Do you struggle when it comes to figuring out how to draw landscapes?

You’d think they’d be simple.

In my mind there are 3 drawing challenges when it comes to tackling landscapes in your sketchbook.

How do I take a vast expanse and condense it into a a small page of a sketchbook? 

Where should I start this thing? 

How do I decide what to include? 

Ultimately, I believe that there are 3 fundamental areas of the drawing practice that you need to be aware of mastering when it comes to successfully completing a landscape. 

Whenever I set out to draw something I make sure that I have some ideas about the steps I need to take when doing so. 

This post sets out how I proceed with the landscape drawing process. 

I last wrote about this a few years ago when I had just started drawing landscapes within the context of nature. 

The three main pillars of landscape drawing are;

  1. Thinking from the whole landscape
  2. Composition
  3. Proportion

The hardest of the three to master for me personally has always been proportion. How do I get everything to fit on the page as it should and reflective of the landscape I am trying to draw? Something invariably always ends up a little out. 

Let me break down each top tip further. 

Thinking from the whole.

In front of you sits a sketchbook page which you want to fill with a visual of the landscape you see in front of you. 

Over time I have come to realise that all I teach on the basic principles come to my aid. (If you don’t know what these are yet here is the link to another interesting read.) I always urge students to think from the whole. To spend time contemplating the entire image they want to capture not just to automatically jump into drawing. 

  •  Thinking from the whole not only comprises the methodology that you want to use but also the emotion you want to convey. 

Think about what you want to convey emotionally with your landscape. Is it a serene and peaceful scene, a wild and untamed wilderness, or a bustling cityscape? Your drawing can communicate more than just the visual aspects of a landscape; it can evoke emotions and tell a story.

These initial thoughts and reactions will instigate a movement towards the type of materials and mark making techniques you might like to use and will also thereby dictate the drawing style you want to use. 

  • As you gaze across your landscape have an idea of where you plan to start, what you want to include. This becomes easier to navigate with time. 
  • Map out the entire page first by allocating each end of your drawing looking at the landscape as you do so. It is then your job to condense what you see within that framework. 

Begin with light marking or loose line sketches to establish your composition and proportions. You can gradually darken lines and add details as you progress. Trust me. Once you get your guiding lines down that you are happy with you will sail through your drawing! 

It is these first steps that are crucial to the process. 

I carry a view finder as well as use my mobile phone to ensure that I have captured the parameters of my drawing before I commit to developing it further. 

Composition 

This is perhaps the most important aspect of a landscape drawing. 

Think about how you want to arrange the elements within your drawing. The rule of thirds can be a helpful guideline here – dividing your composition into thirds both horizontally and vertically, and placing important elements along these lines or at their intersections. 

I went into this technique in more depth in the earlier blog post I referenced. It is certainly something I used when I first started out. I also think that this technique is more useful when you are drawing a busy landscape with lots going on. 

Think about the following elements before you take a dive into composition. 

  • Foreground, Middle Ground, Background: Creating depth in your landscape is crucial for a realistic and engaging drawing. Pay attention to the foreground (closest to the viewer), middle ground (middle distance), and background (farthest away). Objects in the foreground might be larger and more detailed, while those in the background are smaller and less detailed.
  • Lines and Perspective: Use leading lines to guide the viewer’s eye through the landscape. This could be a winding path, a river, or a row of trees. Perspective is also important – understanding one-point, two-point, or even three-point perspective can greatly enhance the realism of your landscape.
  • Light and Shadow: Light and shadow play a huge role in the mood of a landscape. Think about where the light is coming from and how it interacts with the elements in your scene. This can create interesting contrasts and focal points.
  • Textures and Details: Pay attention to the textures of different elements in the landscape. Grass, rocks, trees, water – they all have distinct textures that can be conveyed through your drawing. Adding details selectively can enhance the realism without overwhelming the viewer.
  • Colour and Mood: If you’re working with colour, think about the mood you want to convey. Warm colors like reds and oranges can create a sense of warmth and energy, while cool colors like blues and greens can evoke calmness. Harmonizing your colour choices can unify your composition.
  • Study and Observation: Spend time observing real landscapes, either in person or through photos. Notice how light falls on objects, how colors change with distance, and the overall atmosphere of different scenes. Sketching on location (plein air drawing) can also be incredibly beneficial for understanding landscapes.
  • Simplify: Sometimes landscapes can be complex, especially if you’re looking at a vast scene. Try to simplify what you see into basic shapes and forms. This can help you tackle the drawing one step at a time and avoid getting overwhelmed.
  • Balance and Harmony: Aim for balance in your composition. This doesn’t mean everything has to be symmetrical, but rather that the elements work together harmoniously. You can achieve this through careful arrangement and consideration of your focal points.

So once you have thought through these steps look at your page and assess your arrangement in greater depth. I have 12 different composition styles that I love to use ranging from the rule of thirds as mentioned above, the golden rule, S – curve, pyramid, L shape, circular….to name but a few. These I cover in more depth inside my 10 day landscape challenge where I show you how to tackle landscapes 20 minutes at a time! 

All of the above is done and assessed before you even start your drawing. 

Proportion

Now onto one of the largest challenges I have come across.  Do your drawings look flat, sometimes elements appearing out of kilter with the rest? You have your proportion skills to thank for this. 

At this point I’d hope that you have a range of drawing tools through your knowledge of the basic principles to support you map out your drawing. 

Working out proportions in a landscape drawing involves comparing the sizes and placements of objects to create a realistic representation. Here are three steps to help you with this process:

  • Observation and Measurement:
    • Start by observing the landscape or reference photo you are drawing from.
    • Identify key elements such as trees, buildings, mountains, or any other prominent features.
    • Use a pencil or a tool to measure the proportions in your reference. For example, you might measure the height of a tree compared to the width of a house, or the distance between two objects.
  • Establish a Unit of Measurement:
    • Choose a unit of measurement that you will use consistently throughout your drawing. This could be the height of a tree, the width of a building, or any other convenient measurement.
    • For example, if you decide that the height of a tree is your unit of measurement, you can use it to compare the heights and widths of other objects in the landscape thereby mapping out your drawing. 
  • Transfer Measurements to Your Drawing:
    • Use your chosen unit of measurement to transfer the proportions from your observation to your drawing.
    • Start by lightly sketching in the basic shapes and placement of major elements using the measurements you’ve taken.
    • For instance, if a tree in your reference is twice as tall as a house, make sure the tree in your drawing is also twice as tall as the house you’ve drawn.
    • Continuously compare different parts of your drawing to ensure they are in proportion to each other. This might involve erasing and adjusting as needed.

Remember, landscape drawing often involves some interpretation and artistic license, so don’t worry if your drawing isn’t an exact replica of your reference. The goal is to capture the essence and proportions of the scene to create a visually pleasing composition.

If you’re serious about drawing then landscapes will take their rightful place within your repertoire of sketching. Like any genre there are common challenges and specific details one must follow to get it right that are unique to this theme. 

The rewards are great. Through the detailed observation and study of the landscape you move through you connect to yourself on a new level. The ability to then translate that emotion into a page of drawings is the ultimate reflection of our role as artists moving through the landscape we inhabit. 

Loving the idea of learning more about drawing the landscape?  

Please do join me on my Scratch to Sketch Hub Landscape Drawing challenge. We’ll be completing 10 landscape sketches with step by step guidance and different approaches for each one!