I may have grabbed your attention at the risk of making you think I’m a big fat fibber, but I do think that when it comes to landscape painting, you sometimes have to lie–or at least exaggerate–to get what you want. This is based on personal experience–maybe I’m unlucky, but I do not step into a landscape of wonder and majesty every time I go outside. Finding a place worthy of being documented in a landscape oil painting doesn’t happen to me regularly.
Instead, when I walk out of the house, usually I’m struck by how ordinary everything is. But that doesn’t mean painting landscapes is an endeavor that should grind to screeching halt. Artists just need to learn the rule of pushing it.
Suppose you’ve settled on a subject for your next landscape oil painting, but no unicorn has trotted in to make an otherwise normal scene truly exceptional. If you are second guessing yourself about what you’ve chosen to paint and are considering something drastic like starting over, don’t! Instead, you have to start to push it–and everything is fair game. From the angles of a cluster of trees, to the colors in the sky, to the patterns made by the wind in a grassy field, everything can be enhanced or firmed up to give you a stronger composition than what you started with.
I don’t know if this strikes some committed landscape artists as insincere or wrong, but it works for me, mostly because I don’t believe your subject should have ownership over you as an artist. You get to make the decisions, and that means changing, moving, and pushing things to get your message across–and that is the most important aspect of painting landscapes, cityscapes, people, still lifes, or anything else.
For more landscape painting techniques, check out the new book by Elizabeth Mowry: Landscape Painting in Pastel. It is a solid resource for artists interested in firming up their technical abilities from an artist with a lifetime of painting experience, and it just might give us all the inspirational nudge we need to get out there and paint what we see in front of us–as well as what we want to see in front of us. Enjoy!