Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced artist, learning how to improve your acrylic landscapes is always a good idea. In this blog post, we will discuss 17 tips for improving your landscapes using good design and composition techniques. We’ll also cover some common mistakes that artists often make, and the easiest solutions to fix them!
In this article we will cover the following topics:
- Dominant sky
- Dominant land
- Mountain mass
- Common formats
- Linear composition
- Mass composition
- Light design
- Mass dark design
- 2 common compositions
- Unique shapes
We have a lot to cover, so let’s get started!
Overview of tips and landscapes
Creating a beautiful acrylic landscape is a magical moment. All the hard work finally pays off. But pulling it off consistently requires experience and knowledge. While I’m not a fan of rules, I do however have a list of common issues to avoid.
This seems to give me more freedom because I feel the mistakes are easier to remember and categorize as opposed to a list of things I need to do in every landscape painting.
When I put this article together, I wanted to focus more on the common mistakes I make and what I see from students. I hope these tips serve you well and are subtle reminders, not a list of rigid restrictions.
Cropping for distance
The three main cropping ideas are long shot, medium and close-up.
- Long shot; A long shot captures a very large area and is illustrated with a yellow rectangle.
- Medium shot; This is a smaller area that includes some distance and areas of detail. This idea is illustrated with the blue square.
- Close-up; a close-up usually has a detailed orientation and zeroes in on one idea. This is seen with the red rectangle.
Dominant sky mass
Dominant skies are common landscape designs and offer an opportunity to paint amazing clouds and gradations.
When opting for this idea it’s best to lower the horizon line down towards the lower third mark. This will allow for maximum sky are with cropping the land too much.
This works well with square, landscape or portrait formats.
Dominant land mass
This is when you have more land and less sky.
When creating a dominant land mass composition, keep the following in mind:
- Place the horizon line at least a third or a quarter away from the top of the picture plane.
- You don’t want the sky to be too busy, or cluttered with details. It’s best to understate it, perhaps a simple gradation.
- Make sure you have a very good design and composition idea for the land elements since this is the dominant mass.
Dominant mountain mass
When you want to focus on a large mountain mass, it’s best to take the peak near the top of the picture plane and extend it down near the lower third area. But, make sure it’s not too close, or kissing the top.
Avoid too much land and sky as this will make the mountain appear smaller.
Placing the top of the mountain towards the top of the frame gives the illusion of a larger mass.
Consider cropping based on your canvas format such as portrait, square, panoramic, landscape etc.
These are the common aspect ratios for canvases and papers. Many artists start with a point of interest, or an arrangement of shapes and then decide on a format that works best.
Choosing the right format will help in the design process and eliminate any clutter, or unnecessary details.
The four common formats are;
- Square – all sides equal in size
- Portrait – vertical layout and works well for showing tall buildings, trees and such.
- Landscape – the is a horizontal layout that works well for showing a wide view of a landscape.
- Panoramic – Not as common as the other three but works well for showing a very wide area.
Linear composition is a great way to create a sense of movement and flow in your landscapes. To create a linear composition, simply use lines to lead the viewer’s eye through the painting. This can be done by placing objects in a row or by using diagonal lines.
Some things to keep in mind when creating a linear composition:
- The placement of the objects should be intentional. Each object should have a purpose and contribute to the overall composition.
- The lines should be subtle. You don’t want the viewer to feel like they are being forced to look in a certain direction.
- You can use other elements such as color, texture, and light to create movement within the composition.
Mass composition is the opposite of linear composition. Instead of using lines, the mass composition uses masses of color or objects to create a sense of stability. This is a great way to create a feeling of restfulness in your landscapes.
When creating a mass composition, keep the following in mind:
- The placement of the objects should be balanced. You don’t want one area to feel too heavy or overwhelming.
- Use a variety of sizes and shapes to create interest.
- You can use light and shadow to create depth and dimension.
Light mass designs
Light massing is when you have a design that is mostly composed of light values. Maybe a third of it can be shadows or darks, but the majority is composed of light values. This is a great way to create a feeling of space and airiness in your landscapes.
Some things to keep in mind when creating a light mass design:
- The placement of the light and dark areas should be intentional. Each area should have a purpose and contribute to the overall composition.
- You don’t want the light areas to feel too heavy or overwhelming.
- You can use a variety of sizes and shapes to create interest.
- You can use other elements such as color, texture, and light to create movement within the composition.
A lead-in is a line that leads the viewer’s eye into the painting. This can be done with a path, a road, a river, etc.
Some things to keep in mind when creating a lead-in:
- The lead-in should be subtle. You don’t want the viewer to feel like they are being forced to look in a certain direction.
- The lead-in should be placed intentionally and should contribute to the overall composition.
- You can use other elements such as color, texture, light, and movement to create a composition.
Common ‘L’ composition
I find it best to simplify composition types into two options, which makes it easier to fit a scene within the structure without overcomplicating it. Sometimes too many choices will become overwhelming.
The ‘L’ composition is when the main subject is placed on the left or right side with the lead-in coming in from the opposite side. This can create a sense of movement and tension in your landscapes.
Fulcrum compositions are very common and work great! They are created by using a strong focal point and balancing it with objects on either side. This creates a feeling of stability in the painting.
In the illustration you see the larger tree mass on the right which is counterbalanced by the small bush off the the left.
This is an excellent choice for landscape painters because it’s usually very achievable. Most landscapes offer clusters of trees, bushes and other elements which can be used in fulcrum designs.
The fulcrum, or steelyard, composition idea works well because you are trying to find balance for a larger shape by using smaller shapes, or a ‘pop’ of color. This can be an effective way to create a feeling of stability in your landscapes.
Overlapping is one of the best techniques for showing depth in landscape painting. Putting an object in front of another automatically creates distance on a two-dimensional surface.
Overlapping is always obvious, or present. You will probably have to make this happen in the design stages. Take elements and overlap them often, but not all the time. One, or two lone shapes work fine so long as you have other objects that overlap.
Kissing is a term used in painting to describe when two objects are touching each other, but not overlapping. It’s generally better to space them apart more or overlap them. This is also an issue on the edges. Students will often place an object that kisses the edge of the canvas, which is visually distracting.
This is a common beginner mistake that’s easily avoided in the initial design if you are aware of it.
It is best to avoid symmetry in landscapes because it feels too static and uninteresting. Instead, try to create a sense of movement by leading the viewer’s eye around the painting with lines, shapes, and color.
Symmetry is a common problem with beginner and experienced artists. It comes in so many forms that you have to constantly be on the lookout for ways it will show up in the design.
Asymmetry is when the objects on one side of the painting are not mirrored on the other side. This can be a more interesting way to compositionally organize your objects and shapes.
Remember symmetry can be found in how you size objects, how spaces are divided vertically and horizontally.
Always take time to step back from your work and look for ways to create asymmetry, or at least double check that things aren’t equally sized, or placed.
Always look for opportunities to play angles against each other. Angles in different directions work much better visually than equal angles. Even vertical elements, such as tree trunks, should be different from each other.
Pay attention to tree trunks, mountain tops and clouds as they generally have a direction, or angle that can be shifted to make the design more interesting.
Use unique shapes
Avoid making objects of the same size and shape. This is another common mistake that can make your painting visually boring and cause the viewer to exit.
It’s common for beginners, and experienced painters, to make trees all the same shape, or have subtle contours that are symmetrical. If you pay close attention to the outside edges of the main landscape elements you will probably start to notice similar shapes within your design.
Watch out for vertical equality! This is when you have a foreground, distant trees, and perhaps mountains that are of equal heights. It’s best to make them different from each other.
Avoid tree trunks that are the same diameter, or angled similarly, clouds that are spaced apart the same and so on.
This is another common issue that pops up all over the place.
How to learn more
If you enjoyed the video be sure to check out the courses below. They’re perfect for learning all the elements and skills for creating amazing landscape artwork.
I hope these tips were helpful in some way. I know they have helped me to improve my acrylic landscapes. Just remember, the best way to get better is to paint as often as you can and to experiment. There are no rules in art, so don’t be afraid to break them! Thanks for reading. until next time, bye!