painting realistic landscapes

Recently, Todd Price shared the inspiration behind his work in the article “Painting the American Story through Realistic Landscapes.” Here, he takes us step-by-step through the progression of one of his recent paintings.

On Painting Realistic Landscapes: Glacier National Park

By Todd Price

Phase 1:

You’ll see I’ve decided on the time of day and the weather situation. However, I’m not quite sure at this point how far forward I want the weather to impact the middle ground. To help, I’ve punched-in the mid-tones and shadow color into the middle and foregrounds to help me understand where I’m at with the background… to confirm I’m on target as it relates to light and balance.

At this point, you want to be sure you have room to transition into your medium colors for the middle ground and darker colors for the foreground. If you start too dark with the sky, you have nowhere to go as you move to the foreground.

painting realistic landscapes

Phase 2:

I’ve started adding some detail to the mountains. As I move forward in the painting you can see I’m also bringing the rain in with it, adjusting the color as needed so it stays in balance with the middle ground of the painting.

painting realistic landscapes

Phase 3:

I’ve added more detail to the mountains and middle ground. I also added the alpine lake and trees and roughed in my foreground, including the human element I planned in my head before starting.

You will also see that as I moved forward in the painting, I noticed the center of the background became flat… I’m losing my distance. I simply added a more distant cloud element to the center that adds another 100 miles to the scene and helps in balancing the scene overall.

Do not be afraid to move back and forth as your painting develops.

Contemporary realism how-to

Phase 4:

This is the finished painting (although I’m never finished until I have no time left to noodle with it). Things rarely end up where I thought but it’s the journey that makes it exciting. As I progress, I put myself inside the painting, as if I’m inside the work.

I’ve been fortunate to spend enough days and nights in all kinds of mountain weather, so I let my memory take over. Typically, the foreground would carry the darkest color, however, I chose to darken the middle ground as it’s being shadowed by the storm, out of view just off the left side of the canvas.

In this scene the rainstorm is rapidly moving right to left through the middle ground with the sun finding breaks in the cloud cover, bathing the distant cloud and the overlook in the foreground.

painting realistic landscapes

Starting reference photo:

This is one of my favorite places. Grinnell Glacier Trail – Glacier National Park, MT. It’s not a difficult place to get to, which means a lot of folks visit this spot, so I needed to keep the mountains as close to the actual shape as possible but that doesn’t mean I can’t move other elements around and change the light and weather.

I placed this image at the end of the series so you can see by design how far I’ve wandered from my reference photo. Again, don’t be bound to your reference.

Reference photo - Glacier National Park

Some Final Thoughts

Like all artists, I ran into several challenges when creating this piece. For instance, I happen to struggle with my greens… always have, but I get a little closer to figuring it out with each painting I do. So, if you struggle with a particular thing in your work, just work harder at it until you figure it out.

And one of the many great things about being an artist is art folks are the coolest people ever. So, surround yourself with artists because they’re the only people who can truly understand “the sickness” – that nagging pain where no matter what others may think of your work, you’re never 100% happy with any of it. When you’re an artist, then you’re an artist and there’s not much you can do about it. I can pick them out of a crowd. That person at a baseball game where everyone else is cheering about the last great play, but they’re watching the sky move across the landscape trying to figure out how they’d paint it.

You’re okay. All artists struggle in their work. But if you stay humble and share your struggles your artist friends will offer solutions. What one artist has figured out, the other doesn’t so don’t hesitate to share your work with fellow artists – you won’t regret it.


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