How to Paint a Landscape in Oils

You've been painting landscapes using oil colors for a while now, maybe even years. However, you're frustrated over turning your landscapes into a muddy mess. Relieve your frustration and learn how to paint a landscape in oils by following these easy steps.


  1. Image titled Paint a Landscape in Oils Step 1
    Find a photograph that you would like to paint.
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    Tape the photo to your easel and get yourself set up to paint.
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    Lay out your colors onto your palette. Make a habit of laying them out in the same order every time. Eventually, you will instinctively know where each color is.[1] This is especially handy if you're painting on location.
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    In the jar, mix 1 part of the poppy seed oil with 2 parts of the sunflower oil. For example: use 1/8 cup of poppy seed oil and 1/4 cup of sunflower oil.
  5. Image titled Paint a Landscape in Oils Step 5
    Choose a medium sized brush to begin.
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    Mix raw sienna with a little turpentine on your palette. Mixing it with turpentine, rather than the oil, will allow it to dry faster. For the first sketch, you will need the thinned paint to dry quickly.
    • Raw Sienna is a great neutral color to start with and will cover easily.
    • Don't mix it too thin, but thin enough so that the paint flows smoothly and is transparent.
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    Using the thinned raw sienna, make a quick sketch on your canvas of the main bodies of land. Make sure your horizon line is correctly indicated at 1/3 or 2/3 of the way down on the canvas, depending on how much sky is in your photo.
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    While your sketch lines are drying some, start mixing your paints. Use the oil mixture to mix your paints with.
    • To begin with, your paints are going to be fairly thin and transparent. With each subsequent layer, the paint should be thicker and the oil mixture less. In this way you will be painting fat over lean. This is very important as the first layers of paint will absorb the oil from the layers on top of them. If the top layers dry faster than the lower layers, the painting will crack.[2]
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    Paint the sky first.
    • If there is a lot of color in your sky, just block in the main color.
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    Block in your shadows and the dominant colors of the landscape.
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    Allow to dry completely before continuing (about 48 hours). When taking a break, make sure youclean your brushes properly and take care of your paints by covering your palette and capping the oil tightly.
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    With each successive layer there are a few things to remember.
    • When anything recedes into the distance, there is atmosphere between you and that object. Therefore, there will be less detail and less color saturation in your distant objects (such as mountain and trees).
    • The darkest shadows will be in the foreground. Many people tend to think that the darkest shadows are in the distance. However, if you gaze carefully at any landscape you will see that because of the atmosphere, the shadows are muted compared to the shadows in the foreground.
    • Remember the rule of thirds. It is a compositional rule that not only helps you place your scene correctly on the canvas, but it also helps you develop a nicely balanced painting.[3][4][5] Common among photographers, but also an essential for artists.
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    Make sure your paint is a little thicker than last time and begin painting in more detail. Continue each time with thicker paint and more detail until your painting is finished.


  • It's recommended that after a layer is dry and before you begin to paint again, to brush the canvas with retouch varnish. This will allow the layers to bond together.
  • To keep colors intense and bright, mix them with their nearest neighbors on the color wheel - like blue and green for blue-green. To make a grayish or brownish color, mix opposites on the color wheel like yellow and violet or green and red. Mixed-complement neutrals are much livelier than using brown or gray paint. Also if you mix them from the other colors in the painting, they will create a subliminal color harmony - the blue of the sky and the oranges in the poppies make a nice olive green or rich brown for twigs and leaves.
  • By making your layers a little thicker every time, you can control the amount of paint you use and how much detail you want to add.
  • The most detail should be done thickly and as the last layer.
  • Choose a neutral palette for mixing your colors accurately. Glass works nicely too, but it needs to be white or gray underneath. Gray palettes allow you to judge how light or dark a mixture is more easily than white palettes do.
  • Painting with the mixture of oil (poppy seed and sunflower oil) and in very thin layers is called glazing. It allows you to let other layers show through or change a color completely. It will help you to keep from making a muddy mess (as is so common when painting with oils).


  • It is suggested that you paint from your own photos as there are copyright laws that apply. The copyright act is a federal law and not a state law. It gives the artist (or photographer, in this case), the legal right to control what happens to their work. If you don't take your own photographs, ask a family member or friend to let you borrow a few photos to choose from. You can also look for packs of stock photos you can buy or find websites that offer stock photos free for use to artists. Some art communities offer shared photos taken by members, free for use to other members. It's courteous to credit the photographer when someone gives you permission to use their photos. It's also courteous to show them the art, they're probably curious. If you see a photo you like on Flickr or other photo sharing sites, contact the photographer, ask permission and only use it if the photographer gives you permission. Honor any conditions the photographer sets such as "always give credit" or "don't sell the painting" or "percentage of the proceeds must support my charity-cause." Keep and print out any emails with permission from photographers so there is dated proof of permission in case there's trouble.
  • Artist grade oil paints, thinners (turpentine or odorless mineral spirits), varnishes and some mediums used with oil paints are toxic. Student grade oil paints use non toxic pigments and they're safe along with linseed oil (a purer artist's version of the salad oil). Wear thin rubber gloves when painting if your skin is sensitive. Be sure to work in a well ventilated area, that's essential. Wash up with a hand care product like Plumber's Goop or an artist soap rather than washing with paint thinner.

Things You'll Need

  • quality oil paints
  • poppy seed oil
  • sunflower oil
  • turpentine or Turpenoid
  • paper towels (preferably Viva for better absorption) or rags
  • a good palette
  • oil paint brushes
  • a glass jar with a good lid to mix the poppy seed and sunflower oils

Article Info

Categories: Oil Painting