The mid ground layers

Painting Landscapes - The Mid Ground Layers

The mid-ground layer in my painting is going to be mountains of the Central Plateau, North Island, New Zealand. The snow covered high country will extend right across my canvas and a mountain cone will dominate the scene.

Like the rest of my painting I am going to paint these mountains in layers. I need to decide what colour and tone the base or under layers will be. I can imagine the higher peaks on the mountains will have cool (blue) slightly lighter tones blending into the darker blue tones in the foothills under the snowline. I am mixing up on my palette 2 tones of cool blue.

I need to pay very careful attention to the profile detail of my mountain. Every unique landscape feature has a specific shape to it depending on the angle of view. Often a buyer will recognise the view and buy it because it means something to them. Get the shape wrong and they will not want to own your painting.

With this in mind I apply the paint from top left to bottom right in my mid-ground. I am using my favourite 1inch brush and a smaller quarter inch brush on the profiles. As much as I can I carefully smooth out any raised ridges on the edge of the mountain.

The two tones of cool blue are then blended to a steep contrast with a small fan brush. Standing back from the canvas now I can see how the mountains and foothills are looking in relation to the sky. I am now going to allow the base colour on the mid-ground mountains to tack off slightly over the next 48 hours.

I am not finished with my painting session, so I am going to take advantage of some more time on my side to fill in the foreground with a base colour or bottom layer of darker tones. I can do this at this stage because nothing in my foreground is going to overlap the mid-ground mountains. It will also give me a better contrasting idea as I paint the snowy details into my mountains. Lets move on to the tussock country.

Working the under layer or base tones on my tussock country requires me to mix up colours of dark brown using Raw Umber, Light Red and Van dyke Brown. The tones are similar but the colours of brown have a slight variation. I apply this paint with a 1-inch brush from top to bottom making sure the entire canvas tooth or texture is well covered. I am not going to go over the paint with soft brush and layer it off, This is going to be a highly textured area of my painting so I use a brush to create very light texture remembering the 'Thick on Thin'. I have also remembered to use lean mix in my under layer.

Standing back I can see the various browns and the texture are creating a very slightly contrasting base coat. A good beginning of my tussock country. That is enough for one day.

I spoke about the importance of making sure all the tooth in your canvas is well covered. It is very easy to view a painting later, especially in the darker areas and see a very annoying white speck of bare canvas. Apply your paint in multiple directions to get into the tooth and focus on one small area at a time. An up down and side to side painting style is required here.

Another painting session and it is time to return to the mountains and apply some detail and recreate those wonderful snowy mountains.

First things first, we are going to mix up some lighter tones of brown and paint some background detail into the foothills. The snow line will come down below this level but these foothills are closer to us then the faraway mountains. This means we can see more detail. Our darker blue base colour has given us a good foundation to paint snow on to the mountains.

Having cleaned the palette to remove all traces of brown paint I can now mix up the white and blue-white paint, which I will use to paint the shape of the mountains. I use some Fat mix because we are now working in the top layers of paint and the rule is 'Fat on Lean'. Lets have a better look at what defines shape in our environment.

I am not sure how other planets get on but here on earth we only have the one sun providing light to the landscape and only for half a day at a time. Depending on the time of day and year the direction of this light will determine the shapes and colour that our eyes will see.

We need to decide the exact direction of this light so we can be consistent in painting highlights and shadow. Draw a light arrow on a blank area of your canvas that is going to determine the direction your light will take. Don't draw this line in the completed sky area of your painting, as you will ruin it.

In the case of my painting the light is coming from the top right and travelling right to left across my scene. The shadows will fall to the left and the right side of my painting will be bathed in direct sunlight.

Using my contrasting tones of blue white I apply the paint to build up my mountain features based on light, shadow and shape. A mountain is not a smooth gradual change of colour and contrast that you will find in a still life object like an apple or a ball. It has valleys and ridges that slope down the cone and break off in multiple directions.

I can't stress enough how important it is to open your eyes and think about the shape of the feature you wish to paint. Keep the first layer of detail light and flat.

My mountains surrounding the cone are less steep and ridged so I paint curved shapes into them to give the appearance of rolling snow covered high country. I am bringing the snow line down over the dark blue under layer and into the brown foothills. Keeping the snowline consistent across the canvas.

I then go over the cone with further highlight and add more shape sometimes using small brushes. Since this is my top layer I can do what oil paint does best to further enhance the shape. A textured effect with thicker paint.

Don't scrimp on oil paint. Make the natural light in the room help bring out the depth in your painting by reflecting off the textured paint. The style term for this is 'impasto'. A professional looking oil painting is one where the paint is thick and raised where it needs to be. If you agonise over using thicker paint to create this effect then watercolour may be a better option for you.

I work now in the lower mountains giving further shape and highlight to them. Leaving it now I can later return to my mountains to add even more texture and highlights if I feel they need it.

Standing back from my work I can now see all the background and base layers paying off. My painting is starting to come alive. Remember to click on these pictures to enlarge them in a seperate window if you want a closer look.