Part 4 Hard or Soft Landscape


  • choose a view of either a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ landscape
  • you can approach this objectively or explore the colours and techniques to convey something of the mood and atmosphere of the landscape you have chosen

Preliminary studies

I decided to work from a photograph of a city-scape for this exercise (Brisbane to be exact). It was an expansive view of skyscrapers along a river. The colours were what drew me to the scene in the first place and I approached this exercise with the idea of playing with those colours to create a sense of bright sunshine. My initial study was created very quickly and fluidly using acrylic paint.

Study for cityscape

From this study I identified areas that I would simplify (bottom right corner), and areas that would need more consideration (the river edge to get a sense of bending around). The  tower blocks themselves were going to be difficult. How much detail should I put it. Mostly they were apartments with balconies, so although brightly coloured and with lots of interesting shadows there was little glass reflecting light as the windows were set back in the shadows. This gave me the problem of how to deal with the patterns the balconies created ad how much detail of those balconies was needed.

I also had a compositional issue. The photograph had the nearest yellow building completely bisecting the image with the top not visible. A strong vertical cutting through the image can cut it into two. I thought that I should explore the idea of extending the image upwards to include the top this linking the two parts with sky.

I found some contemporary city scape paintings by Ricardo Galan Urrejola that I admired and used as references in creating my finished piece. In particular I was interested in the way this artist merely suggests windows and details on the skyscrapers.

On the whole my study is quite a nice little painting in its own right. It has energy and the brushwork loose and fluid. It conveys a sesne of a bright sunny day. However I wanted to be more  experimental with my final piece and try using different tools to create the long vertical lines of the skyscrapers, investigating their solid shapes against the sky. By adding thick layers of paint, I wanted to render the buildings in. Detail could then be added where needed over the top.


Working on a large (but cheap) canvas I blocked in the main areas of colour using acrylics, extending the image upwards to include the top of the yellow skyscraper. Immediately I became aware of another problem this produced, that of the skyscraper behind. It was much taller and very black. My photos didn’t include any with the top of this building but a quick internet search soon revealed that it was so much taller I would have to significantly reduce the whole format of the painting to include it in.

underpainting in acrylic


Thus I decided to allow both skyscrapers to extend off the top of the canvas. (NB. in the underpainting, the yellow building has not been blocked into its full height relative to the smaller buildings around it. Having become aware of the black skyscraper issue I was intending to leave a bit of white canvas so I could resolve the issue, but went over it accidentally when blocking in the sky!)

I decided that due to the size of the canvas and the fact I would have to work on it over several days, I would use oil paint on top of my acrylic base layer. This would allow me to continue to manipulate the paint. I used both brushes and cardboard ‘trowels’ to try to block in the buildings in one long swathe. This wasn’t too successful and I struggled to get vertical lines that were straight. This didn’t’ really matter in the study but on the larger canvas, plying paint on in this way required a straight line! The cheap canvas was also not so helpful, it was a bit saggy and the tensioning bars on the back broke when I tried to stretch it more! I also made the mistake of putting lots of darks in first, which usually works as a plan and would have been more successful if I had stuck with acrylics. As it was, when I tried to add the light tones, I found that it was very hard not to get grey tones in the paint from the dark adjoining areas. My plan to maintain manoeuvrability of the paint backfired on me.

Brisbane Waterfront
Mixed media on canvas


This was an experimental approach to this exercise. My final piece was an ambitious painting and the outcome isn’t quite as I hoped however there are parts that worked – as well as loads that didn’t. I did however learn an awful lot doing it! It was an experimental approach, something that I would really need to work on if I wanted to take forward. Thick paint is hard to handle!

What worked…

I am pleased with the self-editing I did on the waterfront, it was a complicated scene. I also like my simplification of the bottom right hand side, however this simplification isn’t carried through the rest of the painting so successfully and so there is a feeling of fussiness as you track left and up. The blue building is the most successful. It was the only one made of flat glass and there were some great reflections to work in to the image. There is a sense of the city receding back too, which I like. As an investigation in to the solid shapes of the skyscrapers then there is some merit, although I prefer the original study.

What was less successful…

The most obvious problem is the big black vertical strip of the black skyscraper. I don’t mind the yellow stripe (although it is quite acid for the rest of the palette), especially as I managed to tie the colour in by adding the bright yellow to some of the green highlights on the left and the far right. (perhaps more would have been better). The black building (which has an amazing pattern on it – which I have managed to capture but doesn’t show up in the photograph) is just too black for this painting. In my study, I changed the black to a less stark grey-green. However I got a bit hung up with the whole yellow issue that I just blocked it in without thinking about it in a blackness that is very close to reality!. I could glaze over the top with something like zinc white which is quite transparent but able to take the edge off the starkness.

I other major problem with this painting was that I ended up adding too much detail to the buildings. The problem was the balconies and the fact that most of the buildings themselves were made of non-reflective materials. I tried to suggest the idea of the stripy-ness of the apartment balconies but have just ended up with a wiggly mess. I should have left the further skyscrapers without this detail (as in the study) and only had balcony detail on the near two.

In my view, overall this final painting was not as successful as the quick study that I did in my sketchbook. I don’t think that layering on paint thickly in this manner is something that I should develop at this point. I may come back to it with more experience, I am certainly drawn to the idea but in terms of development in this module, my way forward is definitely with more fluid paint and a more loose painting style. I still ned to work to bring that forward into more considered pieces,


Part 4 Hard or Soft Landscape

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