Landscape Painting, Tips and Techniques

Landscape Painting

As stated in my last post, as a beginner to acrylic painting it is fun and easy to start out with simple paintings that don’t require a lot of detail. Landscape paintings fall nicely into that realm. Now we all know what hills and mountains and trees and grass look like. Transferring those images to canvas is not that hard. Especially if you have a few tips to get you going.

So, take notes and pay attention, because these simple techniques will allow you to whip out some great looking paintings in a short amount of time.

Always Start in the background

When you start your first strokes and paint starts to take over the canvas, you want to start as far back in the image as you can and work forward building in layers. This does two things. 1.) It creates the illusion of depth. 2.) You can always paint over mistakes you make.Mountain Lake

As you build your painting forward think about what would be on that plane and then the next. Just take a moment and look out your window (if you are not already outside). Look as far as you can into the distance. You might see trees, mountains, hills, whatever, then the things closer to you are on the next plane. They will be divided by changes in the landscape and topography. Now don’t get too carried away thinking you need 50 layers. Usually most of the landscape can be captured in 3-4 layers. By all means, go nuts if you want, this is your painting.

Start with the sky and clouds. If you want to have water in the painting now is the time to put it in. I know that contradicts what I said about layers but it will all make sense soon.

Painting the Sky and Water with Acrylics

Start with your sky. Day, night, it doesn’t matter. Find your color or colors and begin painting the top of the canvas in criss-cross strokes. Start top and work down. Remember your sky can be a mix of colors, which requires a bit of blending, but for now keep it simple. As you work down the canvas, pause about half-way.

As mentioned above, if you plan on water being in the painting put it in now. The reason is that you already have the color, or what is very close to it on your brush. I would lighten up the color a bit but that is up to you. Also, because water reflects it is almost a reverse sky on the painting. Like a mirror.Lake

Now to paint water, start at the edges and use straight horizontal strokes to work the color in from the sides filling in the rest of the canvas. If you don’t fully connect the color from both sides or the color just slightly begins to overlap, you will have created the sheen on the surface of the water. Feel free to check out the gallery to get an understanding of what I mean. Make sure the strokes stay horizontal, because calm water is flat.

Painting Mountains with Acrylics

Whether you are painting mountains or hills, or even if it’s a prairie scene, things in the distance don’t need detail. Start with the general shapes and colors and add some shadow and highlights. For now, I will focus on mountains.

Start with a darker color like a dark blue or Grey. Purple also works well, hey they are your mountains paint them what Mountain Shadowsever color you want. But start with a dark color and add some white to lighten it up a little. Using a wide brush, begin by painting a general outline of the peaks by making strokes with the brush in the narrow direction. Kind of like upside-down V’s. Don’t go crazy, less is usually more when adding anything to the painting.

Now start at the peak with the wide part of the brush and gently pull the color down the slopes of your mountains. What you should be left with is dark colored triangles that almost fade away at the base. Remember that your strokes should all start at the peak and sweep down to the base.

MountainNow, use the paint that is on the brush and mix it with some white. Bring that color to a pale version of itself. Once you have the color You are happy with, drag the brush through the paint and wiggle it side to side at the same time. Do that for both sides of the brush and it should bring the bristles to look like a chisel.

Now you will stop and decide what side the light is coming from and paint the opposite side of the mountain. Stay consistent on which side you choose. Now, just like before, start at the peak and sweep down one side. This time however, you are just barely touching the canvas. One stroke on one side of each peak. What you should get, is spots where the darker paint underneath peeks through the lighter color. Clean your brush, and now do the same on the opposite side of the mountains with pure white. BOOM! Mountains.

Painting Trees with Acrylics

Okay, now what mountain don’t have trees right? I have a few different techniques for painting trees. Let’s begin with painting the trees in the distance. At the base of your snow-covered mountains, the trees will be far away and don’t need detail at all. Pick a green. You can use a fan brush or even a wide brush. This can even be done with a small fine point brush it will just take longer.

I typically use a fan brush, load it with paint and wiggle the paint to the trees in the distanceend of the bristles making a nice chiseled edge. Turn the brush so that it is vertical and begin tapping the canvas with just the corner of the brush leaving a narrow shape with a pointed top. Remember that trees are not all the same size, some are close together some have spaces between. Keep it random. You can change the color slightly and add another layer in front if you like.

Trees that are closer are going to show more detail. That doesn’t make them hard to paint. The trick with trees That I have found is that I have better luck tapping the brush rather than making strokes. Let’s start with an evergreen. Decide where your trees are. Foreground, or behind. Remember to paint in layers.

treesUsing the fan brush or a wide brush, start with a dark green. Almost black. Add some black if you need to. Bring the brush to a chisel again and paint a vertical line top down using the corner of the brush. Now decide if your branches angle up or down, (does not matter, trees grow both ways depending on the tree). Begin tapping the boughs in alternating sides working top down. Use just one side of the brush utilizing the sharp corner. Try not to get too wide as you move down.trees

Now clean the brush and use a much lighter color of green and go over the tree again in the same manner adding highlights to give it color. Don’t cover all the dark green behind. If you want you can go even lighter yet or even a brown or yellow and add a very few taps on top. Just don’t add too much (less is more).

Deciduous trees are not much different. Begin with the trunk. Use a deep brown and a thin brush to lay out the basic main trunk with the odd branch. Now take a tiny bit of white and mix it with some brown. Wet your brush and spin it as you drag it through the lighter brown. Now trace the side of the trunk and branches that face the light source.

Mix up another variation of a dark green. Using a wide brush or any brush that had some size tap the brush into the paint to load the bristles. Now use a similar tapping to bring the leaves of your tree to life. Try to follow the branches you treepainted and think about form and shape. You are not looking for a big blob of dark green but more shadows. Grab your skinny sharp brush again with the branch brown and add a few tiny branches. Clean your big brush and move to a nice light green and repeat the process. Again, it is up to you, but you can add some hints of yellow, white, even red if you like. Just don’t get carried away. Bushes can be painted in very much the same way as this.

Try a few things out. See how your brush leaves paint on the canvas with different techniques. Just try to keep it minimal. Too much paint will just start to blend into a blob of multi colored goo. Also, if you find that you are moving too fast and the brush is smearing paint and making a mess with colors that were laid down beforehand, wait a little and let those initial colors dry out some. It will give you a chance to drink some wine.

To finish your painting, you will need to lay some grass down. Use the same technique as with the leaves on the trees. Just be sure to tap the paint onto the canvas in the direction that you want the ground to slope. Start at the high end and work down.

Finishing the Water in Your Painting

Now that you have the ground laid out, use a thin brush or a knife and white paint. Just go around the banks of the water and add highlights to the odd edges of the ground and now and then strike a horizontal line out from the bank. This will give life to your water. Again, as always don’t get crazy here.


Painting Rocks with Acrylics

If you have the urge to toss a few rocks into the painting, start small. Get a feel for the shadows. Choose what color you want your rocks to be and paint in the general shape. Then add some darkness to that color and edge the side opposite your light source. Conversely, Rocks can also be painted starting with a dark color and highlighting the light source side after. It will depend on the general lighting of the painting. Simple things like rocks can be what makes your painting go from, “that’s nice” to “WOW”. Those little finishing details are what makes the painting jump off the canvas.

Key Tips to Painting Landscapes with Acrylics

  1. Start in the back and work forward. Think about the layering and focus on one layer at a time.
  2. Objects in the distance don’t require a lot of detail. Shapes and shadows is mostly what we see in real life when looking far into the distance.
  3. Water acts like a mirror, and is flat. Keep the strokes horizontal and lay the water in when you do the sky.
  4. Use a tapping technique when painting trees. Trees are complex and have a lot of minute details to try to paint each leaf would take for ever. Let the brush do the work for you.
  5. Less is more. Don’t get carried away with adding too many trees or cluttering up your image with TOO MUCH. When you think it could use just a little more, STOP.
  6. Everything has its natural form and shape. Try to follow those shapes and directions when putting paint to canvas.


If you found this helpful, please let me know. Or even if you enjoyed reading I would love to hear from you.

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