How To Paint Landscapes : Identify A Four Value Design

"The only rule infallible is that a picture, to have a design, must have value differences or simple light-and-dark masses within it."

- John F. Carlson, American landscape painter and teacher -


Learning how to paint landscapes is no different from painting other subject matter. Each successful picture is an arrangement of three or four large masses—a design of various masses of shapes or large blocks of colors.

It can really help simplify the process if you think about four basic values: light tone, dark tone, half dark, and half light. Designing a painting with these four tones helps unify it.

The degree of difference between the values and the range they cover will vary with each unique design.

Mountain view- showing four values

A typical four value design often exists in perfect nature.

When it comes to learning how to paint landscapes well, keep the basic four values in mind as you design your composition.

Also, remember that nature does not usually hand you a perfect landscape painting design. So be aware that what you see in nature acts as a reference for your painting; don't just slavishly copy what you see.

Pin Down Four Major Planes in Landscapes

How elements are placed relative to the light source determines their tone in landscapes. The main planes you typically see are the sky, sloped mountains or hills, upright trees, and the ground. Next, we are going to discuss how the tilt of the planes in nature determines their value relative to each other.

The Angles of the Planes Set The Tone

The direction of the sunlight or moonlight in the sky shifts such that the planes of all the four prime elements project different tones. Generally speaking, during the day, the sky, as the source of light, has the lightest value. Slanting mountains or hills take on a half dark tone.

The upright trees or trunks possess the darkest tones while the flat ground plane has half light tone. Look at the simple graph below and you get the idea.

The degrees of the four tones changes constantly, depending on the weather conditions and the light. If you can grasp the concept of painting the 'angles' of the planes instead of 'things' you see, then learning how to paint landscapes can be easier than you might think.



Look at the three landscape drawings below which demonstrate the concept of four value designs:

paint landscapes - cloudy weather

  • A cloudy day - The sunlight is blocked and filtered by the clouds. The sky will be light gray. The earth is in shadow and its color is richer than on a sunny day--but darker.


    Paint landscapes-sunny desert


  • A bright sunny day with a blue sky - The ground is brilliantly lit. The tonal values of the earth and sky are close to each other. The shadows are the only real dark, and remain very crisp and well defined.


    paint landscapes- foggy weather

  • A foggy day on which the values are brought very close together - However, you are not likely to be confused by the closeness of the tones. It is airy and light. This type of landscape is sometimes harder to paint than a sunny or a cloudy day.





If you keep the four value variations in mind as you learn how to paint landscapes, you will make rapid progress.

Improve your drawing skill with accuracy here.


Click below to learn more about composition. Remember, composition breaks or makes a painting!
Mastering Composition



> > Four Value Design For Landscape Paintings

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