In this tutorial we will discuss the three main areas of your subject. Many of you probably already know these areas. However, how you interpret each one and what role you assign them in a painting can be more elusive for many.

The three main areas are;
  1. Background
  2. Middle-ground
  3. Foreground

Now we will breakdown each one and define a very specific role. This is where things get interesting.

Background - this area contains several key elements. It's common for artists to overpaint this area by including too many details and small shapes. This will only clutter the focal point and become a distraction for the viewer.

Here are a few key guidelines to keep in mind about background;
  • It should be considered as an interesting shape only
  • Always pay attention to how the sky (if included) and positive shape appear in the frame.
  • Keep colors cool and/or neutral
  • Avoid having too much contrast

Middle-ground - This is where the action is! Most artists, including myself, spend that majority of their time in this area. That applies to both the design aspect and the actual painting time when completing finished art.

Here are a few guidelines to consider with middle-grounds;
  • Include a focal point
  • Use more saturated colors
  • Add some contrast
  • In many cases include some white-space
  • Think medium and small shapes

Foreground - Another area that's typically overpainted and misunderstood by many. If you treat the foreground as anything other that a way for the viewer to get in you are probably missing the point of this area.

Here are a few guidelines that may help you design a better foreground;
  • Use it as an entry point
  • Keep it simple so that you don't clutter the middle-ground
  • Think quiet space
  • Look at images of street scenes and always have a list of ideas on what to use as entry points

Moving forward - In the three examples I used quick, gestural style drawing to convey the points mentioned above. It's a great practice to do these types of drawings on a regular basis. They keep you loose and are subtle reminders to always organize your intent for the three main areas.

Materials used in demo
  • Fine point sharpie
  • Print paper

Recommended Exercise

  • Important: Using images from the image resources create similar studies as demonstrated in the lesson. Work quickly and remember to apply some of the tips to the sketch.
  • Use pencil, pen, charcoal, sharpie or whatever else you prefer to draw with.
  • Keep the studies small, 5 works well.
  • Use printer paper if you have it. Save to premium sketch paper for other exercises.

Demo Images

Advanced Watercolor Landscape Masterclass

How to plan a painting using smart design methods.

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