mixed and only now will I apply it to my canvas.

Do most of your colour mixing on the palette. Oil painting is not like watercolour and you will spend much of your time colour mixing on your palette. A glass palette is a good idea. The sky is one of those exceptions where you can blend colours on the canvas but only from the tones we have created and not to generate an entirely new colour tone.

To apply my blue sky I am going to use a wide 1inch brush and start at the top right. I choose to paint around the corners on the stretch to carry the painting around but this is up to you. If you choose to end it on the face then you may want to mask up the edges. I continue to add colour down the canvas from left to right bringing the lighter tones graduated into three steps.

I can add a little more white to my mix, as I get closer to the horizon. Now I have my sky covered in paint in what looks like blue stripes from dark to light blue tones. Now we can blend it together on the canvas. This is fun!

Take a wide 2inch fan brush of natural fibre.

Don't use a synthetic nylon fan brush. Natural fibre like horse or sable hair works so much better. I don't know why it is but synthetic fibre seems to clump together making it so much harder to blend and flatten the paint. Synthetic brushes seem to be fine in other areas of painting and are cheap to buy. You don't need to spend any more then a few dollars on a brush.

Also take a clean rag and hold it in your other hand. Blend the sky from the top left to right and down the face. Work that brush keeping it moving fast and finish the blending by barely touching the canvas. Round and round up and down a few inches. Clean it in the rag,often so the bristles are free to work and not carrying the darker tones into the light. Have another fan brush handy if you need a clean one.

Stand your used brushes up in a specific jar so the bristles do not get damaged.

Stand back from your painting to inspect your blending from a distance. Identify the areas needing more blending or smoothing over.

In some painting precise blending is not what we are after. We may want a more impressionistic approach. I want good clean low contrasting tones in my sky; so good blending is what is needed here.

It has taken me a few hours to achieve my blended sky so just as well it is the slow curing oils I am working with. Just right for a slow cheese maker, eh!

I want my under layers of sky to be touch dry before I do my next sky layer. This is because I don't want the hassle of wet on wet painting when I put some clouds into my sky, the paint will easily transfer into my next layer if it is wet.

It is going to take 3 days before I am ready to work on. Just as well it is the weekend.

The Clouds and the Sky.

You don't need to be a smarty but a good understanding of the weather and the cloud types is very helpful in oil painting.

Go to your local library and get a book on the subject and study the formations and how they are made. When did you last lay down flat on your back and watch the clouds go by? Try it and look at the textures and the colours in the clouds. You may see a few that look like a relation or even a unicorn. Now we are getting carried away.

Notice how the clouds reflect the warm or cool tones depending on the angle of the sun. Every single moment in our sky is unique and will never be the same again and this is a nice way to think about it as you paint the sky.

Having said all of that I have decided to keep my clouds simple and not cluttered. The main focus in my painting is going to be the mountains and the tussock country. Lots of clouds will make this painting seem too busy.

I have mixed up some cool grey tones and some lighter highlights.I choose to use a large round brush and a rag. I work the paint into the canvas with the round brush and rag it off a little until I have a good result. My sky is going to have a touch of low-level cumulous cloud and some high level streaking cirrus clouds. This will help give the sky depth. We need to achieve depth in every feature of our painting to aid in the overall depth effect.

I need a small half-inch fan brush to help blend the tones in my clouds and smooth the texture.

Standing right back from my painting I am happy with my sky and ready to move down the composition into the mid-ground mountain features.