The scene within the painting is a gradual movement from the details at our feet to the distant sunlit trees at the edge of the woods. Realist landscape painting relies heavily on the effect of 3D space within the scene. The tricks of perspective and the weakening of colour intensity with distance, help the process, but a path for the eye to follow, consciously or subconsciously, also reinforces the 3D effect.
For a beginner this must seem an impossible and daunting task. As usual the way forward is to subdivide the task into definite stages, moving from one to the next, to get to the stage where there is a semblance of a painting which just needs to be finished (great for morale). After the solvent underpainting, which is the scene ‘sketched out’, I split the scene into a series of ‘slices’ from the almost obscured distance, to the foreground, each one placed in front of the other. Of course if the ‘layers’ are obvious the painting doesn’t work and will look like theatrical scenery. It is a good plan to work out these layers before you start to paint.
If we take this painting for example, there are 4 distinct layers. The first is the sky down to the horizon, the second is the row of distant trees, next is the bridge and trees each side, and finally the big tree on the left and the stream on the right. The stream is the path for the eye to follow, and also cuts through the layers, disguising the transitions. Layer 1 and 2 were painted as one element, with shadows and lights. I treated these the way I paint a sky, from top of canvas to horizon line. This is not difficult and (hurrah) the painting is started. Some of the dark shadows from layers 3 and 4 are added before layer 2, to help get the tone right in the trees of layer 2. As mentioned previously, disguising the different layers is important, so some trees are almost the same colour as the first layer and some are nearer, and bigger, and darker in colour and these will disguise the transition to the 3rd layer. Stopping to allow the paint to dry at this stage is worth considering, as mentioned earlier, at this point in the painting, its like having the sky completed in a standard landscape.
3 and 4 are ground layers, and absolutely no white is allowed into any of the heavy shadows or rich mid tones until everything is in place and the ‘lights are turned on’. The final stages, which contain white, define the details. Moss covered rocks, leaves, plants, all emerge from the gloom. This is the difficult part, and there is no way around it. A certain amount of talent, practice, experience and perseverance is required.
Hopefully the following video will be of assistance. Watch for the layers, the first 2 ‘sky’ like, the final 2 ground layers with their dark stage. Also check out previous post regarding colours etc used.