- Lesson details
In this video lessons world-renowned painter Steve Huston will teach you a structural approach to painting the landscape. Steve will cover the overall construction of elements within your piece as well as gradation, foreground versus background, shape, positive and negative space and the Three Value System.
- Sharpie Marker
- Carbothello Pencil – Burnt Umber
- White Chalk
- Conté Crayon
- Alphacolor Char-Kole Squares
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Anything that's natural, organic, alive in any sense is going to have, usually, a curved, long
axis to it. Not every time, but most of the time. So when we draw the figure, we'll see this long
axis curve, and then as we draw each part, we'll see the mini-axes, all with long-axis
curves. You'll see the hands, the body flowing through, all of that stuff. So when we look at
trees, clouds, the natural rolling landscape of the pasture, or the hills, the mountain
line, the crevices coming down the mountain, the river going back into the valley – all those
things: water, clouds, even fire has the same organic quality. If you're doing a volcano
that's erupting or a forest fire – they're all going to have that fluid life line, we
can call it. The gesture line is also a life line. It'll bring your artwork alive. You're
trying to paint nature, life, the glory of organic forms. If you don't get that
curvature in there, you'll lose it. It'll become stiff and stilted. If you have a
modern design, say, a Mondrian, he took all those curved limbs and made them a
jigsaw puzzle/maze kind of thing, all right-angle corners and straight lines,
and went exactly in the opposite way for, at that point, a modern effect. So you can
always go against the grain on these things. We want, then, our gesture, the long axis
of whatever we draw, to be curved. Curved line. Assume it's curved. If it's straight, be
surprised and make it straight, but make it curved if you can. When I draw that tree
and the ground, can you see the fluid quality here? And maybe the cast shadow going off
into the field behind. I'll kind of cheat on the lighting. And the limbs and the foliage.
I'm going to go off the page there. You can see how it starts to feel lifelike. Even though
it's rather crudely done, notice that every mark I made was a fluid, curved line. The
reason life is fluid is that life – true, organic, living forms – are mainly water. They have
that fluid quality to them. Notice the contour of my hand; we see the same thing with the
contour of the limbs and trunk and roots. Look at that flow, that lovely, organic,
fluid, wobbling movement. Notice, when I do that curve, I don't want to do this.
Because those curves will cancel out as a straight line. They're visually still going in
the same, straight direction. We want them to go in a curved direction. So whatever the
wobbles do, the overall track of that form is curved. That's what we want. Look at that
lovely curve there. Here's the foliage above, let's say. And then, the little things are
curved, too. I'm not drawing all the leaves; I'm drawing the mass canopy
of leaf structures, just like I wouldn't draw all the hairs on my head – I would draw the
overall shape of the hair. So we're looking for those masses to separate out that a
little bit. That's what we're after: that curvature. So, when we draw things, we
want to make sure of the long axis as we go from top to bottom, or left to right,
depending on how it's oriented. The ground is left-to-right. We'll go off this way. The
tree is top-to-bottom; we'll go off this way. And, hopefully, with the curve, that'll
make it seem more organic. Let's do that. So maybe a cloud bank on a horizon. Maybe
this is my little painting. There's a land- scape in front, a little tree and bush grouping
here, and let's say it drops off this way. And we see the landscape: maybe there's
a moonrise. Maybe it's a nighttime scene in here. You can see how – I'll switch pens
here – see how that's moving on a curve? And as we saw here, this is going that way,
or wobbling that way. Whichever way you want to do it. But all the wobbles are
incidental. Exactly what I do here to the cloud, whether I make that little lump
bigger or smaller doesn't matter so much. But the overall gesture of it, the overall flow
down from top to bottom and from left to right is curved. And the more curved we
make it, the more lovely it will be. If there's a set of hills here, they're going
to have that flow. We're going to look for that long-axis movement. That's all we
need to know about gesture. As you draw something, try and make its axes curve
somehow. Even this stone here is curving that way like so. Do that and your paintings
are going to be much more lovely. It's just as easy to draw a curved, fluid shape as it
is to draw a stiff shape. In fact, if you prefer to draw things stiff and straight
like a wood carver, you could chisel these things out like this and work it out.
Absolutely fine. We still have that overall curve. Just like the wood carver, at the end,
we'd round the corners, or we can keep it more chiseled for a more personal style.
But we still have that underlying, fluid, graceful, organic quality. That's gesture.
Let's talk about structure. The structure of the basic parts. Typically, the 3-dimensional
parts, but they don't have to be; they could be 2-dimensional. And let's talk
about them as 2D parts. They have a certain length and width to them, and we can break
them down as circles or eggs, boxes, squares, or rectangles, or cones. Tubes. Cones are
really just tapering tubes. So squares and rectangles, tubes and cones, eggs and balls.
Those are our basic architectural shapes. Now let's take a look at a tree. A tree has
a long, fluid axis, we said. It curves. If we decided to make the trunk a simple shape,
we could make it a tube. We'll just make it a curved, slightly, tapering tube. Let me
shade it so you can see it.
The bottom ground that it sits on could be a box. Just put it in the frame and
there's a little box. But it could be a curved - slightly curved box.
I'm putting value here so you can see it more clearly on camera. We'll talk about value in
a little bit. It's going to be important for us. Our colors won't work well if our values
don't work well. We're just using it now so you can see on camera. And then, again, as
I've done before, the limbs: long tubes. So, notice that most or all of the tree can be
dealt with as tubes or tapering tubes, and that works quite nicely. If we curve those
tubes, it begins to look like a very sophisticated drawing, when it's really quite simple ideas:
just a tube that wobbles. It curves off-axis. With a little bit of practice, you can master
that. And in fact, if you're really interested in mastering the drawing aspect of your
landscape paintings, start keeping a little sketchbook of simple shapes and sketch
them out. Look at the trees out your window or a leaf that's falling at your
feet and sketch it as a simple shape. Notice where the base of the branch
comes in, in perspective, into the tree - we get that circular knot. In fact, right
here, let's say there was a limb that was cut off or broken off, so we have a knob
hole, and maybe there's a little critter living in there or something. Circles and
eggs. So you can see how simple. We could do the bark. There are little box shapes like
this. Or some other conception. So notice: by peeking out, we could use the leaves as
little triangular tube ideas. Notice how by picking out simple shapes, I can break
this down into a scene pretty quickly. here are the mountains behind; they'll just be
our same tubular triangles. Mountain range here. The clouds will be the egg and ball
shapes that we talked about before. And we give little values to this so you can
see it. And the sky behind maybe is lost in the foliage above. There can even be
broken, ragged shapes that are suggestive of a shape without having to actually render
the shape - just broken strokes. But I'm still thinking in terms of grouping and
massing, and designing. And so that is all drawing ideas. So there are the simple
ideas. And if this was a field and there were a little hay bale out there, then
all of a sudden the 2-dimensional ideas maybe need to become 3-dimensional
ideas and we start dealing with boxes. The box is showing off two sides, probably, and
a little bit of a top. And each side might catch a different value. Then it might
cast a little squarish shape onto the ground here. And you can see how quickly
we can place these. Here's another hay bale that's in perspective farther away
from us, going back. And we can start to plot it out. Simple, basic structures;
simple, basic architecture; simple parts. They can be flat little parts. The advantage
of making them nice and flat - even this little fellow here was drawn with three
flat sides of a box - they were just obtuse. They weren't square, right
angles to each other; they were obtuse.
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