Painting Technique - Adding Character(s) to the Landscape


In November, I published this blog on adding characters to the landscape. Recently, while working on "Wind Chill," I decided that I needed to add a character to the frigid scene. I added this snipe, common water fowl in Northern Michigan, to the rocky shore:


Without this character in the landscape, the viewer might interpret the rocks as huge boulders rather than the small boulders and rocks that they were in reality. So, adding a character to the landscape (dog, person, bird, bug) puts in perspective the size of the objects in your composition.

Although I am enamored with the "purity" of the natural landscape, I find it compelling to add people or animals to enhance my compositions. I encourage fellow artists to do this.

If you have ever seen Albert Sisley's impressionist paintings, you will note the near impossibility of viewing a painting of his without a human being placed in the composition. For the landscape artist, a simple bird, dog, or a strolling naturalist can enhance the composition and provide a focal point for the viewer.

In the painting below, a bucolic scene from Hidden Lake Gardens in Tipton, Michigan is enhanced by a figure and her dog (the figure is my daughter Nicole at age 10, the dog was imagined but curiously resembles my dog Cosmo today)! To place my subjects, I dug up a recent photo of Nicole and searched Google Images for a dog.


Take advantage to convey local wildlife based on the local character of the locale. In the maritime painting below, a "must have" are seagulls. I took several reference photos that day at Breey Point (bayside), and combined features of a few shots conveying various poses of the gulls.


In "Exploring Ravello" below, my focus originally was on the medieval architecture and not on the tourist. This old town on the Amalfi coast sports a collection of stray black cats. I thought the I would call this painting "The Cats of Ravello, " adding a cat or two on the path below, until I realized that the man on the path captured the essence of a tourist fumbling with his camera. Hence, this painting was named "Exploring Ravello."


Finally, "A Long Walk to the Jetty" conveys the distance to reach the Jetty at Breezy Point, NY. The problem with the original version of this painting, however, was that no one was actually walking to the jetty! That same morning I had taken several photos of the beach, including one of a woman walking along the surf in the distance. Whomever she was, she is in the final version of the painting.


Adding people and animals can add character to your painting. Try it out! Sisley couldn't resist capturing the common folk of the French countryside.

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