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Landscapes: Working with Natural Elements

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The role played by a natural setting (sky, sea, field, prairie, etc.) depends on the place that it occupies in the composition, but also on the treatment that it receives.

What You Need to Know:

  • The more lively the sky or the sea, the more it will overshadow other points of interest
  • Conversely, a calm sea or a peaceful prairie should be contrasted with a strong subject, or your work risks appearing bland.
  • Grant natural settings the place they deserve:  It’s useless to plan two-thirds of the composition as sky if nothing is happening there!

1. Animate the Sky

  • Create a tonal range that harmonizes with the ambient luminosity:  from pink to blue at dawn, from gray to purplish for bad weather, etc.  Define a maximum of intermediate tones.
  • Harmonize the clouds:  white to gray on a blue sky, turning almost purple for a sunset, etc.
  • In a dramatic landscape that doesn’t actively seek realism, dare imaginary shades, contrasting them violently against the sky. 
  • Work with volume:  through impasto and shade, but also by reserving clear shades for the sections exposed to the light (behind a cloud, the sun is always there!).

2. Make Water Come Alive

  • Beyond its treatment (line drawing, color, transparency…), make an effort to set the scene:  cascading waterfalls, foaming waves breaking on the rocks, etc.
  • The definition of reflections of boats and other structures is an excellent indication:  a calm sea requires a good deal of clean lines.  Conversely, a few imprecise brushstrokes suggest agitated seas.
  • Position your subjects consequently:  on a stormy sea, yachts heave-to.

3. Create a Breeze

Wheat flattened by the wind, branches on an impossible trajectory… Vegetation vibrates under the wind’s influence.

  • Play with the slanting of stems, prioritize oblique elements… and transform ordinary pastures into graphic elements that are favorable to guiding the eye towards your points of interest!