Intro to Landscape – Value Angles

A coherent landscape painting is an arrangement of 3 – 4 large masses in a simple four-step value scale.

Your large masses should form a pattern that is interesting and conveys what you want to say with various shapes, lines and sizes. First, ask what made you want to paint the landscape, and then arrange it to make it evident in your painting.

Here is the reference image for the lesson. I love hiking, and this image invites you along on the hike to see what is around the next bend in the trail. That’s the message I want to convey with my painting.


“Symmetry is static; variety is dynamic.”

Look at the image, squint, and divide it into three or four large coherent value masses.

Once you have the image simplified, the next step is to assign values to the large masses.

John Carlson is well-known for his book, A Guide to Landscape Painting.

In the book, he discusses his Theory of Angles: The main factor that influences the value of an object is its angle to the sky. So on a sunny day when the sun is directly above:

  • Sky – is the source of light and the lightest value. Not white but the lightest value.
  • Flatland – gets light directly from the sky and is the second lightest value. No subordinate values in the ground should be darker than upright objects.
  • Slanted objects – like Mountains – are next on the value scale.
  • Vertical Items – like trees – get the least amount of light from the sun and therefore are the darkest. Make sure that even the highlights on the trees stay darker than the sky or the ground.

One exception is very distant mountains, because of atmospheric perspective, they are very light.

When assessing the values, squint, and assign the middleweight of any given area. Any details within those large masses are subordinate and don’t change the overall value of the large masses.

Go back to the reference image, squint, and sketch the shapes of your large masses. Now paint a four-level value scale of the reference image above.

Save white, the lightest light, and black, the darkest dark, for the end.

This should take no more than 10 minutes. We are going for SIMPLE shapes and only four values.

Paint your Four Value Landscape going from darks to lights:

Verticals – Darkest

Slanted – Next step lighter

Ground – A step lighter

Sky – Lightest

Examples from class:

Next week we will come back, talk about how distance impacts color, and add that to our value underpainting.

One thought on “Intro to Landscape – Value Angles

  1. Pingback: Picket Fence Art StudioArt Studio of Jamie Lightfoot - Offering oil painting lessons.Moving Upward

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