If landscape art has always appealed to you but you’ve not known where to begin, then let me encourage you. It’s not as difficult (or scary) to draw landscapes as you might think.
In fact, when mastering landscape drawing eluded me, I was doing it the hard way.
Maybe you are, too.
I know what you’re thinking! All those trees and hills. A sky. Maybe water. It’s impossible to master! That’s what I used to think.
Then I made a couple of discoveries that made landscapes one of my favorite things to draw.
And one of the easiest!
Three Basic Tips to Draw Landscapes
There are a lot of complex sounding things to remember when drawing landscapes. Most of them only look complex, but I’ll save them for another post. Instead, let me share three tips that will help you draw better landscapes almost immediately.
You Don’t Have to Draw Everything
Just looking at a beautiful landscape can be intimidating. Especially if you’re in a wide open place like the desert or the Flint Hills. There’s so much to take in.
There’s also a lot to draw.
But you don’t need to draw everything to draw a believable landscape. Focus on one thing in the landscape. Let me show you what I mean.
Here’s the reference on which August Morning in Kansas is based.
It looks simple enough, but there are several possible smaller compositions within the scene.
The group of trees on the left are one possibility. It’s simple and straight forward, but there’s also good light and “space.”
The group of trees at center right are another possibility. It’s not quite as simple, but it also shows good detail in the main trees.
Finally, a composition that focuses on space rather than trees. There’s a tree in the foreground (far right,) more trees in the middle ground (left,) and trees in the background.
August Morning in Kansas was based on the second crop, but I like the third one, too. It’s worth trying to capture on paper at some point.
Simplify Wherever Possible
You don’t have to draw every leaf or every blade of grass everywhere in the drawing. If you do, you’ll not only frustrate yourself to no end, you’ll end up with a drawing that’s highly detailed, but flat.
Details should always be saved for the center of interest in any art piece, but especially in landscapes.
Here’s a closeup look at the distant trees on the left side of August Morning. Although they look detailed when you see the entire composition, there isn’t much detail. Just splotches of color with a lot of paper showing through.
They look like you’d expect trees to look if they were far away on a hazy day.
Here’s a look at the space between the main trees and the trees on the right side of the composition. The dark green trees are closer than the trees on the far left, but they’re also deep in shadow, so there’s next to no detail. I used more intense color to make the shapes look closer, and suggested detail with subtle variations in value.
Finally, here’s a look at the grassy meadow in the foreground. I reduced the detail here to nothing but changes in color and value to keep the attention on the center of interest.
Interestingly enough, this was the easiest part! I layered colors, then used a stiff bristle brush to blend the pigment dust into the grit of the paper. The result was smooth transitions and a blurred foreground.
Use Pencil Strokes to Create Detail
It really does matter how you put color on paper. The more your pencil strokes blend together, the less detailed they look.
Look at these light green strokes. They’re short, they follow the direction of foliage growth and some of them are sort of squiggly.
Most of them also are hard-edged. They’re not blurry. Maybe they don’t look like much in this up close view of the drawing, but when you look at the entire drawing, they look like branches and leaves catching the light.
I used a blunt pencil and short, quick strokes to make these marks.
Here’s those distant trees again. To draw these, I moved a blunt pencil back and forth across the paper with medium pressure or lighter. You can’t see individual strokes, only shaded color.
The transitions from one color to another and from one value to another are also soft and blurry. Smooth color and soft transitions in color and value all convey the look of distance.
Finally, here’s a look at part of the sky. Since the drawing is on sanded art paper, it was difficult to completely fill in the tooth of the paper. But that’s okay. The scene was supposed to look hazy, and the paper holes contributed to that look.
But I drew smooth color in the sky by using very dull pencils and the sides of pencils to lay down lots of color without leaving visible pencil strokes. The resulting color looks very smooth compared to the slightly more detailed distant trees and the even more detailed trees at the center of interest.
Have I whetted your appetite to draw landscapes?
Does all this sound good, but you need a little more convincing? How about a book of tutorials featuring nothing but landscapes?
DRAW Landscapes in Colored Pencil is a collection of 26 landscape tutorials by 26 different artists.
My contribution to this wonderful new landscape drawing book is based on the drawing I used for this post, August Morning in Kansas.
DRAW Landscapes is available from Ann Kullberg* in print, as a PDF download, and in digital format.
It’s the perfect motivation to try your hand at landscape drawing.