Robie is an artist who loves sharing what she's learned about art and painting in the hope that it might help other creatives.
Do You Want to See an Acrylic Painting Come to Life?
Learn how to create a landscape painting with acrylics on canvas, starting from a preliminary pencil sketch and a color study!
What You'll Need
9"x12" stretched canvas
Cadmium yellow light
Paper towel or rag
Cadmium yellow medium
Video of Me Painting This Tutorial
1. Plan the Composition
Start the creating process by sketching a drawing of the general composition of the landscape, including all the elements that you want to incorporate.
- Tip: Go digital! Use an image of the pencil drawing, import it into the Procreate app (or a similar sketching app) on your tablet, and color it.
2. Think About the Compositional Elements
In my painting, I strived to create a composition that included the following elements:
- A foreground field
- A path tapering in the distance, showing linear perspective
- Three trees in the middle ground
- Water from a river or a lake behind the trees
- A field with trees in the distance
- Overlapping trees with the other elements of the landscape to show positioning and relationship
- Mountains in the distance
- Radiating lines on the ground and clouds to carry the eye through the painting
- A consistent light source, as far as direction and color of the light
3. Prepare Your Palette
Squeeze out the colors on your palette. You can use any non-absorbent surface. A plastic palette or a smooth paper plate works fine. I like to use a light gray disposable paper palette.
How to Use Your Palette Effectively
When you squeeze out the colors, get into the habit of organizing them the same way on the palette to make color mixing faster and easier. I like to have my white always in the upper left corner and my blues and greens on the left side from coolest to warmest. I have my yellows and reds on the upper side, from warmest and lighter to coolest and darkest. However, every artist is different, and you can come up with your own way to arrange them.
How to Use Water Efficiently
It’s important to have water available. A big jug of water is handy for moistening the brushes and diluting the paint, and for rinsing the brushes between colors.
- Change the water frequently to keep it clean. Some artists use two jugs, one for painting and one for cleaning the brushes.
- I like to keep my paint moist at all times, so I spray water with a nebulizer on the paint globs on my palette as soon as I squeeze them out as well as throughout the painting session.
Keep Paper Towels Handy!
Paper towels are essential for absorbing excess water from brushes and for wiping off the paint before you rinse the brush. They also come in handy to wipe off mistakes before the paint dries up.
What Brushes Do I Need?
Have several brushes of different sizes available. Start with the bigger brushes, and move to smaller brushes towards the end of the painting. For this project, I used my D'Artisan Shoppe brush set. It contains some very nicely assorted brushes, and the quality is very good for the price.
- I painted the bigger shapes with a 3/4" flat brush, then moved on to a 1/2" flat and smaller round and filbert brushes for small details.
- I added some textural touches at the end with a painting knife.
When you go out and paint, try and forget what you have before you – a tree, a house, a field or whatever.
Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it emerges as your own naive impression of the scene before you.
— Claude Monet
4. Start With a Toned Canvas
Starting on a toned canvas eliminates the issue of having to completely cover the white canvas so you feel the painting is finished.
You can leave specks of the ground color to be seen throughout the painting. Not only it does not look unfinished, but it also makes the painting style look looser and unifies the painting, making it more harmonious.
- I picked a light orange for my tone, nice and warm with the idea that it would add a nice glow to the sunny landscape.
5. Begin Painting
With my pencil sketch and my color study on view, I started painting the landscape. I like to skip the drawing on the canvas because I don’t like to see the drawing lines in the final painting, and it keeps me looser if I draw with the brush.
However, there is nothing wrong with drawing on the canvas. You can use pencil on the dry ground color. If you want to make sure it does not smear when you paint on it, use a spray fixative.
Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
Begin it now.
6. Draw With the Brush
I like to draw loosely with a brush, focusing on placement and proportions. When marking an object, focus on the relationships between that brush mark and the others and observe the negative space between things; it will make the drawing easier.
If you make a wrong mark, wipe it off with the paper towel before it dries or switch to a different color and redo it. Wrong marks may create some confusion for you at this stage, but they can also add interest and color variations in the final product.
Keep the drawing lines loose and colorful.
7. Start Adding Color
Once you have the main compositional shapes in place, start adding color to the different shapes.
- Use a big brush and focus on grouping similar colors together. Leave a little bit of gap between shapes, and don’t cover completely your draw lines.
- Keep in mind that you’ll probably have to paint over each shape two or three more times, so at this stage, it’s not about getting the perfect effect and nailing the perfect color, but more like getting started and putting down color notes.
Since my canvas was full of orange and red tones, I started with the colors that would make the most impact: the blue of the sky and water as well as the greens.
8. Establish the Darks
The light is coming from the upper right corner. This affects all the shadows, especially in the tree masses and the cast shadows of the trees on the ground.
The activity of painting:
A thrilling tussle between the artist’s materials and his inspiration.
— Mervyn Levy
9. Fill in the Gaps
Once all areas have been assigned a color, it’s time to start working on more detailed brushwork.
- Switch to a smaller brush and start filling in the gaps in between the bigger brushstrokes from before.
- Cover most of the drawing lines, though I like to leave parts of some drawing lines to be seen peeking through here and there.
- When filling the gap between two shapes of different colors, like a dark and a light area of the grass, it’s a good idea to paint a transitioning color, kind of in the middle between the two.
10. Add Texture
At this point, the surface is all covered in paint and the picture is pretty complete. However, it lacks some texture.
I mixed a few greens on my palette, making sure I had different color ranges: some intense, some dull, some light, and some dark. I applied them to the canvas with the palette knife because I like the thick and loose paint application done with it.
11. Define the Water Surface
Still water is reflective, and it reflects both the landscape and the sky. Some ripples disrupting the reflections convey the idea of a horizontal surface.
12. Look for Final Tweaks
Step back and look at the painting as a whole, is anything jumping out at you as something that looks strange? Are there any unplanned awkward alignment between objects?
For example, at one point I realized that I had the lower edge of the tree canopies lining up with the bottom of the back trees, so I lifted them up so they looked much better.
The more you practice, the more mistakes you make and correct, and soon your confidence will grow.
This new-found confidence will make you more assertive, which is the key to unlocking your full creative potential. Experience is a great thing.
— Hashim Akib
13. Leave Your Fears Behind!
Are you getting started on a painting and you are not sure what to do? Are you afraid that it will be a failure, and you will just end up wasting your supplies? Have no fear, even if you end up with a painting that you are not proud of. Just the fact that you did it makes you a richer person and teaches you a lot.
Every single time you paint or draw, you learn something in the process, whether you're conscious of it or not. That is worth the effort on its own, and if you think that you are doing it by yourself, without having to pay a teacher, the cost of the supplies used is not a big cost to pay for the learning experience.
If you enjoy the process and end up with a nice painting, then it’s a total win. But you won’t know the outcome until you try. You can always paint over and change all kinds of things about the painting, even the subject matter. I have painted over many bad paintings myself, sometimes changing portraits into landscapes.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: If I mess up the top half of my painting, after it dries, can I use white gesso, let it dry, and then continue to work on the upper half of my painting?
Answer: If you are working with acrylics you can always gesso over a painting (or apart of it) and start from scratch. If you are painting with oils, that is not recommended. Oils are ok over acrylic, but acrylic doesn't go over oils.
If you messed up a part of a painting, you may want to gesso over, or another option is to just paint over. Depending on your painting style, sometimes the "messed up" part underneath can actually provide come specks of color interest to the top layer of the painting.
Question: I am new to the canvas. Should I clip the canvas onto a board used as a backing?
Answer: The typical way of painting on canvas is by stretching it on wooden bars or gluing it to a board or panel.
If you are painting on a canvas sheet that is not attached to any support, it will help if you clip it or tape it to a board as backing, kind of like what you do with watercolor paper.
Question: Why is the reference photo in online painting tutorials never shown? I find it very difficult to understand how the layers are built up without seeing a reference photo from which the artist is working.
Answer: I agree, a painting tutorial that includes a reference photo helps tremendously. In fact, I wrote a few articles that do include a reference photo (see links below). This particular painting tutorial, for which you asked the question, was not inspired by a photo, but it started with a digital sketch, made from imagination, therefore the starting sketch serves as the reference photo. Then, it was painted using whatever knowledge I had accumulated in years of painting, both in the studio and en plein air.
I hope this answers your question.
For tutorials that show a reference photo, you may want to check out the following:
How to Paint Believable Trees Step-by-Step: https://feltmagnet.com/painting/Tips-Painting-Tree...
Wet on Wet Oil Painting With a Limited Palette - How to Paint a Still Life Step-by-Step: https://feltmagnet.com/painting/Still-Life-Oil-Pai...
"Cow on Mountain" Landscape Acrylic Painting: Step-by-Step Process: https://feltmagnet.com/painting/Landscape-Acrylic-...
© 2018 Robie Benve
Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on March 31, 2020:
Hi Helen, this is the best time to be indoors and dabble in painting, a great way to stay busy and healthy during the pandemic. Thanks a lot for checking out my article, and happy painting!
Helen on March 29, 2020:
Looks interesting, haven't painted since I ve had cataract surgery, also in my mid 80s,wish me luck
MICHON ADAMS MAIN on April 11, 2019:
Excellent and thorough demonstration...I enjoyed this very much.
Clara on October 10, 2018:
Thank you for sharing. Insightful and helpful information well communicated.
Stewart Hood on September 24, 2018:
Insightful and helpful information well communicated.
Shakeb on July 15, 2018:
Good post ....love from india
Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on May 29, 2018:
Hi SuiCreations, great to hear you are diving into acrylic painting! Thanks for the tip about the stay wet palette, I've heard about those, but I've never tried one. I'm guessing it keeps the paint wet in between painting sessions, but does it prevent drying even when the lid is open? :) Thanks for your comment.
SuiCreations on May 29, 2018:
Hey Robie, you've got lots of good articles on here :) One huge thing for me, as someone who has been learning acrylic painting for about 6 months now, is that I find it so much better not to use a sprayer -- I just bought a "stay wet" pallette that keeps your paint wet for weeks. Completely changed everything for me in terms of making painting more fun and not stressful.
They can be expensive but I got one for just £10, and you can also make them yourself with kitchen roll, baking paper & a plastic lidded tub :)
Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on May 25, 2018:
Hi Donna, I was just talking with an artist that paints on black ground or black gesso, and I thought it was fascinating. I never tried it. One more thing to add to my project list. :) Thanks a lot for your kind words, I'm flattered to hear that you were inspired to paint a landscape after a long time.
Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on May 24, 2018:
Hi Camille, thanks a lot for the kind words, I'm very happy to hear that you liked my painting.
Donna Herron from USA on May 24, 2018:
Wow, this is a great step-by-step tutorial! I haven't done a landscape painting in a number of years, but reading your article has got me excited to dive in again. I've always started with a toned canvas, though usually painted black or dark blue. I think it's less intimidating and the colors pop more against the dark color. Thanks for the inspiration!
Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on May 24, 2018:
Thanks a lot Jill, I tried to create a fairly simple landscape that could inspire beginners to give it a try. I remember when I was a beginner, I had troubles finding ideas for things to paint and was not sure how to get started.
carolynkaye from USA on May 23, 2018:
Hi Robie, I love this Hub and how it shows all the steps. Beautiful painting too!
Camille Harris from SF Bay Area on May 23, 2018:
The final painting is beautiful! Well done.
Jill Spencer from United States on May 22, 2018:
A lovely hub, Robie! You not only make the process clear but inspire the reader to try.