Joe Bucci | Putting Color to Work in Abstract Landscape Art

Creating Abstract Landscapes

By Joe Bucci


Read more by Joe Bucci in the September 2012 issue of The Artist’s Magazine (September 2012).

Creating a picture is like being in combat. Controlling the various color hues, color values and color temperatures that all want to do their thing on a flat surface is a struggle. Every new mark on a canvas causes something else to happen. Colors move in or out, shapes create negative spaces, and lines define and show rhythms. The trained artist tries to anticipate what’s going to happen, while the neophyte almost always becomes a victim to uncontrolled dabs, splashes and colors that get darker and muddier by the minute.

When I paint abstract landscapes, I think in terms of abstract shapes, light and dark masses, and warm and cool colors. Adjusting color temperature and color value enables me to move the visual planes backward and forward on the canvas plane.


Step 1: Turning Landscapes into Abstract Landscapes

I took this photo because I liked the subject’s mass of ochre color (not unlike the mass in Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World). I decided I would add a strip of water on the bottom of my abstract landscape art because I wanted another mass of color.


Reference Photo, Joe Bucci Demonstration | Creating Abstract Landscapes


Step 2: Complementary Ground Color

Because I envisioned mostly bands of color—blue and a large, warm, grayed yellow mass—I covered the white canvas with purple. I anticipated that this complementary ground would peek out from under the subsequent layers.

Ground Layer, Joe Bucci Demonstration | Creating Abstract Landscapes


Step 3: Darker Color Value and Cooler Color Temperature

I applied the underpainting masses in a darker color value and cooler color temperature than I wanted them to look when finished.

Underpainting, Joe Bucci Demonstration | Adding Color Value and Color Temperature


Step 4: Layers of Color

Next, I layered lighter, warmer colors of the same values as those of the previous layer. Because of the push and pull between the warm and cool colors, the surface appears to vibrate. Applying light over light or dark over dark does nothing for a painting. I work for contrast and have the most success dragging light over dark and warm over cool.

Lighter Layers, Joe Bucci Demonstration | Adding Color Value and Color Temperature


Step 5: Completed Abstract Landscape Art

Here you see the completed abstract landscape painting Yellow Field (acrylic, 10×10). I avoided getting into too much detail with the grass and reflections on the water because I didn’t want to create another focal point:

"Yellow Field" (acrylic, 10x10) by Joe Bucci | Abstract Landscape Art

“Yellow Field” (acrylic, 10×10) by Joe Bucci

Field: I arrived at the color running across the center of the finished painting by adding cadmium yellow light and white to the original undercolor, which I’d saved in tin foil. I chose cadmium yellow light over Hansa yellow because cadmium yellow is warmer. The tone near the top of the field received some phthalo blue with white added to cool it down and to give it the appearance of sliding back.

Horizon: On the horizon, I wanted a grayish brown mass of brush, so I chose a mixture of ultramarine blue, cadmium red light and a little white. The red pigment in the first two colors made for a rich, dark mass.

Sky: For the sky, I layered phthalo and ultramarine blue for the surface, lowering both in value with cadmium red light (a complementary orange).

Water: I first tried a grayed ultramarine blue for the water, but it was too warm, making that area pop forward, so I cooled that hue with phthalo blue.


Joe Bucci, who combines impressionist and expressionist styles, received his undergraduate degree from the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz and his master’s degree at Teachers College, Columbia University. In addition to having worked for more than 34 years as a high school art teacher and art department chairman in the West Babylon School District in New York, he has taught undergraduate and graduate courses at SUNY at New Platz and at Dowling College on Long Island. Currently he teaches at the Art League of Long Island in Dix Hills and is represented by Chrysalis Gallery in Southampton, New York. Visit his website at Read more about Bucci’s art, in The Artist’s Magazine (September 2012) in his article “Color & Context: Control the visual planes of your painting by adjusting hue, value and temperature.


Can’t get enough of abstract landscapes? Then check out this tutorial by Frank Satogata on putting warm and cool colors into your abstract landscape paintings. And if you want more tutorials on landscape painting, abstract or not, then check out this tutorial on painting landscapes and seascapes with John P. Osborne.


Vivid Color Landscapes, Katherine M Hurley
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Watch a preview of the video “Vivid Color Landscapes: M. Katherine Hurley Paints Pastels.”



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