Why Landscape Painters Should Think Like a Still Life Artist

Editor’s note:If you’re new to ArtistsNetwork, you’ll want to take a moment to become familiar with the guest blog posts of Johannes Vloothuis, an art instructor who rose to popularity through his friendly, candid guidance in our online forums. I’m honored to share with you his advice, which you can also find through his Landscape Painting Essentials series, at North Light Shop, and in the ArtistsNetwork eBook club. ~Cherie

In our macro world the brain has its own built-in mechanism that perceives three-dimensional reality. We can give a rough estimate of how far things recede into the distance. It doesn’t matter where the sun is positioned. Even if the light is perfectly lighting up the frontal plane on an object, we still perceive it to be three-dimensional. Field depth is never questioned in the real world.

As artists we don’t have this luxury. We’re faced with the need to manipulate forms so they convey a three-dimensional illusion on a two-dimensional surface. If we don’t know any better and we take a photograph of a scene, which flattens the entire scene into two dimensions, we may easily fall into the mistake of painting a mountain as it appears in the photograph. The day may be cloudy or the sun may be positioned in such a way that only one plane gets the light. We need to think like still life artists who generally show a height, width and depth to objects, allowing one side of fruits and other objects to appear in shadow and the opposite side in highlight.

In this photo the sun is behind the mountain, so the mountain is backlit. The scene is beautiful but, if we paint it as is, that mountain will seem as though it’s pasted on due to the absence of the third plane. It only has height and width. It’s missing depth, which is the third plane to form the three-dimensional aspect.

This notion can be equally applied to landscape objects. If you think in terms of spheres (example: treetops), cylinders (example: tree trunks), cubes (example: rocks) and cones (example: evergreens), as much as you can, you’ll remember to render a shadow side and a highlight to the shapes so you end up with the illusion of three-dimensional forms.

Atmospheric perspective plays a role in making this landscape painting look three-dimensional. Learn more about painting landscapes and mountains in my DVD, The Complete Essentials of Painting Mountains

The illusion of three dimensions in the above painting is much more convincing than the illusion dimensionality in the photo, in spite of the fact that the camera is more accurate at capturing details. If you look at the mountains carefully, you’ll see that they’re rendered in somewhat pyramidal shapes with a highlighted side, a midvalue side and a darker side. Also, atmospheric perspective plays a role.

To learn more about painting mountains you can find “The Complete Essentials of Painting Mountains” and other video courses at NorthLightShop.com.

Johannes Vloothuis is a regular contributor at ArtistsNetwork.com and teaches online art classes with WetCanvas Live. To reach Vloothuis for these classes and to acquire teaching materials visit ImproveMyPaintings.com. Come back soon for his next blog post with tips on how to paint.

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Edited by Cherie Haas, Online Editor of ArtistsNetwork.com