How to paint landscapes
Bob Rohm, "Golden Path," 48 x 60 in.

A Q&A with Bob Rohm on the process of landscape painting, including his use of a “mother color.”

Bob Rohm (“Harmonious Landscapes”) has been painting most of his life. He received classical art training at the York Academy of Arts in Pennsylvania. Known for his ability to capture the poetry of light, he has received many awards and is a Signature member of the Pastel Society of America, Oil Painters of America, and the Outdoor Painters Society. Today Bob lives in Texas, where his paintings reflect the brilliance of the colors found in the clear, bright light of the Southwest.

The following is an interview with Bob on the art of painting the landscape.

A scene from Bob's "Harmonious Landscapes" art video workshop with
A scene from Bob’s “Harmonious Landscapes” art video workshop with

What does landscape painting give you as an artist?

Landscape gives me the freedom to concentrate on the elements of painting, shape, value, color, composition and not focus on the features of a face or the decoration of a dish in a still life. This may not be true for all, but it is for me. I don’t care if the representation is not accurate so long as it feels right.

Could you walk us through your landscape painting process? 

First I look for a generally pleasing arrangement of shapes and good value contrast. If a scene is too flat in value, it is very difficult to compose and create interest. And if there is no contrast where you want to focus, it probably won’t work out and you will struggle during the entire painting process.

Second, I try to break the scene into four or five value groups. I think in terms of black and white first, then warm and cool. For example, a field of dry grass may be the same value as the sky, but one is warm and the other cool.

Keep the shapes few and simple.

Painting landscapes - Bob Rohm, "Sun Break," 20 x 24 in.
Bob Rohm, “Sun Break,” 20 x 24 in.

What planning do you do before you begin a painting?  

Identify if the scene is mostly warm or cool, and in a dark, middle, or light key.

Where are the extremes — darkest dark, lightest light, most dominant edge and most intense color? Then place a sample of each where it belongs so you can compare and modify color, value, and edges as you refine the painting.

For your references, what do you take more or less directly and what do you translate?

Everything is open to translation. Obviously the scenes are chosen for the subject, shape, or value, but don’t be afraid to make changes. If you’re afraid to emotionally express the scene by making interpretations, then just take a photograph. I never try to illustrate a scene, but rather express it.

Landscape painting
Bob Rohm, “Million Dollar View,” 24 x 30 in.

How do you approach color in your work? 

When I first approach the color of a scene I determine if it is somber, bright, or arbitrary. Generally, I go for something in between the three.

I usually start with a “mother” color or two that are generally premixed — what is the dominant tone (value) and hue of the scene. By combining this with the value plan, it is then relatively easy to modify and bend colors as the painting develops.

Let the painting speak to you, and if it asks to become more vibrant or subdued, don’t be afraid to let it go there.

How do you make sure you’ve planned for a strong composition? What steps do you walk through when working on the compositions specifically?

Before I make the first stroke on a painting, I divide the surface using the guide of thirds, both horizontal and vertical. Each of the four intersecting points is a good location for the center of interest. Most of the time I do this in my head, but sometimes I actually mark the surface.

Next, I place the extremes of value, color, and edge and lay out the shapes. If I feel the need, I won’t hesitate to adjust the composition. Worst case, wash it off and start again. You don’t want to waste a lot of time painting a bad composition. Luck won’t fix it.

Bob Rohm, "Summer Flow in the Rocky Mountains"
Bob Rohm, “Summer Flow in the Rocky Mountains”

What are the biggest challenges you see your students facing when it comes to capturing light? What advice do you give them?

Too often student artists get the value out of whack. They often look at the intensity of a color and don’t recognize the value.

If someone is experiencing this problem it is best to lay out the scene with a neutral gray and get the value correct. Keep these grays thin, and somewhat dry-brushed so you can work into them, wet into wet. It is always amazing how easy it is to add color to these grays, and they don’t look dirty or muddy.

I recommend Williamsburg neutral grays. Gamblin Portland grays also work, but are much cooler and have more effect on colors added.

Often students aren’t separating warm light and cool shadows, or the reverse. Rarely will you see light and shadow in the same temperature family.

Learn more about how artist Bob Rohm works by checking out his video “Harmonious Landscapes.”

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