Sep 5, 2011

Painting Basics: Selecting and editing the scene in a plein air landscape

Landscape oil paitning
Plein air, editing a scene
I went plein air painting with a student of mine a couple of weeks ago. After we finished we took a look at each other's work and commented as we usually do. One of the comments for this painting was that the painting looked nothing like the scene in front of me which, of course, was true. I picked the scene because I liked the silhouette shape created by a few of the trees. That shape made by this grouping of the trees was what I wanted to focus on and all the stuff that was unimportant to me in the scene just didn't make it into the painting.

Today, I thought we would look at how to select what is important in a scene then edit the information to design a composition that we like. I want to show that you do not need to include everything in a scene when painting it.

Let's take a look.


The first thing to do is pick a location. Sometimes I go scouting locations and sometimes I just happen upon one. This time around the location was one we spotted on the way back from a previous plein air trip.

The cluster of trees caught our attention as we drove by. We made a note of it and came back the following week.

Select a scene

The next thing to do is select the scene I want to paint. In this case, I liked the shape of the larger trees in the front of the cluster of trees so I worked out the size of the trees as they would fit the composition.

Since the silhouette shapes were what was important to me, I decided to fill the canvas with those trees. 


Next, I decided what is important to keep in the composition and what can go. The trees at the front of the grouping appealed to me but the shape of the whole grouping did not. I just removed the extra trees that I thought hurt the scene from my composition.  

I also thought the small tree and the house in the background were a little distracting and pulled those out as well. 

The Painting

Here is the painting of the scene. Notice how much I simplified the scene to place the focus on the elements I thought were important. (In this case the shape of the trees and the color patterns of the leaves.)

Remember, just because something is there, it does not necessarily need to be included in the painting.  The same can be said of the size and shapes of the objects in a scene. You can move things around to get the results you want. The landscape can be used as an inspiration or a reference rather than something to just copy.