Constructing a Landscape in Acrylics

Taking a Leap in Constructing a Landscape

I had been thinking of creating this painting for a couple of years before committing this image to a  24″ x 36″ canvas. For me, this really was taking a leap in constructing a landscape in acrylics! It was inspired by a short photo shooting day trip through parts of Sturgeon County Alberta. Standing on the bridge that over looks this scene, I knew right then that it was going to be something worth exploring in paint.

 summer river photo

Above: Here is the original photo that I used for my main reference.

What drew me to paint this image in the first place was the the atmospheric depth, the stillness of the water and the diversity of greens in the vegetation. I also saw potential in the ways in which I could change some elements and alter the mood, thereby adding more of myself into the painting. It’s all about the myriad of choices made along the way.

Red, Yellow, Blue, Purple and White

Completing this piece required several steps taken over a period of about five weeks. Because of the size of this canvas, there was room to include a lot of detail that just can’t happen in a miniature painting. There were no tubes of green paint used. Only two sets of primary colors (warm and cool), plus dioxazine purple and titanium white. These tubes were all that was needed to create all of the colors in this painting. A challenge which I never seem to tire of.

white canvas with some dull blue paint

The very beginning of this landscape construction.

It is helpful when working on a water scene, to paint the sky and the water at the same time because the color mixes are usually similar. Even though the hue closely matches the photos I was referencing, it became disappointingly obvious later in progression, that the water was not saturated enough to create the depth that I was looking for. I was a little nervous about correcting this while not wrecking it completely.

large canvas with tree line painted near the top

Once I was happy with the sky and sun, the horizon line was added next.

Mapping it Out

I made marks to delineate the center point, halves and thirds on the canvas. I then set to decide where to place some of the landmark points. A watercolor pencil was used to draw out the river banks. Corrections are very easily made by wiping out offending areas with a damp cloth. After that, the trees and hills on the high horizon line were next. You may notice that the horizon line slopes differently from that in the original reference photo. Already, it was exciting to see the atmospheric depth that was beginning to become apparent. 

construction of a landscape in acrylics

More detail is added to the stand of trees beyond the river.

Making Changes

Many changes were made to the scene in order to improve the composition. I moved the focal points, simplified the background behind the river and changed the horizon line. I was enjoying the depth apparent in the background. Adding the warmth of the sun in the sky, which did not appear in the photo, seemed to be a great choice. Because the light was flat in the photograph, a lot of thought would have to be put into creating more light and shadow in the painting.

landscape river scene progress

More progress is made on the further bank of the river.

Easy to Get Lost

Getting lost in the detail was becoming a problem. Too many of the shapes were too much the same and had the same level of picky detail.  That’s what happens when I zero in on observing the photograph to closely instead of trusting my instincts around the ability to create believable patterns found in nature. This would be corrected by softening some of the edges and colors once more area was covered.

river scene landscape painting in progress

Now to work on the river bank and block in the major shapes and colors.

Fast and Loose!

The bottom two thirds of constructing a landscape in this example happens very quickly and is one of the exciting parts! Using larger brushes and incomplete color mixes make for quick work and a better understanding of the how the composition is or is not working in the matter of an hour or so. Here, I am concentrating more on the larger shapes in this landscape and how the river banks might like to meander. I have begun to add the sun’s reflection and deepen the color of the river. It is tricky to achieve a seamless gradation from light to darker and took quite a bit of time testing color mixes. What adds to the challenge is that acrylics tend to have a color and value shift when they dry. Quite a bit of time is spent watching paint dry!

painting a river scene in progress

Now to the right hand side of the river. Constructing this landscape is well on its way!

Quick and Dirty Stage

It’s a lot of fun to watch this come together quickly! Once more of the canvas was covered, I could see that the river water should contain more saturated color. I repainted most of the river again and took note of how the banks would need to become more irregular. It was unnatural looking at this point (photo above).

landscape painting in progress

You can see I have deepened the color of the water here and added more detail to the bank’s vegetation.

Painting this scene was quite meditative and even looking at it now, it is soothing to my eyes.  The detail was hard to decipher in the photo and I had to make up a lot of it, which is a good brain exercise. The reflections of the banks in the water really made this landscape under construction come to life as you can see!

brushes used to create a landscape painting

These tools were very handy in creating the shrubs and grasses.

Several sizes of brushes and other tools were used in constructing this landscape in acrylics. Many of them were smaller and well-worn and were especially handy to create grasses and tree shapes. It always takes a period of trial and error to decide on just the right brushes for the job at hand.

landscape under construction nearing completion

More details and refinements are created everywhere in the scene.

A Tricky Part

The lone spruce tree is the main focal point of the painting. The reflection of the tree in the water must be created as well as other refinements. The color of the water still did not seem right, and so I proceeded to work on that. It was really tricky to get a seamless gradation without wrecking the work I had done previously. To make it a bit easier, I allowed what appear to be gentle ripples at the bottom right remain and work with them instead of insisting on a perfect gradation. In the end, I think the ripples added to the appeal of the scene.

summer river landscape painting

Getting very close to complete!

The photo above was taken with a different camera and in a different location which accounts again for some of the differences in color over all. There are a few minor details that are still bugging me here, as well as the desire to add some small birds and dead branches. Oh, and maybe the tiniest beaver swimming near the riverbank (center of the canvas), just for my own entertainment.

summer river scene painting

Calling it complete! Here is the final version of “Teaming with Life”.

Constructing a Landscape Complete!

So there it is. The level of detail is hard to see in these photographs, but I am very happy with how it turned out looking at it in person. The actual painting is different than what I had first envisioned. Part of the process is to learn to let go of preconceived ideas and allow the work to develop in it’s own way. I am extremely excited to report that this painting now resides in a lovely art collector’s home in my area!

person holding a painting

The framed painting! Getting ready to package and deliver to the client. The photo makes the painting appear a lot darker than it actually is…

10 thoughts on “Constructing a Landscape in Acrylics

  1. Anne Brown

    Loved this Judy, Thank you so much for the Blog on Constructing a Landscape in Acrylics. Beautiful and informative

    1. Judy Schafers Post author

      Thank you so much for taking a peek, Anne! Very happy that you got something out of it 🙂
      I will be working on this blog post this week to refine it with more descriptions and a photo of the final painting. You could check back in a while if you are curious. Have a great week ahead!!

    1. Judy Schafers Post author

      Thank you for taking the time to look at the blog and comment, Cheryl! Very glad you enjoyed it. I shall be adding more words and images to the blog this week, so you can check back if you care to. In the meantime, enjoy what’s left of winter!

  2. Gail Fournier

    I SO appreciate seeing the development of this gorgeous painting (lucky purchaser!). Congratulations on your 1000th piece and your 60th birthday, both significant milestones. I’m glad our paths crossed because I live to see your work, Judy. (OH, and congrats on your ‘Perfect Pansy Painting’ third place win!)

    1. Judy Schafers

      Wow, Thanks Gail!
      You are always so generous with your compliments and your well-wishes, which I appreciate 🙂 May you enjoy smooth and flawless calligraphy creations!! Hope you and yours are well, enjoy the spring-like weather

    1. Judy Schafers

      So glad you enjoyed my efforts, Cindy! I so appreciate you taking the time to read and comment 🙂
      Thanks you for your great comments too !
      Happy Spring and Happy painting 🙂


    Loved your share. It’s so interesting the steps other painters go through and their insights. Thanks so much. A stunning painting Judy.

    1. Judy Schafers

      You are Welcome, Nancy! So glad you got something out of the article/blog. Thanks so much for taking the time to reply and share your kind comments! Take care and enjoy spring in every way possible.


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