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A Small Landscape Painting (8x10, oil on canvas)

Author: Scott Burkett


This simple tutorial will talk the novice oil painter through painting a small landscape painting. This tutorial is designed to be done in a single session (alla prima). It took me about 2 hours to complete. I used a pre-stretched, pre-primed 8x10 cotton duct, medium textured canvas purchased at a local art supply store.

Elements and techniques demonstrated include foliage/trees, sky, background trees, shore lines, water, water reflections and grass.

This particular painting is small, only 8x10. For some reason, a lot of folks ignore these little canvas sizes. For experimenting with a new technique, or to just dabble on an afternoon, you can't beat them. Try it with me!


The materials used here are a small amount of turpenoid (odorless turpentine), a small palette cup (or metal can), a variety of small flat and filbert style brushes, a fan brush (or other type of blending brush), and our palette knife for mixing colors. Colors used are raw umber, sap green, cobalt blue, cadmium yellow light, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, alizarin crimson and titanium white.

The first thing we will need to do is create a sketch. I use vine charcoal. Just make quick, free movements of the charcoal. Don't worry about detail at this point, just focus in on "tracing" the major shapes.



Once you have the sketch on the canvas, blow off any excess charcoal dust, as you don't want to muddy up the canvas when we start applying paint. If you prefer, you can spray a fixative over the canvas to help prevent smudging later.

The first thing we need to do is prepare a small batch of thinned raw umber. First, notice how small the blob of paint is on my palette. One very common mistake made by new painters is they tend to put massive piles of paint on the palette. Believe it or not, this little swatch of paint is actually too much for this demo!
Now that we have a working pile o' paint on the palette, we need to thin it a bit using a few drops of turpenoid. We are thinning this color so that we can use it to create our underpainting. The turpenoid keeps the paint thin enough to work with, and allows it to dry much quicker than if we had just used paint by itself. Notice the watercolor-like consistency.
Here is a shot of the finished underpainting. Just brush the thinned paint on with a small filbert or flat. Notice that in some areas, I have used a bit more pigment than thinner. We need to begin to distinguish our lights and darks at this point - the underpainting, or "value wash", allows us to do just that.
Okay, take a break now - give your sketch about 10-15 minutes to dry. For now, you can read ahead a bit if you'd like to prepare for phase two.
Mix up a batch of color to use for the main part of the sky. This sky mixture is composed of cobalt blue, cadmium yellow light, alizarin crimson, and a big wad of titanium white.

You should end up with a "sky blue" mixture, similar to the one shown in the photo to the right.

Load a small flat bristle with the sky mixture simply start blocking in the color. You will note that the brush is held almost vertically against the canvas. This will allow for maximum bristle-on-canvas, and will make your strokes even and smooth. Continue doing this until you have filled the entire sky area with this mixture. Be careful as your brush approaches the areas sketched out for trees. You can paint over the lines a bit here and there, just be sure not to destroy your sketch, or you will have to use your memory for the remainder of the painting :-)
To make the sky more realistic, mix in a few strokes of pure cobalt blue and add to the top of the sky. Toss some titanium white in around the bottom and smooth it out with a blender brush of some sort (fan, hake, etc.)
Mix up some cobalt blue, sap green, a speck of alizarin crimson and some titanium white to get this light "slate-green" color. Use a small filbert brush to block the main masses of color into the background tree area. As you get around the edges (by the clouds), turn your brush, twist it - make little foliage shapes :-)
Apply some highlights using your filbert brush. Use various shades and mixtures of sap green, titanium white, and cadmium yellow light. You don't want to overdo this part! You want these trees to eventually be pushed into the background - not become the focus of the painting. Just make some indications.
Mix up a dark batch of cobalt blue, cadmium yellow light and burnt sienna (or burnt umber). Use your filbert to block in the foreground tree on the left, and the clump of trees to the right. Add some middle-tone strokes with a mixture of cobalt blue, more cadmium yellow light, and less burnt sienna. Again, near the edges, really work the brush around. Twist it, turn it, change angles often.

Use a small flat or filbert to apply a highlight color using various mixtures of sap green, cad. yellow light, and maybe even a bit of titanium white to lighten it. Try to apply highlights wherever you think the sunlight will hit.


The main mass of the tree trunks is painted using a mixture raw umber and cobalt blue. Use a flat or filbert to block those in.


Use a small script liner or round sable brush to add some highlights to the tree trunks using a mixture of titanium white, burnt sienna and raw sienna. Just a few little touches will do.

Use a flat or filbert to pull some of the tree colors down into the water area. Be sure to add a few touches of your highlight color - these will be your reflections soon!
Use a dry blender brush with vertical strokes to blend and "pull" the colors softly downward - make it look like the paint is "running" a bit.

Creating convincing grass is simple using a long 2 inch filbert brush. Load it up with paint, then "jab" it into the canvas at a slight upward angle. Allow the bristles to bend upward, creating little grassy shapes on the canvas. To make truly convincing grass, create it in layers. Put a layer of dark grass on, using a mixture of sap green, and a little raw umber (or burnt umber). Then, move down a bit on the canvas and add a layer of middle-tone grass using a mixture of sap green, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, and a tad of titanium white. Add the golden highlight layer using sap green, cadmium yellow light, and titanium white.

Reverse your strokes for the highlight color and add some grass in the reflection area. (above)

Use your sky color on a flat or filbert to fill in the water area not covered with the foliage mixes. Place a few dabs of the background tree color toward the upper middle of this area. Then, place a few dabs of the background tree highlight color on top of that. Use the edge of a painting knife or the chiseled edge of a flat bristle crush to put a few water ripples on the canvas. Finally, using long horizontal strokes of a clean blender brush, gently blend the entire water area. (above)
Use a flat bristle brush or a painting knife to lay some color in for the shorelines. Use a marbled mixture of titanium white, burnt sienna, and maybe a bit of raw or burnt umber. (above)
Be sure to reflect some of this down into the water area - gently! You may need to blend again below the lighter areas of the shoreline. (above)
Take a small flat or filbert and gently place some of the original sky color (the sky blue mix) into the tree areas. These are called "skyholes". They add such depth to your paintings. (above)

For finishing details, take a small, dry, round sable brush and gently "feather" your colors together. For example, where your trees meet the sky - gently "pull" the edges of the leaf colors into the sky - get rid of any areas where the white of the canvas can be seen. Do this wherever tree trunks are visible as well - pull the foliage colors gently into the tree trunk areas (or vice versa, whatever looks best, and keeps things in proportion). This technique adds depth and makes your paintings look less like a "painting" and more like nature. :-)

Add your signature using a small round or script liner brush and paint that has been thinned considerably with your favorite medium (oil, turpenoid, etc.)

Well, that's about it for now. I hope you've enjoyed painting this little landscape with me. See you next time!