A Valuable Tip for Painting Landscapes with Buildings
Painting subjects with buildings is one of the most popular themes for artists. Humans readily identify themselves with man-made structures because buildings are part of our environment, like nests are to birds. Some artists make a living painting scenes solely with buildings. For me, these scenes have always been bestsellers and I want to explore the visual melody I employ in these works because that is key to why these paintings are so popular.
The Eye Moves Fast
As with all subjects we paint, in landscape paintings we will be faced with hurdles that must be overcome in order to effectively translate a place or photograph into a painting.
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 post, but I will address this important one: Buildings have straight lines. It is an obvious statement and yet it means a lot when thinking about a painting and its viewer because straight lines cause a viewer’s eye to move fast — sometimes too fast.
What To Do
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?”
Here’s the reason: 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, but that defies how the eye actually sees.
Also you don’t have macro three-dimensional reality in a painting. You will have a two-dimensional, painted representation of it. Therefore, all bets are off on copying things because the real image is already altered. The other problem with copying is that a painting gets abruptly cropped, something that never happens in the real world.
So 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.
How You Ensure Visual Melody
In this close up (above) you can see how I have substituted straight and narrow lines with 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 also 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.
My rule for guaranteeing visual melody (those crucial high and low notes) is that any line longer than about two inches on a midsize painting is interrupted.
Meet Johannes Vloothuis
Johannes has taught over 18,000 students to paint in person and through his live online Paint Alongs for Artists Network. The latest Paint Along is on the Principle of Contrast — sign up for the class now and you can enjoy live sessions that are also recorded so you can absorb the lessons Johannes teaches you at your pace and convenience!
As an art educator, Johannes has a large following of students because he has been able to verbalize, in easy-to-understand terms, the complexity of the subjective beauty of art. He feels that by teaching his students “the why” of something in a painting, the “how” follows by default. He is adept in all painting mediums and artists of any medium will benefit with his instruction just like his visual melody lesson taught here.