- Lesson details
This scene of a pond surrounded by trees of different sizes and colors was filmed during a butterfly migration, and it was chosen for all of its variety. One of the challenges was capturing the most interesting aspects of the scene without making the composition too symmetrical.
Landscape painting in a studio compared to painting on-location are completely different experiences, each with their own set of challenges to face. Painting landscapes on-location means you’re faced with constantly changing natural lighting, as well as nature, but the experience itself can really make your inspiration flow.
In this painting course, Artist Ben Fenske teaches you the fundamentals of landscape painting through a series of lessons. These lessons include easy to follow instruction, analysis of famous landscape paintings, and demonstrations shot on-location, to help you better your painting skills.
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I chose a vertical format for this one. And the thing
I like about this scene is all the different heights of the trees.
And that's what I want to get in there.
There's also a really good fall off of atmospheric perspective going from foreground to background.
The challenges are making the trees distinct and different
from each other as they’re very close in value and color.
So I'm going to start again by
arranging the composition and spend time on that at the beginning and so I'm just trying
to get placement on the canvas and an arrangement of shapes and angles that are that
are pleasing to what I want.
negative shape of the sky.
I want that to be an interesting shape.
I'm looking for symmetry a lot.
I don't want to have symmetry so.
I think I've already made a mistake,
I've got the edge of this tree mass and edge of this tree mass kind of equidistant.
I've got almost three equal
spaces divided up. So we have to change that.
I just don't want similar angles or similar distances between think so
that's what I'm thinking about a lot.
I'm also thinking about how much sky I want to have in general, where I'm going
to start the foreground and of course,
I'm thinking about where the sun's going and how I'm going to approach the painting given
the time and the conditions.
So I'm going to move this mess, this mass of trees, over a bit and bring this
one over a bit so
the distances are not so similar.
So I think I've solved that problem a little bit.
I want to make sure that I have different angles too. So the there's a path
coming up here. I want that to be at a slightly different angle than the edge of
the leg and the far shore line.
I want that - that will be almost horizontal.
And this other major angle here,
I want these all to be - I want to look for differences right from the beginning.
I'm going to pay attention a lot to the the different heights of the trees.
So I don't want this tree the same height is as this tree and I need
this tree to be a different height of this one and that's the interesting thing about
this scene so I want to make sure I get those the differences between everything.
So it's really just kind of plotting out the masses right now.
I guess I'm just kind of plotting out the big light and dark shapes.
I'm not really going for any values.
I'm not really going for any colors.
I'm keeping it thin. I'll try to keep it open so I can change it.
I don't want to be too tied in right now, I wanna look at it and
see if I'm happy with the big patterns of sky, this shape,
I'm looking at that. Is that interesting?
Is that what I want?
I'm trying to figure out exactly how far over the tree is going to be.
I'm just kind of in that process where I'm working it out.
Okay, so I've got basically,
I've kind of divided the composition into two.
I've got a light shape and a dark shape.
And I've got all the angles slightly different, trying to create interest.
I’ve got the tree heights slightly different.
It's still pretty rough. I haven't really defined anything still open.
But I'm getting the bigger, the bigger sense of the composition worked out.
I might - I don't know exactly where to start. I'm going to find an interesting place
that I think it's going to probably going to change a lot and I'll probably start
there. I'll probably throw the sky in because it’s big mass that's going to affect everything
else. Yeah, I think I'm going to start throwing some warmer orangy greens into the
trees shadows right away.
And when I'm - I'm putting in this shadow here,
I'm looking back to there's a group of trees back here.
And I want to see how blue that back group of trees as compared to this
front group of trees. And I want to get a drop off of color.
So I want to kind of push these forward by making
them like nice and orange and yellowy. So here in the sky
I'm really trying to key the painting so I'm really going for the value that I
want here and I'm trying to get a subtle gradation from lightest to darkest sky
as we move away from the sun both horizontally and vertically.
So the lightest part of sky is going to be somewhere in here,
then it'll get darker as it goes
this way and this way. And I'm not really concerned about feeling every inch of canvas
in at this point. I'm just trying to get - I want to get this down quickly
so that I can compare it against the next mass
and compare all of the masses together as quickly as possible.
Also want to be be sure not to trace carefully around the edge of the trees
because actually, you'll get a nice effect by kind of going too far one way and
then having to go back the other way creates a nice effect.
So if I go a little bit too far into the trees,
that's okay because I'm going to take the tree color and go into the sky later.
Okay so I'm mixing up
a color for the background hill and there's a lot of things to consider when doing
this. I don't want to make the color as intense as the grass in the foreground so
I need to save some of that intensity for the foreground.
I don't want to make it the same value either as the color -
as the foreground grass. And probably because this is a slanted plane this is getting less
light than this ground. However,
it's all also further away.
So it's being affected by atmospheric perspective.
So I’ve got to make a decision.
Do I want to make it distinctly lighter than the ground or distinctly darker?
And in this case, I'm going to try to make this hill
darker and less intense than the foreground plane here,
which is a a ground plane, upright facing plane.
Here I'm trying to kind of see through the trees to a
little bit of the hill through the trees because it’s a transparent mass.
I want to get a hint of what's behind it.
Okay, so you should be able to see on the palette that
even though this looks like a very intense green,
it's actually on the palette if I put that next to a yellow it
looks like almost a grey.
Which is is great. That's what I want.
I want to have enough room to go to a very intense color in the foreground.
I've got the lights in the trees
and I've got the lake.
So it's almost starting to come together.
And so as I'm doing this
I'm also interpreting all this information.
Trying to design it, trying to make sense out of it.
And I'm not trying to at this stage pick out any specific detail.
I'm just looking at - the main thing that's going to make this painting work
now and the masses is does this sit -
does this mass sit right next to this mass and does that one sit right next
to this mass. And that's what I'm thinking about right now, both in color and
value and as I'm doing that, trying to design all of this stuff,
that's just, you know millions of leaves.
I'm trying to design these moving shadows to to make a painting of it.
So here's another mass. It's the light part of the trees,
the part of the trees getting hit by sunlight. So I've got the situation where they
have to be lighter than the shadow, clearly lighter than the shadow.
They've got to be darker than the back hill.
And so I have to figure out how
exactly where in between those two things
do they go? I think this might be a little bit light.
I'm going to mix up just something a little bit darker.
Okay, so getting to that point where I've got all of my masses going together.
It needs a lot of work.
But I've got all my masses separated roughly in the right position for color and value.
At this point I’m going to start working back into the shapes of those masses.
So it's really it's not about adding detail.
It's about working the masses, the shapes of them, designing them
finding the exact contrast between from one mass to another.
That's what I'm going to continue to do now.
Okay so it's getting to that point where I think I could probably leave it
for the day. It's a unified effect.
I can continue to work on the masses a little bit but the light has changed a
lot. So I think it's better to leave it as a start and start digging into
it tomorrow at this point.
I'm back here for second session on this painting.
And the painting is dry and I've had a day away from the
painting just to think about it and I’ve got fresh eyes and I'm looking at
the painting now and what I want to do is increase a lot of the contrast.
So all of the shadows in the foreground are a little bit light.
All of the ground planes are a little bit light and I think I could even
push more contrast into the sky.
So that's one of the main things I'm going to do today.
The other thing I want to do is I'm really going to try to define light and shadow,
especially in the foreground trees.
So first thing I'm going to do is
go around the painting and kind of reinstate some of the main lines that got a
little bit lost yesterday, and then I'll jump into increasing the contrast in the shadows.
So I just kind of want to look at my shapes again.
And I'm just going to cut jump around a little bit and look at the
drawing and shapes. And just kind of see if everything's in the place
where I want it. And I'm not trying to come up with a color or value
that's going to be a final color or value,
I just want to kind of look around the canvas
and maybe make a few notes about shapes.
There’s also a few clouds in the sky so I might use those as a sort of
design element because the sky right now is looking pretty empty in my painting.
I got a lot of room to fix the contrast here
and actually pretty much everywhere.
I'm nowhere near the low end of the value
scale. Just kind of drawing in, I just want to
make sure I get the main lines where I want them to be.
That's a lot - I could go a lot darker on just about every shadow area.
Just gonna kind of delineate this shadow a bit and I'm using a sort of a red
color to do this because there's sort of notes of red in nature and
it’ll help contrast against the green a little bit.
I'm just trying to get my mind around the whole canvas right now.
I think I'm definitely going to include some of these clouds.
Because the skies just a little bit too empty.
Okay. Okay, so I want to start mixing up some of the darker
accents and see how dark I can go on some of these foreground
shadows. And I don't want to go to black.
There's a lot of ambient light out here so I want to keep it light,
but I want to have some contracts in the painting.
Okay, that's going to be a good amount of contrast right there.
So this is the closest shadow to me so logically.
I wanted the darkest accents in this shadow.
And also the most color variety and value variety.
I want to put down some darker notes and I'll come over with some variety.
I don't necessarily want to fill everything in right away.
Or ever really. Start picking out some of these
shadows up here where they meet the light.
And interpreting the exact place where the shadow meets the light.
And I'm going to probably cut in a little bit
to the light that I made yesterday and I'll cut in to the shadow
I made yesterday with the light brush.
So when I’m mixing this color I'm thinking about -
thinking about the other parts of the painting.
In particular, I'm thinking about this shadow mass back here.
This has to be lighter
in value and it's got to be bluer in color than this one.
So I'm kind of - in my head
I'm kind of comparing those two things.
Okay, I want to get out a brush for the part of the leaves
that are in sunlight so I can start making the shapes right away.
I might even - it’s usually something you do at the end,
but I'm just afraid that these
little spots of glare are going to disappear before too long.
I really want to catch them.
So I’m gonna get some of those little spots of glare
or it’s either glare or highlights.
Probably want to think about it?
And that’s kind of what attracted me to the scene in the first place.
So I want to make sure I get some of that.
And there’s some over on this tree too I want to make sure I just kind of
remember that that's what's going on.
And I might even get some of the light on the trunk here.
Cuz another really nice feature that probably will disappear in a minute.
Just going to give more variety in the foreground to have a little
little chunks of light. Okay,
I want to mix up the color for the light of the leaves. The color I
had yesterday was pretty good.
I'll probably try something similar to that.
That's a bit too dark.
So I'm looking for that
pattern of light and dark, which is constantly changing of course.
It’s interesting, these leaves next to the back hill are almost the same color and value
as the back hill. They're just a little bit more intense.
Here, I'll pick out some of the leaves and leaving the trunk,
I’ll kind of work around the trunk.
I'm kind of seeing through to the other side of the tree.
Okay, I might reapply some of those highlights quick on there.
Like I said, it’s usually a detail that's save for the end,
but I just - sun is moving to the right and I want to catch that before
it moves off out of scene.
And there’s a lot of reflected light in the trunks.
There's a lot of blues and oranges.
Okay, I might bring up -
I might find another shadow color in there.
So it might be a little bit lighter and even more intense.
And I don't want to spend too long on this tree because I got a lot of
other things to do. But this will kind of set up the - help set up the
the key for the painting.
I'm just trying to increase contrast.
I probably won't have as much variety as this foreground tree.
So the the values will all be a little bit more similar.
Just less variety within the shadow here.
And I’m gonna kind of redesign some of the light and shadow shapes. Get the cast shadow going.
Trying to keep the shadow all in the same family as well.
There should be no doubt when you look at a painting is something in a shadow
or the light, it should be pretty clear.
Yeah, I'm just trying to make it more clear, choosing -
deciding exactly what’s in light, what’s in shadow and sort of designing the shape around it.
Maybe I'll have a room for a few accents in the shadow,
but not as many as the foreground shadow. So I’ll put a few accents in there.
Okay, I'll get the - get a light shape going.
These two knobs are just too similar right now.
Okay, I'll mix up a color for the light of those trees.
And I might have to cut into that a little bit and work back and forth with
the shadow brush. There’s a lot of nice little highlights on that tree right now, the tree that
I’m painting. I'll probably throw some of those in there.
Okay I’ll throw a few highlights.
That was a bit too much.
Okay and I'm a little bit afraid of getting caught up in one area.
So I’m gonna move on and I might start addressing the sky right now because that's a
big area that has to be designed and the contrast looked at. I'm going to
try to repaint the gradation.
The whole sky is a bit orange.
And I think I'll be able to make it darker and bluer at the top and
I'll throw in some clouds and that will hopefully help the design of it.
Right now it's just a big empty area.
And while I do that
I'll also look at some of the patterns of leaves against the sky.
So I will try to do all those things at once.
Some of these things I'm saving until later because I know, for example, I know from
yesterday that this won't change so much and I know that if this - this hill
is only going to become darker
throughout the session, which will only help me to have more contrast there, so those things
I don't really need to worry about right now.
So I’m mixing up a cloud color and I want to make sure it's not pure white and not
too dark either. So it's going to be more of a yellowy kind of color.
And I'm thinking about the design really, I'm going to use what's there but
I want to make the painting work so…
right. I kind of like how the yellowy
under paint is vibrating against the blue.
And I probably don't want to fill it all the way in it just looks nice
like that. Here I have a chance again to kind of
work on these shapes of it as I go around the new sky color.
And I wanna paint sky behind these trees a bit. And I might darken it because the smaller the sky
hole the darker it’s gonna be.
It also won’t read correctly. Maybe I’ll darken these sky holes as well.
Might even darker some of these. Okay,
that's reading a bit better, the shape’s not quite there,
but the value is reading better with darker sky holes.
So I’m trying to get the shadows to step off the foreground, middle-ground, background always getting lighter.
And now it should look like there's a lot of atmosphere between the foreground and the
background. If I've got the value and color
change correct, I'm looking at this shadow compared to the shadow.
I wanna get that sense of atmosphere in between there.
It's a pretty clear day
so there's not a lot of atmosphere.
I think that's close enough for now.
I might make it even a little bit lighter.
And now I’m just painting the light shape on the back trees. Basically every object out here has a light
shape and a shadow shape.
Okay, I'm going to adjust the back hill.
I think it's just a little bit too intense.
I'll make it a little bit darker.
Okay so I kind of pushed the back hill
back a little bit just by decreasing the color intensity.
That is a small detail
I want to just distinguish the cast shadow here between the upright shadow.
That's just a little detail that the eye will go to.
Okay, I'm seeing some really nice highlights in this tree.
I'm just going to flick a few more highlights in there
because it's such a nice effect.
It's part of the - it’s kind of the only part of a the painting I haven’t touched so far.
So I'm going to jump down here,
see if I can get some variety, some color intensity going on, and try to make
use of the cast shadow on the ground. It’s more or less
how I have it blocked in from yesterday.
So I want to kind of use that while it's there.
So very blue violety shadow. You might ask yourself a question like I wonder what
is - I wonder how this color
of the cast shadow on the foreground compares to this color,
which is an upright shadow in the background. And they're very similar.
Although at least right now this should read a little bit lighter.
Now I’m gonna make sure I have that difference
and I might even just err on the side of a lightning this up a bit.
Got some very intense greens in the foreground.
Super super intense greens. Okay I’m just gonna try to get some of these trunks here that I
kind of a warm grey. Try to get some more contrast in the foreground
just by introducing some of these yellow flowers.
This is the reflection of the hill.
And try to make it a little bit taller than the hill, a little bit darker.
Maybe I'll try to pull some of those -
pull some of the sky reflection over it.
And I see a bunch of design flaws, things that I want to change.
So the first one that sticks out to me,
and I don't know how I didn't see this before but I've got this clump
of trees and this clump of trees are almost identical. I've got two little clumps here,
and I've got two little clumps here.
They're similar sizes at it's just killing the painting right now.
So I want to address that.
The other thing is is that I cut - I need a way to connect this side
of the painting to this side of the painting.
And right now the shadow, the cast shadow, is reaching all the way across and I
think I'm going to extend that cast shadow all the way across the painting just to
connect these two sides. The third thing is is that I'm looking at this back tree
right here and it just looks a little bit odd.
I can't see the rest of the tree.
It's behind this one and I think I'm just going to take this tree out.
I think it would be better for the painting.
I'm going to try to make some drastic changes here and see how that goes.
All right. I’m just going to scrape off some of the excess paint.
Aad I don't want to be afraid to change
things and make the painting better at least try to make the painting better.
I know I won't be satisfied leaving it like this.
So I'm going to extend that shadow.
Maybe I can do the sky first. That’ll be easy.
And I just want to get rid of this.
It's not helping the painting.
Okay, that's better already, I think.
Okay, second thing I'm going to try to tie this whole side, this whole shadow mass,
into this side of the painting just for a more unified effect. Right now
I have kind of this thing over here and I have this thing over here and
it just feels odd. There's kind of a light pattern going in between them. And it
just feels odd compositionally. And right now they are tied together so I’m gonna just
use that. I'll even extend to this shadow a bit.
Okay, that's - I think that's better already.
Just having those things more tied together.
I might just extend the shadow a bit here.
Okay, not perfect. But it's - I think it's better having those things tied together.
Okay, now I want to make these two clumps of trees
more dissimilar. They're just -
I don't know why but I made them almost exactly the same.
It's a common mistake
actually. If you're not paying attention your brain tends to want to just kind of
repeat things. And so I just need to make those more dissimilar.
I think I'll add more
light on this tree as it is now and a little bit less on this
tree. And I might just scrape some of that off there.
So I'll just go through and unify this
shadow a little bit.
And I will then break this up a little bit more.
Maybe I'll even bring this up a little higher
So they're just different sizes as well.
Okay, as a design, I think it's already improved just having those things not as similar.
I need to work a little bit on the specific shape of those things,
but… Okay with those three changes I think the design improved.
And I'm kind of wondering if I should just extend the shadow even all the way
down to the edge of the canvas because it's a little bit awkward having a strip
of light there. So I think I might extend that down a little bit.
Okay, I think that's better as far as design.
I just have to keep on watching.
I have two patches of light here and here that are same size.
I have one here and here that's the same size.
So I just want to keep getting the the differences between things
and dissimilarities. It’s probably because I'm a bit tired.
I was painting this morning.
So my brain is just a little bit tired.
I want to try to see there's a little sliver of a shadow back here that
will tie these two parts together as well.
I think that will also help improve it just a little bit.
Okay. And I can even tie it together a little bit by
emphasizing this reflection a little bit more
and the shadow. Just wanna look at the sky again and maybe I'll just leave
that for now. Okay, I'm just going to look at the water quickly.
And look at some of the holes in the tree here.
And see if I can design those trees, make them different through doing that.
Another thing that's kind of bothering me is the difference between this tree, which is
in the sort of middle ground,
and this background tree,
they're not overlapping enough to really show the difference.
So I think I'm going to have to do something about that. I ‘m gonna either
extend this tree, maybe put some some lighter leaves on it like it is now.
But I have to do something.
They're just - they're also kind of the same shape.
It's weird. They're just - when I’m not paying attention these things just start getting similar.
second middle ground tree and just try to change the shape a bit.
I’m considering just taking the whole thing out but I'll try changing it first.
Maybe I'll hit some of the lights first actually.
Try to separate it. Try to find that
shape that is going to separate this tree from the one behind it.
Okay, that's a little bit better.
I think I'm going to just try to make the background trail a little bit more
blue to separate even further.
A blue violet. Okay again this is
one of the hardest thing to paint is transparent mass it's called, so it's like a
tree against the sky or tree against the background.
It's a very difficult thing to interpret.
But I'm getting there now.
I think I might play up a few more highlights on this tree now and
a few more lights here.
And maybe add a few geese here and there.
Also going to include this fence down here, just kind of gives a scale to the
painting. Anytime there's a human element it just, it
helps just give a little bit of scale.
Okay, one thing bothering me is this line is a bit crisp,
but I think it's - I need to bring some of the light of the back tree
up a bit more. I wanna hit some of these.
Before I do that, I want to hit some of these lights, highlights.
Okay, just going to try to bring the light part of the background tree up towards
the sky because right now the shadow is hitting the sky and that doesn't make sense.
I’m just going to bring this up a bit.
Give these a little bit of light too.
Okay just another detail I'm going to add a little bit of the
trunk of the tree next to the water.
It's very orange. Kind of an orangey green.
And I'll just kind of reinstate that fence post.
Now just a little couple of details down there.
And maybe just a tiny bit of glare on the water.
Which was there before. And maybe a few strong greens right in the foreground.
Few patches of green light here. I'm just going to get rid of this tree here.
That's not helping anything. Maybe a few more sky holes here.
Nice and dark. A few more touches on the middle ground tree and then I think I'll wrap it up for
the day. And maybe just a few warm touches in the foreground to give a little
bit of color vibration. And I think I'll stop there
for the day. The light is kind of gone from what I had started with and
I think to improve the painting
I would need a break from it for a while.
I'm starting to get tired and I'm making all kinds of design flaws.
But I think it improved from yesterday,
it changed quite a bit in the last 20 minutes,
and I think I'm happy
I made those changes. If I were to continue this painting,
I think I would just keep on working within the masses that
I and and just trying to work on the shapes.
Even now these are still kind of similar.
I have kind of one, two, three, four, five bumps all in a row that all
the same size and they need to be a little bit
more different. And so those are the challenges that I'm having
now with this painting, it's designing
the shapes. Okay. I'm going to call it a day on this painting. Thanks for
joining me and I'll see you on the next location.
Free to try
Watch the whole lesson with a subscription
14m 9s2. Sketching in the Composition
21m 13s3. Roughing in the Masses
22m 4s4. Lights of the Trees, The Lake, & Simple Unification
17m 44s5. Defining Shapes & Darkening Shadows
15m 57s6. Painting Contrast into the Foreground
18m 15s7. The Sky & Sky Holes
20m 59s8. Variety into the Foreground
16m 13s9. Fixing Design Flaws
20m 10s10. Finishing Details & Conclusion