How to Budget Your Canvas Space When Painting a Mountain

Mountain scenes are very popular in galleries in the western part of the United States. Top galleries there have quite a few landscapes featuring the Rocky Mountains. These impressive subjects create an impact in the macro natural world when seen in person, but how do we simulate and if possible convey the majesty of mountains under the obvious limitations of a two-dimensional surface? Because you’re constricted within the boundaries of a painting, this is where you, the artist, will need to budget your pictorial space in your painting composition.

Landscape Drawing: How to Budget Your Canvas Space When Painting Mountains

In this photo Mt. Moran became minimized because the surrounding areas which occupy too much space and are stealing square inches from it.

The best policy is to plan your painting so the mass of the mountain takes up the most square inches in your design. This means you will have to plan to reduce the size of the surrounding masses such as the trees, lakes, skies, and grass. Another offset is that the scene gets cropped, abruptly stopping eye flow, contrary to what happens in real life. Everything gradually gets blurry in the peripheral vision of the viewer’s eye, away from where we are looking directly. Your painting always will be an artificial representation of a scene. This is where composition plays its role and where mountain placement is crucial to a successful painting.

How to Budget Your Canvas Space When Painting a Mountain, how to draw mountains

In this thumbnail sketch I extended the mountain peak as high as possible just before it would suffocate the sky. The horizon line of the lake was lowered, allowing just enough space so the horizontal plane wouldn’t feel neglected.

Instead of taking a photo at face value, take the time to work out your project in a thumbnail sketch. This can be about the size of a poker card. This is where you can stretch or reduce the competing areas. Details aren’t important at this stage. You just need to work out the bugs of the pictorial real state. Don’t get caught up in the idea that you must respect the exact dimensions, shapes or ridges of a mountain. As long as the mountain is recognizable your painting is good to go.

Landscape Drawing, how to draw mountains, How to Budget Your Canvas Space When Painting Mountains

Learn more in my step-by-step instructional video, The Complete Essentials of Painting Mountains.

Once I worked out the location of the subjects, I added a Tic-Tac-Toe grid to my thumbnail sketch. This helped me transfer the initial drawing onto the larger format. Even at the size of this image the viewer will sense the majestic feeling of the mountain because of the comparisons to the subordinate masses.

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

Johannes Vloothuis is a regular contributor at and teaches online art classes with WetCanvas Live. To reach Vloothuis for these classes and to acquire teaching materials visit 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

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One thought on “How to Budget Your Canvas Space When Painting a Mountain

  1. LadyHawk

    Nice blog and great instruction as usual. Looking forward to the next Paint-A-Long with you in January of 2015…
    God bless you and yours and Merry Christmas to all.
    Eileen (alias Lady Hawk) here in beautiful Elmira Oregon

    PS: Purchased your “Painting Trees Essentials,” as I am no longer able to pull it up from the class link. Just happy to have it…