Sunday, 28 November 2010

Tips on Painting Mountains without Resembling Traffic Cones

The artist striving for drama may paint mountains as a backdrop to a village or creek that resembles an idealised Alpine scene of pointed cones with cartoonish snowy caps rather than a convincing portrayal of mountains that suggests bulk. How does the landscape artist paint mountains with realism?

Problems with Painting Mountains

Oil Painting Mountains
Rachel Shirley
The following culprits are often to blame for an unconvincing painting of mountains:

Making assumptions about the appearance of mountains that harp to symbolism. This might be: all mountains have flanks that are angled at forty-five degrees; all flanks converge neatly to a sharp summit; all snow caps are white; all mountains are bluish-grey and the contours of all mountains are jagged, etc.

Painting mountains in isolation to the other elements of the landscape painting instead of keying them in. This might result in mountains that appear too faint, too dark or out of scale with the rest of the painting.

Using mountains to fill an empty space, to hide a mistake or provide a backdrop to a landscape painting. This might tempt the artist to paint the mountains from memory which could result in the aforementioned idealised portrayal of mountains.

Treating mountains as cut out shapes and filling them in with one hue. The resultant featureless slopes are unlikely to grant the viewer any of sense of depth or scale to the landscape painting.

Tips on Mountain Painting

In order to make improvements to a painting with mountains, all assumptions about how mountains “should” look must be dispelled. This means looking at mountains images, either in real life or photos with fresh eyes. The artist will soon discover that some mountains have bizarre outcrops, protrusions and cols, the contours of which could be jagged, smooth, curved or bulbous.

How to Paint Mountains

How to Paint Snow Caps
Rachel Shirley
Unlike buildings, painting mountains accurately is not so crucial, but it is important to capture the truth about mountains which can be found within their diverse textures, contours and patchwork of colours.

When brightly lit, mountains exhibit a weird and complex jigsaw of colour and tone. Some lower flanks resemble crumpled tissue paper; others undulate from a flat plain. In such cases, it is important to simplify the mountain form into its most basic elements first, and then to work into the detail.

Many mountains do in fact resemble inverted cones, but some might be lopsided, pyramidal or flattened. Build upon this basic shape by observing and adding other shapes to this basic shape to suggest a complex three-dimensional form. Compare one shape with another and record whether it is darker, paler, bluer or more crimson than a neighbouring area.

Half-closing the eyes will unclutter the scene and help the artist capture the basic essence of the mountain. Detail such as trees or ravines can be added last.

The Colour of Mountains

The same mountain will appear different under diverse lighting, weather and seasons. Autumn will exhibit pinks, reds and rustic colours from fern that on other occasions look bland. Grim weather will bring out slates, greys and violets that add drama. Snow caps exhibit arctic blues and creams if sunlit, creating focal points. Never disregard a colour if it can be seen on the mountain, regardless of how bizarre it might seem.

How to Paint Mountains with Drama

The Complete Oil Painter: The Essential Reference for Beginners to Professionals
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Rather than view mountains as a convenient backdrop, use them as a focal point to a landscape painting. Dramatic photos of mountain ranges such as the Himalayas, the Alps, the Rockies or the Appalachians offer great opportunities to use bright colours and contrasting tones. Kilimanjaro or the Eiger are also worth exploration.

Oil Painting Techniques for Mountain Art

Any art technique can be used for painting mountains. Impasto oil pasted via palette knives will suggest thick snow and sharp peaks; blending over detail with a thin glaze will suggest mist over the mountains; or simply painting alla prima via wide bristles is great for expressing, energy and movement to a mountain painting. Applying detail via a fine sable is ideal for suggesting cracks, icy rivulets or pinnacles.

Links Relating to Mountain Painting

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