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Landscape Painting: Artists Who Love the Land
Introduction - Creating Illusions - Catlin - Moran - Bierstadt - Homer

How does an artist create a landscape? A landscape artist is a sort of magician who can create a whole world on a piece of flat canvas. This world, of course, is made of paint. Trees that seem thick with foliage are made with a few flicks of a paintbrush. Lakes that shine, waterfalls that splash, grasses that bend in the wind, and dark clouds that promise rain are all made of colors squeezed out of a paint tube. How amazing it is that small dabs and smears of color can create places for us to go in our imagination: a placid river winding around hills, a rocky shoreline where we can almost hear the crashing waves, an enormous canyon that seems to stretch miles deep into the distance.

Air is an important part of any landscape as well, although we seldom give it much thought. An artist has to paint the air so skillfully that we seem to feel the heat of the sun and the rush of the wind. He or she has to make us believe that it might take hours for a bird to fly from one side of the picture frame to the other. All of this is hard to do. There are no paint tubes for sale labeled "sunshine," "frosty air," "gentle breeze," or "gloomy day." An artist has to create the wind, the sunshine, and the mist with the paint at the end of the brush.

It is important to remember that a landscape artist is not a camera that records whatever happens to be in front of the lens. He is not required to paint exactly what he sees. If he feels that there are too many trees on a hill, he can leave some of them out of his picture. If he thinks the trees are in the wrong place, he can move them around. If a riverbank looks too empty, he can add a few rocks that aren't really there.

A landscape artist also has to decide what she wants us to see. If she is painting a field, she has to decide whether she wants us to see each blade of grass or whether she wants us to see the field as a smear of color. She can paint her landscape so that we see the field from above, as if we were looking down from an airplane, or from the ground, as if we were lying flat on a picnic blanket.

Before making any of these decisions, the landscape artist must decide whether to work outdoors on the land or indoors in the studio. Working outdoors allows him to observe the colors of nature-the soil, the clouds, and the reflections on water. He can study the patterns of sunlight and shadow that change with every passing moment. On the other hand, if he chooses to paint inside his studio, he can work more slowly, rearrange the composition, and adjust the colors and shapes to his own way of seeing. Many artists find both methods useful. They make sketches outdoors and then do the actual painting back in their studio.

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