Conceptual Landscape Art – Part 1

My husband is of the opinion that everyone loves landscape paintings. In some respects, I’m sure he’s right. Landscapes are generally peaceful, soothing scenes, making use of nature’s own palette. Blue skies, green grasses, majestic purple-hued mountains, and little bits of colorful wildflowers scattered here and there. As my husband tells me often, what’s called art may or may not appeal to a person’s individual tastes, but a landscape… well, who doesn’t like a landscape?

I know that whenever I post landscape paintings to my Facebook page, I quickly have lots of LIKES and many complimentary comments. Yes, people like landscapes.

Yet as a landscape painter, I sometimes feel I’m at a disadvantage when it comes to entering my work in shows. Maybe I shouldn’t feel that way. Three of my landscape paintings now proudly boast ribbons, and in addition to my own work, I’ve seen other landscape paintings take home prizes.

At the same time, whenever I head to the easel to begin another landscape painting, I hear a little voice, one that sounds distinctly like Phil Schmidt’s voice. As a judge, he looks for originality in art, and therein lies my concern with landscape painting. How do I make my paintings different? How do I draw from nature and yet create something uniquely my own, something that qualifies for that precious title of original? 

Of course, I know that Phil Schmidt is only one judge, and as art-club members have said so often, we need to always remember that any judge represents only a single opinion. It’s true. It’s true, too, however, that the more we understand the judging process and know what judges look for in art, the better able we may be to find those pretty little ribbons hanging next to our entries.

I was heartened by a recent newsletter from one of my art clubs. It included an article written by former Wichita, Kansas resident, artist John Potoschnik. In it, he speaks of concept in art and gives suggestions on how to use concept to create a successful painting. I’ve written posts on this topic before, and at times I’ve tried approaching my art work from a conceptual point of view. With landscapes, it can be challenging.

Potoschnik says:

It seems to me one of the most difficult things to do as an artist is to come up with a good concept, especially when learning how to paint landscapes.

It’s not about seeing a lovely scene and painting it. It’s about having something to communicate, what is often referred to as a narrative. Our paintings — even our landscapes — must have something to say, a story to tell, a mood or emotion to convey.

A concept, according to Potoschnik, does not have to be complex or elaborate in any way. In fact, simplicity can be a blessing. A simple, but clear concept can guide us throughout the creative process.

Only moments before I opened the newsletter and began reading about concept as an essential element for successful art, I had gathered up my brushes and put down the first strokes of color for a rather imaginative new landscape painting.

Yes, I had actually begun with a specific concept: to create a traditional landscape but to do it with slightly untraditional colors. I didn’t plan the entire composition, other than to spend a bit of time putting together the color palette I would be using.

So, after reading what Potoschnik had to say about creating and defining a concept, I smiled and looked at my canvas.

Here it is following my first stage of the process.

Stage 1 (2)
Skies: Created with orange, yellow, violet, and green.

I’m following the same general landscape layout I’ve used for several recent paintings, so the second stage was to place trees in the scene, trying to create a proper balance. My color for the trees was a mix of green and blue. I think it ended up a bit more on the green side.

Here’s the second stage of the painting.

Stage 2 (2)
Trees: Blue and green mixed.

I should point out that this is a small painting. Since I was being a little experimental with colors, I wanted to keep it small. I guess you could say that was part of my initial concept for the painting. I described the project to myself as “a small fauve-inspired landscape painting using non-traditional colors for the natural elements.”

Moving on to Stage 3:

Stage 3 (2)
Putting in the Tree Trunks — Using gray

You might see very little difference between the 2nd and 3rd stages. All I’ve done here is to try putting in gray tree trunks. I mixed my own gray using black and titanium white, and I initially tried to add it with a small palette knife. It wasn’t turning out well, and mostly I ended up scratching paint away rather than adding more. I gave up on the palette knife, switched to a small liner brush and did a little tweaking after I’d taken this photograph. Had I been working on a larger size canvas, adding these trunks might have been a bit easier.

Stage 4:

Stage 4 (2)
Using yellow to create highlights on the tree trunks

At this stage, I started having definite painting problems. One of my objectives is to keep my colors as clear as possible — no mud mixing! But in trying to use a light yellow for the highlights on the tree trunks, I struggled to get the paint to stick. Instead of putting down yellow, my liner brush kept picking up blue/green. I thinned my paints (these are my water-solubles) and tried again, and still had problems.

In the end, I liked some of what I did here. The yellow truly created a strong feeling of light — at least in a few places. I’m excited and plan to keep practicing my painting techniques. Maybe in future landscape paintings I’ll be able to make stronger highlights that give my work a sense of mood and atmosphere.

But for this little painting… well, I decided that maybe I’d done enough for one day. Rather than pushing on and probably ending up with another dreadful mudslide, I washed my brushes and wrapped my palette in plastic. With luck I’ll be able to use my paint again at my next session.



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