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Making Sense Of A Complex Scene

I recently did a demo for my student in my online gouache landscape painting course. The local scenes available to her are a lot heavily forested parks. My method revolves around grouping together shapes and making them simple first before breaking them down within the large shapes. But how do we do that with a scene this complex?

First thing I did was make the background two large simple groups. One being the yellow canopy of leaves into a large yellow-orange shape. The next one is the sky being a large blue triangle with a few smaller blue shapes.

Looking at the shadow shapes and grouping those together will help to make sense of what's going on with the ground planes(path, rocks, ground, etc.). The midground rocks and big trees can be grouped together to make their own cluster of shapes.

The toughest part of this scene to simplify is the group of shapes that make up the area around that small red tree in the middle. We must ignore all the changes of value and all the small bits of light that break up the dominant shadow shapes there.

This is of course just the establishment phase of the painting. There is much more to do in order to make it more of a finished painting, but this makes it way more of a manageable roadmap to go foreward.

One way to understand your reference before starting is to convert it to black and white:

As you can see in this one, the reason it looks so complicated is because the scene is visually dominated by a lot of mid-value areas broken up by tiny darker and lighter shapes. Especially in that most-complex area where most of the midtone shapes blend together. So we must first separate the values of dark from light in a clear way before we break them down further as we work on the painting.

If you're interested in learning more lessons like these, in a more personal way that fits your specific goals, consider working with me! If you're interested in joining me in my next course tentatively scheduled for February 2024, sign up for my newsletter to get more updates:

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