You Have to Lie to Get What You Want

I may have grabbed your attention at the risk of making you think I’m a big fat fibber, but I do think that when it comes to landscape painting, you sometimes have to lie–or at least exaggerate–to get what you want. This is based on personal experience–maybe I’m unlucky, but I do not step into a landscape of wonder and majesty every time I go outside. Finding a place worthy of being documented in a landscape oil painting doesn’t happen to me regularly.

Rocky Landscape by Hercules Seghers, 1600s, oil painting.
Rocky Landscape by Hercules Seghers, 1600s, oil painting.

Instead, when I walk out of the house, usually I’m struck by how ordinary everything is. But that doesn’t mean painting landscapes is an endeavor that should grind to screeching halt. Artists just need to learn the rule of pushing it.

Suppose you’ve settled on a subject for your next landscape oil painting, but no unicorn has trotted in to make an otherwise normal scene truly exceptional. If you are second guessing yourself about what you’ve chosen to paint and are considering something drastic like starting over, don’t! Instead, you have to start to push it–and everything is fair game. From the angles of a cluster of trees, to the colors in the sky, to the patterns made by the wind in a grassy field, everything can be enhanced or firmed up to give you a stronger composition than what you started with.

Landscape by Camille Corot, 1800s, oil painting.
Landscape by Camille Corot, 1800s, oil painting.

I don’t know if this strikes some committed landscape artists as insincere or wrong, but it works for me, mostly because I don’t believe your subject should have ownership over you as an artist. You get to make the decisions, and that means changing, moving, and pushing things to get your message across–and that is the most important aspect of painting landscapes, cityscapes, people, still lifes, or anything else.

For more landscape painting techniques, check out the new book by Elizabeth Mowry: Landscape Painting in Pastel. It is a solid resource for artists interested in firming up their technical abilities from an artist with a lifetime of painting experience, and it just might give us all the inspirational nudge we need to get out there and paint what we see in front of us–as well as what we want to see in front of us. 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.   

3 thoughts on “You Have to Lie to Get What You Want

  1. Courtney – I enjoy and read your articles every day but this one compelled me to comment. You nailed it! I live in the mountains and am surround by Forrest. Our redwood forrests are beautifull and majestic, but as they say, “you can’t see the forest for the the trees”. Nothing, as you said, stands out as “truly exceptional”. Your post helped me to think about pulling out individual trees and singling out odd shapes and trees slanting one way or another and to be more creative. Not to get bogged down by the whole forrest…….we are artist, we create and as you said, “everything is fair game”. Thanks for today’s post!

  2. I totally agree. I n a lot of my paintings i give it a sunrise or sunset sky which changes completly changes what you see. Depending how the effect you want to sea depends on how much you have given the sky, but this works for me in most cases.