How to Paint a Landscape

by clnewbill on July 18, 2012

Laureen Marchand, “Three Sisters September” (oil/board, 5″ x 7″, framed to 8″ x 10″) $290

How to paint a landscape? There’s a line in an old cookbook, in a recipe for rabbit stew: “First, catch your hare.” Maybe it’s the same with landscape painting. First, catch your landscape.

I started wondering how to paint Grasslands landscape the month I moved here. I’d never been a landscape painter. Oh, I’d painted land forms as background. For people, flora, objects of various kinds. I’d never painted them without some other purpose to tie them to. But here I was living near one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country, and walking in it often, and wanting to understand it. For me, understanding means describing, in pictures or words. So I began to wonder.

I paint from photographs. Maybe if I could see this new world with the camera’s lens, I could see it with my own eyes. So a camera began to accompany me on my walks. I loved the walking. I loved the photographs. Sky, horizon, Earth.

But there were no paintings in those images.

If at first…I tried to see things differently. I lay on my stomach and photographed foreground. Lichen-covered rocks. Grasslands plants. I even took my symbolic-looking silk rose into the park and tried to see this new world as I had seen a previous one. It made cute photos with no meaning at all.

I didn’t stop thinking about Grasslands landscapes, though. Not knowing how to catch a hare doesn’t mean you don’t want rabbit stew. In February, on my way to Ireland, I packed a few tiny painting boards and a few of the less-cute photos along with the other art supplies. Maybe at the artist’s residency I was heading for, there’d be time to think, time to see in a new way.

It happened. One day at Annaghmakerrig, I flipped through an art magazine and saw a reproduction of a painting by Padraig McCaul, an Irish artist whose work looks nothing like mine, and I thought, “That’s it.” I didn’t know what “it” was, but I knew I’d caught my Grasslands landscape.

So I painted one. Colours, brushstrokes, apply and repeat. Then I painted another one. When I returned home I painted a third, and now a fourth is drying on the easel ready for its frame. After the first three, I knew what I’d caught. In my other current project, the work I’m producing for a solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Regina in 2014, and the work I’ve been with for the last few years, the images are frontal, muted, often sorrowing. Grasslands landscape isn’t like those images. It has space. And no intrinsic emotion. And any kind of intensity it wants to on any given day. To catch it, I had needed to let the landscape be itself. That’s what McCaul had done. That’s what “it” was.

Which I guess is how you catch a landscape. Let it be itself. Don’t try too hard. Let it come to you. How to paint one? Make sure your paints are ready when it gets close.


Anne Conway July 19, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Laureen, this is a ‘keeper’ for sure….you have articulated lessons that I somehow knew I needed to know…but didn’t know how to capture. having the tools ready is one thing, but letting one’s mind open and just ‘be’ in the landscape to let in the bit that speaks to you, is the hardest part. I do love your new direction. Peaceful, yes, a bit sad, perhaps, but powerfully gentle, too.

Jan July 19, 2012 at 7:03 pm

I agree with Anne’s comment. Great article too. I also am not a landscape painter and live in a beautiful place but I’ve never tried to capture it. Maybe being new in a place helps. I recently watched David Hockney’s “a Bigger Picture” and was truly inspired to try, although not done it yet. He has some interesting things to say about photography, which I work from too, mostly. I recommend it.

Because I’m new to your blog I didn’t know about your Ireland trip. It sounds amazing. Also, again I must say I love your writing! Just a touch of wit, perfect!

Laureen July 20, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Anne, thanks so much for responding, and for your comments. It does seem that all forms of change have much in common – letting go of before so we can be in now. Always hard!

Laureen July 20, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Hi Jan, great to have you reading along! Thanks for the Hockney DVD tip. He’s always been a favourite but I didn’t know about the film. Will look for it.

Melissa Dinwiddie July 20, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Laureen, you paint with your words, you know that? I can practically eat your posts. I can bathe in them. And what a glorious painting! I look forward to seeing what you paint next!

Laureen July 20, 2012 at 3:32 pm

What a wonderful supporter you are, Ms. M. Thanks for being here.

David c Reid July 20, 2012 at 6:23 pm

there are words or is it descriptions like “The Flats” and “up in the hills behind”
the young Hayes roper lives where I grew into a man, Thanks George and Annette.
In the back of that flood plain a chokecherry tree grew and we made dream syrup
for pancakes.
the gully’s and hills owned by Grants grew up from the Frenchman river where Snake Creek enters,
Dangerous games were played up there by fifteen year old males with guns. Rock Forts and ricocheting twenty two shells. all survived despite the addiction.
Thank you
At the top of the hills you can see 70 mile butte and the glory of life
From young Mr Hayes’ doorstep looking back to the hills was a landscape that i once asked Mrs Lise Perreault to paint. She was the only artist the town could claim as their own in those days. She was “in demand ” if that expression can be applied .
I think she understood how to find that prairie green,unfortunately she didn’t get a chance to paint my view.
Thank you for the landscape lesson I am still carrying the picture between my ears.
The early morning light and the sunsets in that parkland will bring inspired talent.

Laureen July 20, 2012 at 7:06 pm

What a wonderful depiction of the look and life of this place. I’m a newcomer but you who came to manhood here, you have captured the poetry of the green and the guns and the glory. Thank you!

Ellen Walton August 19, 2012 at 8:59 am

What wonderful and descriptive comments.

Laureen August 19, 2012 at 11:53 am

Ellen, how nice to hear from an artist as far away from where I live as you are! I’d love to hear how you found Grasslands Gallery.

Marlyn Wall January 30, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Laureen, I’ve just found this piece. When is your exhibition in Regina?

Just because you can’t find the hare doesn’t mean you don’t like rabbit stew. Excellent advice. I’ll remember this.

Are you busily preparing for your exhibition?

what a lovely combination you offer….these two arts: writing and painting.

all the very best, wishes from marlyn jw.

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