Art Instruction

Basic Painting Layers diagram
Basic Painting Layers diagram copy.jpg

Krel Buckelew’s Basic Painting Class – How to put together a Basic Landscape Painting.


Section 1. Paint in Layers.

     A. Background – what is miles away

     B. Middle ground – what is between the background space and the foreground.

     C. Foreground – what is closest to the viewer.


                                                                                          C. Background – Paint the sky and the mountains or land areas                                                                                                 that are miles away first. Use a method that we will call                                                                                                       (Atmospheric Perspective) and paint the color values light                                                                                                   or soft to give this area the appearance of being very far                                                                                                       away. (As things get farther away from us, they get lighter,                                                                                                   cooler in color temperature and less detailed.)








B. Middle ground – Paint the

    land areas that are between

    the background space and the

    foreground space next. This is

    a natural progression of

    coming forward. As we paint

    this level, we should get a little darker or more powerful with

    our colors and add a little more detail. Do not get too

    powerful or detailed because we still have the foreground

    left to paint.

    Remember that we are still using (Atmospheric Perspective).

    (As things get farther away from us, they get lighter, cooler

    in color temperature and less detailed. As things get closer

    to us, they get more powerful in color values and more



A. Foreground – Last but not least at all, paint the land areas or subject matter that is right in front of the viewer.

    As we paint this level, we should get darker or more powerful with our colors than we did in our middle ground        layer and add more detail as well. This layer is the star of our show and should stand out more. Remember that        we are still using (Atmospheric Perspective) so this layer should look as if you can reach out and touch it. (As            things get closer to us, they get more powerful in color values and more detailed.)


Painting Tips – This Basic Lesson works best when painting with Acrylic or Oil paints or paints that are opaque because I am teaching you to paint this Landscape Scene in layers.


1. If you are using Acrylic paints, the Background layer will dry fairly quick so, you will be able to move on to the            Middle ground layer in a short period of time.


2. If you are painting in Oils, you may want to allow your paints to dry on your Background layer before you move to      the Middle ground layer and do the same before you move to the Foreground layer. This drying time may take a        few days to be dry enough to paint over unless you are adding a fast-drying agent to your oil paints. Also,                  painting thin layers of paint will dry faster and be easier to layer over as you come forward than putting the              paint on thick. If you like the texture of thick paint, you can try painting the Background with a thin layer of paint        and then get thicker with your paint as you come forward. (I will discuss how and when to draw the image on            your canvas in the next page).


Section 2.Drawing the image onto the canvas. (Your drawing for our first painting project is posted below).


(As in everything) there is many ways to accomplish this step. I will teach you the ways that many professional artists use and you can decide which is best for you.


1. Hand drawing your image – if you are good at drawing, then you can simply draw your image on your canvas             using a pencil or a brush. Remember, the quality of your painting starts with taking the time to develop a good           drawing as your guide.


2. If you are not good (or fast) at drawing (as a lot of painters are not) then here are some ways around this. You           can use a copier or computer to create a drawing the same size as your canvas. You can print your drawing               out in pieces (If you have 8.5 X 11 inch paper) and tape it all together to make one big drawing that matches               your canvas size.


         A. Take your drawing on a sheet of paper the same size as your canvas and tape (hinge) it to the top and back               of the canvas where it can’t move around. Box tape works better for this than scotch tape or masking tape.               Do not get tape glue on your canvas surface. Then place carbon paper under your drawing and trace it onto               the canvas.


         B. You can draw a grid on your drawing and a matching grid (to scale) on your canvas and draw the image this               way. I use this method when I am painting large paintings from a small reference photo.


         C. There are image projectors available that will project your drawing onto your canvas so that you can trace                 it quickly. (Check with your local art supply store or contact to find this equipment)


Drawing Tip – I do not draw my image on my canvas all at one time. I only draw out the details for the layer that I am working on. This gets tricky when working with wet oil paints so you may want to draw your entire image to begin with if you’re an oil painter. Acrylic painters will have no problem with this because your paint dries so fast. This method is why I hinge my drawing to the top and back of my canvas very securely with box tape so I can flip it back out of my way when I am not using it as I progress through each layer of my painting. To use this method, you cannot let your drawing move around or it may not line up exactly on your canvas each time you need to draw the next layer of detail. Here is the drawing of our painting project that I used above to teach you how to paint in layers. When we look at this drawing we can see the different values of color that we will use in our painting from the soft Background colors, the medium Middle ground colors and the bold Foreground colors.

Section 3.Now we will explore our Light source, highlights and our shadows.


Learning to layout your painting on your canvas and then block in the correct color values based on the layer that you are painting, is a great achievement on the journey to becoming a good landscape painter. After you have gotten comfortable with this process, you will want to begin to understand your light source or where the light is coming from in your painting.


The direction of your light source determines where your highlights will be and where your shadows will fall. In our first painting, we have used a simple light source in that the sun is coming from the left side of our painting up behind the mountains backlighting the land areas, rocks, trees and grass.


When you determine what direction your light source is coming from, your highlights will be on that side of the 3 dimensional structures and the shadows will be on the opposite side of these objects in your painting.


The time of day will also determine where your light is and how short or long your shadows will be based on how high or low the sun sits in the sky. The lower the sun, the longer your shadows will lay across the land