Tip For Painting Landscapes With Buildings: Create a Visual Melody

Painting subjects with buildings is one the most popular themes for artists. Humans readily identify themselves with man-made structures because these buildings are part of their environment, like nests are to birds. Some artists make a living painting scenes solely with buildings. For me, these scenes have always been best-selling paintings.

Photo reference of Carmel Mission

The contour lines formed from the tile roof and the vertical lines of the stone wall are visually too long. In the artistic representation of this subject (below) you can see certain tactics were applied to slow the pace down by means of crooked lines.

As with all subjects we paint, in landscape paintings we will be faced with hurdles that must be overcome. We will need to alter the actual real presentation of scenes and manipulate their forms to make them more artistically appealing. I cannot address all the pitfalls these subjects can present in this singular blog post, but I will address this important one; Buildings have straight lines. This results in the viewer’s eye moving too fast.

Carmel Mission, landscape painting by Johannes Vloothius

Carmel Mission by Johannes Vloothius. Learn techniques for painting landscapes here.

You may ask, “Why can’t I just copy the way that stone mission appears in real life? If it works in nature, why not in a painting?” The mission in the reference photo above is at least a couple of stories tall. The fovea of the eye can see only several yards in sharp focus. The rest of the line and details become undefined in the peripheral vision of the eye so you never see the entire roof line or the side of a wall altogether in sharp focus without moving your eyes. In a painted representation, you are able to see the entire structure sharply because the building can be about six inches tall.

Also you don’t have macro three-dimensional reality in a painting. You will have a two-dimensional, fake representation of it. Therefore, all bets are off on copying things because the real image is altered. The other problem with copying is that a painting gets abruptly cropped, something that never happens in the real world.Depicting buildings with straight lines will result in a rigid outcome. The viewer unconsciously follows these lines back and forth like a subway train. They lack visual melody. It’s like listening to a flat song with no high or low pitches.

Carmel-Mission-cropped_landscape painting

In this close up (above) you can see the irregular line patterns. Allowing some stones to protrude irregularly creates this effect. The tiles look weathered and broken, which gives this an uneven line that’s artistically more pleasing. The roofs are slightly bent, as if the beams were sagging, to avoid a stern straight line as well. Incorporating flowers and plants is another recourse we can count on to interrupt the swift visual pace on walls. Any line longer than about two inches on a midsize painting should be interrupted.

To learn more about painting buildings you can find “The Complete Essentials of Painting Buildings” 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 more tips on how to paint.

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