One of the most important skills a painter can learn is that of comparing relationships between shapes. In the early stages of a painting, I'm concerned most with value and temperature. (Color, though something that fascinates us, really isn't as important as value and temperature when it comes to creating an illusion of atmospheric reality.) As someone who paints out in the field perhaps five days a week, I work hard at comparing value and temperature, and students who go out into the field thinking they'll get it right the first time are often disappointed. It takes practice to learn to observe these properties accurately.
Following observation comes the effort to reproduce the observation in paint or pastel. Before engaging in wholesale blocking-in of shapes, it's best to locate a "sandbox" in your composition where two or more shapes meet. In this sandbox, put down a test spot of your color for one shape, then lay down next to it a test spot of color for the next shape, and so on. You can't compare two color spots that are widely separated on your surface; you need to make them butt heads to see if they are different enough. Here's an illustration in pastel of how that works. First is the full sketch with a sandbox in use, and then a close-up of the sandbox area. The close-up shows a nice little landscape color theme going.
By the way, I recently put together a 30-minute video of a demonstration in which I show you how to adjust shape relationships. The video, plus this blog post, should give you great help in your own efforts to capture the landscape. You can preview the video here and purchase it here. (Many other videos in my Plein Air Essential series are also available from the same link.)
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