ArtDrawing

How to Draw Landscapes: The Basics

Many artists feel that drawing landscapes are either beyond their capabilities or just plain boring.

But really, landscape drawing can be challenging, inspiring and a nice addition to your artistic talents. It can be difficult to come up with ideas for still life drawings but with landscape drawing, you can just find your favourite spots and draw them. 

If you want to figure out how to draw landscapes, take a look at these basics. We’ve included techniques, tips and what not to do when drawing a landscape.

Materials You’ll Need for Landscape Drawing

Before you begin your first landscape sketch, it’s a good idea to check that you’ve got the right materials. Using the wrong paper, for example, could make it impossible for you to erase. So what do you need?

  • Graphite pencils: H/HB/3H for the lightest initial sketches and shading; B/2B for the main part of shading or hatching; and 4B/6B for shading the darkest areas.
  • Proper paper: Bristol paper of 70 lbs. or heavier with a medium texture works really well for landscape drawings. You don’t want to use a sheet of copy paper (too difficult to erase and tears) or a smooth finish (doesn’t grab layers for depth).
  • Erasers: A typical pencil eraser is typically too harsh for drawings, but a kneaded eraser and a plastic eraser are perfect.
  • Blending stumps

Optional materials: A light tape or cards you can cut to mask some areas; if you’re planning on using the sketch for a pencil/watercolour landscape, get the water-soluble graphite pencils.

Choosing the Subject of Your Landscape Drawing

A lot of landscape artists suggest starting small and work your way up, like doing test sketches of leaves, a tree or even grass. Don’t let that dampen your drawing spirit, though.

Take a walk outside and see what inspires you. Go through your favourite ‘place’ photos, or search online for an atmosphere you gravitate towards. Do you love the Alps or a local landmark? Save it, print it out and use it as a reference.

Once you’ve chosen an image, blur your eyes when you’re looking at it. Note the most prominent features. Are they dark or light? How does the background fade? Think of it in terms of vague hints to prominent details. This is what you’ll use for your rough sketch.

Creating a Rough Sketch and Beginning Your Landscape

The best rule of thumb with landscapes is the ‘rule of thirds.’ If your landscape has the horizon exactly in the middle, change it. Make the horizon either a 3rd of the way from the top or from the bottom. It will help if you find the most distant ‘line,’ like mountains or trees, and lightly sketch them in.

Lightly sketch in the main objects of the full landscape, no details, just a rough estimate of size and shape. If you’ve left a lot of white top space, don’t panic (that’s what clouds are for).

Check to see if the proportions are ok (i.e. no flowers bigger than the front tree), make sure there’s balance between the objects (no clusters on one side with blank space on the other) and get an overall sense of where you want your landscape drawing to go.

Note: The ‘rule of thirds’ also works for organising the objects in your landscape. If you have the same objects equal in size on either side, it’ll make your drawing boring and less realistic.

Getting into the Details of Your Landscape Drawing

It might seem counter-intuitive, but you have to start from the back and work your way forward. That means starting with your clouds, fleshing them out a bit (don’t get too crazy with the eraser, as much fun as it is- you can always go back to them later). Then lightly shade in the background, working forward.

You can try different techniques for shading areas. Rubbing the side of a pencil against a scrap paper to flatten it, and using the flat to fill in the area, then blending. Or use light hatching for distant features, crosshatching for denser and more detailed areas. And, of course, your erasers for creating negative space in shaded areas.

Note: Never, but never, just scribble. Leaves on trees, for instance. It’s tempting, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed by details, but with a little patience and time, you can create believable depth by layering and slowly grading (darkening).

Finishing Details for Drawing Landscapes

You’ve done all of the ‘dirty work’ of filling in the background, middle and general foreground. Now you can finish your landscape drawing off.

This is where you make sure that your light source matches up with the shading. The sun coming from the upper right would leave the lower left parts darker, tree tops should be lighter than their bottoms, etc.

It’s also where you can add details like stones, grass bits, birds, tone down white glaring fields, or whatever your artistic muse tells you.

Voila!

Even if it’s not a masterpiece, you’ve just finished a landscape drawing. And it’s probably better than you thought you could do-!

If you’re interested in further exploration of landscape drawing, take a look at these links:

Exercises: How to add life to Landscapes and Illustrations: Kieran Phelps

Tutorial: Landscape Step by Step: Diane Wright

Video: How to Draw a Landscape Study with Graphite Pencils: Sean Dye

We hope this article’s been helpful to you on how to draw landscapes. Have we missed anything? Are there any tips you’d like to add? Let us know in the comments below!

Richard Hammond

I am the founder of 9Mousai and am deeply interested in creativity and what inspires it. My main passions are writing, film and music but I have a great respect for all the arts. I'm also an animal lover and have a little cat called Winston and occasionally dabble in the odd whisky.

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