Impressionism was a painting movement that began in France in the 1860’s. Its unique style was defined by an artistic concern for and delight in representing visual impressions, with the focus on the changing effects that light has on color. The idea was to catch the spirit of the subject, as in the above pastel painting by Mary Cassatt, “At the Theatre.”
Impressionist techniques included painting brush strokes that were small and thin, though visible, and heavy with paint that was applied wet into wet. The subject matter was ordinary. Impressionist paintings often portrayed the passing of time and included movement and atypical visual angles.
Another interesting technique used by the Impressionists was that they avoided using black paint and instead mixed blacks with complimentary colors. Although impressionist painters were ostracized at the time, their emphasis on the play of natural light and vibrant colors has made Impressionism very popular ever since. Some paintings from that period have sold for tens of millions of dollars – artists such as Claude Monet, Picasso, Cezanne, van Gogh and others.
In present time, “impressionism” is also a term used to describe an artistic (or literary) style that strives to portray a feeling or an experience – instead of trying to accomplish a perfect representation.
Everyone knows that yellow and blue can always be mixed together to make green. However, endless and exciting varieties of green can be blended by using any color you can think of and adding it to green. Examples are: try every blue you have with every yellow. Then add red or orange or brown. Try adding raw umber to yellow for an olive green. You can mix yellow ochre with blues. Mix any brown with your greens. Add white to make pastel greens, more yellow to make lighter greens. Add dark blue or a touch of black or brown to make darker greens. Do you see how the possibilities are endless? Just play with all your colors and don’t hold back. Experiment!
The most important thing to remember about how to paint a landscape is that landscape painting is not just browns and greens. As you can see in the great landscape above by Dix Baines, landscape painting gives the artist an infinite variety of color mixing to accomplish the beauty of light and color. Here are some steps for how to paint a landscape:
1) PAINT A SKY by blending multiple colors together with a big brush: Examples:
- Blue sky – Ultramarine or Cerulean Blue mixed with white and a bit of Alizarin Crimson and Pthalo Green. Paint with or without clouds.
- Sunset sky – Orange, red, pink, purple, magenta.
- Night sky – Purple and dark blues such as Prussian Blue.
2) SKETCH MOUNTAINS – Use any slightly watered down color that shows up on your sky to paint a mountain range or just 1-2 mountains.
3) IF SKY IS DARK/NIGHTTIME – Paint the mountains a dark color and soften the bottom edge. They must be dry before doing Step 6.
4) LIGHT SOURCE – Decide where the light is coming from.
5) MIX MOUNTAIN COLOR
- With a palette knife, mix a lot of light color and then wipe the paint off the knife on the palette paper.
- Drag the painting knife horizontally through the paint to get a roll of paint on the bottom edge.
6) PAINT MOUNTAINS – Paint the light side of the mountains:
- Place the edge of the knife with the paint onto the edge of one of the mountains – on the side where the sun is shining (the light side).
- Drag the paint away from the edge of the mountain. IMPORTANT: Do not press the knife onto the canvas. Be SURE to let the dark color of the mountain show through to create texture and the illusion of dimension on the mountains. (We call this “holding the darks.”)
- Next, lightly move the knife around to create a rocky texture on the light.
7) PAINT THE GROUND – With a large brush, paint your colors on the ground and blend them so there are no hard edges anywhere:
- If your sky is nighttime, paint the ground with very dark colors. Example: Mix Alizarin Crimson with greens to make dark greens.
- If your sky is daytime sky, mix blues and yellows with greens and a little white to make lighter greens.
- For a desert or fall colors ground, use browns, reds and burnt sienna with yellow and white and a bit of blue for a desert feel
8) PAINT THE TREE TRUNKS – Begin with roots and paint up the trunk and out the branches. We call this “growing the tree.”
- Place trees that are farther away higher up and make them smaller.
- Paint the bark texture – lighter on the side where the light is coming from.
9) PAINT THE TREE TOPS
- With very dark green (i.e., mix Alizarin Crimson and Viridian Green together for a blackish green) dab bunches of leafy areas onto your trees.
- With “middle” tone green (not dark, not light) dab leafy bunches on the light side of the trees, on top of the dark green from previous step. IMPORTANT: Use a LIGHT TOUCH! Let a lot of the dark green color show through!
- Use very light green mix to dab in the areas where the sun is touching the leaves. IMPORTANT: Allow dark and middle toned greens to show through.
10) FINAL TOUCHES
- For a bank of trees (or forest) at the base of the mountains, no details should be visible; only paint some texture to represent a tree area.
- Paint shadows for mountains and trees. Be sure to soften the edges of the shadows.
- Paint texture on the ground for grass, flowers, bushes, etc. Example: Use a fan brush to paint grass, using smaller and smaller strokes the farther back in the distance they are.