Landscape doesn’t just mean hills and trees. Landscape can include any outdoor scene from wilderness and farmland through to suburban views and urban cityscapes. It can encompass a broad vista and distant mountaintops, through to macro studies of small details. Sometimes landscape drawing is a way to pay homage to your environment – many landscape artists have a passion for the outdoors and nature. But it can also be a way to make art about the human condition because we all exist within our landscapes, urban, suburban, and rural. Images of the external world are often allegories for internal states. Here are some landscape drawing ideas to get you started.
A Classic Landscape
‘Typical’ depends on where you live – here in Australia, mountains are quite hard to find, and our trees are much more sparse and ragged-looking than the dense foliage of European trees. But the basic elements of a country landscape, with foreground, middle ground and background are fairly consistent. We look for distant hills or the horizon, and an interesting shape created by groups of trees or hills, and some foreground detail to add contrast. This is the foundation of the classic landscape.
Finding a Point of Interest
Even in a relatively ‘featureless’ landscape, the artist can manipulate elements to improve composition and drama. One helpful technique is the use of a viewfinder – two L-shaped corners of card that you hold at arm’s length, creating a frame around your subject. By using two Ls rather than a rectangle or square, you can change the height and width to create any format you wish. These are easily tucked in your sketchbook; though if you’re into a very minimalist kit, an empty 35mm slide frame is a portable option.
Focus on the Human Element
Including people in your composition can add an important element of drama to the piece. There’s always an element of story-telling when a human being is in the picture: Who are they? What are they doing there? Where have they been, and where are they going? Even if these questions are not significant to the artwork, the presence of a human figure always sets of some workings in the viewer’s subconscious. On a purely compositional level, human figures help to show scale – which can be very useful when trying to express a grand vista – and their forms can add visual ‘punctuation’.
Focus on a Detail
Landscapes don’t need to be huge, grand vistas. Forests and trees can create remarkable enclosed spaces. Or try zooming in: details of bark, leaves and moss, stone and wood, can be interesting in their own right. Try zooming in on some interesting shapes of foliage against a contrasting background. Remember to look with a compositional eye: you don’t have to draw everything that is in your field of vision. You can ‘edit’ the background as you draw, leaving out distracting detail.
Explore the Urban Environment
Find something interesting in your urban environment. Perhaps it’s a dramatic cityscape of skyscrapers against a stormy sky. Perhaps it’s a crumbling wall with fifty year’s worth of posters and graffiti. Perhaps you find nature, against all odds – a sapling growing between cobblestones or a bird nesting on a window-sill. Try exploring ways to contrast the sharp edges and hard lines of the manufactured environment with the organic forms of plant life. How might you convey modernity, in all its clean minimalism? Or the textures of urban decay? Consider your choices of paper, medium, and use of color and monochrome.
Project: A Landscape Over Time
The way landscape changes over time lend itself to a sustained art project. One approach is to record the progression of time from a certain viewpoint. You might record changes over a single day, paying attention to the direction of the light, and the direction and length of shadows. You might even record the passing seasons. For this, if you can, mark your viewpoint (take a photo identifying your position) so that you can return to the same spot each time. Differences can be heightened if you take care to establish your composition from the first drawing. What has changed? What remains the same? Some major elements may change in your landscape: people coming and going, animals moving, cars being parked. Think about light and tone, color, mark-making, and texture, as a means to express the changes you observe.