A Painting Just Waiting to Happen

I was in Florida a few weeks ago and felt so lucky to be in such a warm, sunny place that I don’t think I spent a minute indoors. I was kayaking, mountain biking, walking on the beach, and swimming in the ocean. And again and again I would look around and think, “That’s a landscape painting waiting to happen.”

Pebble Beach, California I by Keiko Tanabe, watercolor on paper, 14 1/4 x 21 1/2.
Pebble Beach, California I by Keiko Tanabe, watercolor on paper, 14 1/4 x 21 1/2.

Now, as I sit here bundled up in a sweater and scarf, I’m trying to really think about what made those scenes that I saw worthy of a landscape artwork. First, what comes to mind is the color. When I was kayaking in the mangroves, I was struck by the bold but simple colors I saw–rich, deep blue water; lush green vegetation and tree leaves; and pale taupe-gray tree limbs.  In terms of a color map, this would make for a pretty simple fine art landscape painting, and yet I can’t think of anything that could truly enhance that natural beauty.

Paris Morning III by Keiko Tanabe, watercolor painting.
Paris Morning III by Keiko Tanabe, watercolor painting.

Next, I remember how lovely the light was. I was mesmerized by the dappled reflections of sunshine on the water or when the sun would make a crashing wave seem to glow transparently. When I was strolling through the city, I was struck by the bright light reflecting off the facades of buildings in contrast to the dark shadows cast by that same architecture. Those light effects that stick in my mind are the same qualities that the best landscape or cityscape paintings have to offer too.

I would also have to add a bit of the unexpected to this hypothetical landscape artwork that I’m painting in my head. The dim but at the same time really rich light that would settle on the landscape in the evenings wasn’t something I expected to see, and that’s what made it so appealing.

In my mind’s eye I also see an incredible amount of texture or pattern. Whether it was leaves in trees, reflections on the ocean’s surface, or the pattern on the front of an historic building–the landscape was alive with repeated lines, colors, and forms.

Thinking of the landscape this way, it’s clear to me why I thought these scenes were landscape paintings waiting to happen–it’s because they were! I pinpointed the elements that made the views noteworthy in my memory, and those are the same elements that would go into great landscape artwork. But in order to really fulfill my vision, I need more landscape and cityscape painting know-how, which is why I’ve turned my attention to Michael Reardon’s book, Watercolor Techniques: Painting Light & Color in Landscapes & Cityscapes. There are lessons on painting water, trees, skies, buildings, streets, and more. See for yourself what Reardon might have to offer you and enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

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