Introduction: Romantic Era Landscape Painting

About: Designer, Researcher, and Educator

At the end of the eighteenth century, romanticism as a cultural movement finds its way. It's the time of the industrial revolution, the start of a world filled with factories. Cities are growing, the working class lives in poverty and the workers are just part of an anonymous extension of the machines. To escape from this sad, daily existence, artists are inspired by the past, by different cultures, exotic places, by nature and by their own views and feelings. As Caspar David Friedrich said : "The painter should not only paint what he has in front of him, but also what he sees inside himself. If he doesn't see anything inside himself, he should stop painting what he has in front of him" (translated from German)

The past school year, I've made several paintings based on time periods we learned about. I started with a medieval version of a van Gogh, made a Vanitas still life for the seventeenth century and ended here. For this painting, basically the only instructions was a romantic landscape. In step 1-6, I'll show the preparatory steps I took before starting this painting . Step 7- 14 will tell you how to make a painting like this yourself.

I hope you'll like it!

Step 1: Landscapes

Keep in mind, I executed most of these preparatory steps with the idea of the painting already in my head ; )

First of all: examples. Reading about something is one thing, looking up actual paintings from this era another thing. I used three different paintings that, if you ask me, are as different as painting from the same movement could possibly be.

1. Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (Walker above the sea of clouds), painted by Caspar David Friedrich.

The man is put in front of the landscape itself. The light, vague, unreachable background, contrasted by the dark, silent, overwhelmed man in front of it. Friedrich wanted more than to paint nature, he wanted to capture the essence of it.

2. Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, painted by William Turner.

Emotion and experience are the most important in Turner's work. The story goes he had himself get tied up to the mast of a ship during a storm, to experience the force of nature himself.

3. Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, painted by John Constable.

John Constable wanted to paint the things the way he saw them. Instead of just painting clouds from inside a workplace, he went outside to paint them, just the way they were.

Step 2: Collages

Basically, the goal of these collages is to experiment with different materials. I decided to go for four main themes, one for each collage:

1. paper, a sky of crumpled blue paper, different green magazine cutouts and an origami crane flying through the air. I also added clouds cut out of lace.

2. nature, a base layer of sand, grass and flower petals, after that painted over.

3. texture, a combo of deco sand, glue and glitter.

4. feeling, coloured pencils and soft pastels.

Step 3: Sketches

Where last step is mostly about materials, this step focusses more on techniques. The numbers can also be found in the corner of each sketch.

1. ball point lines

2. dotted fineliner, after that painted over with water

3. dotted paint (pointillism inspired, slightly different)

4. coloured pencil, swirled air

5. filled in shapes with parallel lines, fine liner

6. nature inspired woodgrain and striped background, black ball point

7. filled in dots, coloured pencil

8. second version of sketch 4, but with everything swirled

Step 4: Taking Pictures

After looking into how I want to paint my landscape, colours are also quite a nice thing to think about. The first three pictures, beautiful sunsets of the past few months, were used as inspiration for the colours. The colours are quite important, for me they give the final painting the vibe and feeling of a painting from the romantic era.

The fourth picture, a bunch of trees with their shadows, is a translation from the image I had in my mind to reality.

It makes it a bit easier to actually see what's in your mind in real life, though it might not be possible for you to find what you have in mind in nature. Keep in mind, this picture is just a reference, and far from the most important step.

Step 5: Design

And then there's the design:

The first thought that came to my mind when I was given this assignment, was to take a pallet and use wood burning to get a design similar to the one pictured in sketch 6, step 3.

After drawing it out a bit and researching pallet sizes, I had to conclude that wasn't completely going to work, since the pallets were way too big to transport on a bike for 10 km ; )

Eventually, I ended up with the design as pictured. Using a plank cut in four pieces, with distance between them to keep that pallet impression somewhere.

I also tried to decide which technique I was going to use for my design. One thing was clear: I wanted to make the trees as pictured in sketch 6. The background was a bit harder to decide on and eventually I did something completely different : )

Step 6: Materials

To make this painting yourself, you will need:

- wood, 93 x 2100 mm

- string

- acrylic paint

- brushes

- pencil

- exacto knife

- duct tape

Step 7: Layout

Cut the plank in four equal pieces. Lay them out as shown in the picture. The distance between them is exactly the width of this kind of fineliner. For the trees it's not that important to have this distance right, since they're just straight vertical lines, but for the shadows it is important.

Step 8: Drawing

For the trees: draw straight lines parallel to each other to create a tree. You can vary in width and length.

The shadows are drawn in an angle, I'm not exactly sure what angle I used though. To create a bit of a slightly unrealistic effect, draw all the shadows perfectly parallel.

The grain is a bit harder to explain, basically this is how I draw wood grain every time. Start with a wavy line from top to bottom, add more lines slightly different next to it, add knags, etcetera.

Step 9: Carving

Trace the lines of the wood grain you drew with the exacto knife first. Fill up every other part by carving lines into it as shown, enhancing the drawn grain. For the carving you can use the tip tilted sideways, that way it's much easier to create the lines, since actually cutting isn't needed.

Step 10: Painting I

When it came to painting the background, I decided not to think at my sketches at all. When I saw the natural wood grain, I just knew what I wanted to do: paint the parts created by the grains, but use paint that has been watered down a lot to keep the natural look of the wood visible.

For the colours of the sky: anywhere from purple to blue, slightly realistic but yet so far and unreachable. The water-paint ratio: a small drop of paint in water, see also the last picture.

For the colours of the grass: all shades of green possible, using the same water-paint ratio as for the sky. For the shadows, use the same colour as for the grass but add a very small amount of dark brown/black paint.

Step 11: Painting II

Take brown acrylic paint and mix it with a bit of water, but not as much as used for the background. Use a small brush to fill in the lines of the trees that haven't been carved.

Step 12: Assembly

Duct tape, is there anything it can't do?

Use the same technique of placing the planks as in step 7: the fine liners. This will give you the same distance between them, meaning your design will still be correct after the assembly.

Cut off a piece of string and put it over all four planks, leaving room to possibly hang it from at the top. Tape the string to the wood using duct tape.

Step 13: Final Result

And that's it! I'm personally really happy with the way this turned out, I think it looks great! I hope you liked it as well, if you did I'd love to know : )

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