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Landscapes: Creating an Atmosphere

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The serenity of early morning, the surrealism of a foggy backdrop, the theatricality of a stormy scene…  A memorable landscape is characterized first and foremost by an identifiable atmosphere.

What You Need to Know

  • In sunny weather, the clarity of the sky contrasts sharply with the vivid colors of the subjects.  If you prefer intermediate lighting (mid-morning or afternoon), define soft shadows and light contrasts.
  • Save the harsh and overwhelming midday sun, for subjects that deserve it:  white walls against a blue sea, for example.
  • To create a dramatic scene, opt for extreme lighting (sunsets, storms) and accentuate a maximum of contrasts, up to the point of chiaroscuro

1. How to Create a Dramatic Scene

  • Dare unexpected treatments (a nocturnal scene, for examples), by drawing a negative on dark paper.
  • Stage your subjects:  choose a low-angle point of view or introduce a very strong foreground.
  • Accentuate the raised areas of your points of interest with important impasto, or a density of intense pigments if you are working with dry media.
  • Highlight the contours of subjects with a dark line, saturating and darkening their colors.
  • Reinforce all contrasts.

2. Working with Chiaroscuro

Whatever the number of colors involved, contrast is a result of the opposition between clear and dark tones.  The more radical the opposition between background and subject, the more the subject gains in relief and importance in a decidedly theatrical composition.

  • In an entirely somber scene, a very bright subject, bathed in an almost supernatural light, attracts the eye:  this is the essence of chiaroscuro, as it was defined by Rembrandt.  In the Matthias Braun watercolor, opposite:  The foam and the clear part of the sky are created with a sparing technique (the paper is left blank).
  • You can achieve the opposite effect by strongly darkening your subjects to underscore the richness and luminosity of the background.  In the work of Mathias Braun, opposite:  the cloudy mass or the waves.
  • Work carefully with intermediate nuances, because contrast does not equal rupture.  In the work of Mathias Braun, opposite:  The green of the sea is composed of several shades.  For the first layer of green, which is rather diluted, he has added less-diluted points of color.
  • Consider decreasing color density and the strength of their opposition as you approach the horizon.