Abstract Art Inspired by a Landscape | Daniela Mellen | Skillshare

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Abstract Art Inspired by a Landscape

teacher avatar Daniela Mellen, Artist & Author

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Class Intro


    • 2.

      Class Supplies


    • 3.

      Creating the Sketch


    • 4.

      Blending Lines & Shapes


    • 5.

      Painting the Background


    • 6.

      Painting the Foreground


    • 7.

      Painting the Mountains


    • 8.

      Adding Objects


    • 9.

      Playing with the Abstract


    • 10.

      Final Abstract Touches


    • 11.

      Painting #2 Playing with Abstract


    • 12.

      Class Wrap Up


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About This Class

Landscape photographs offer beautifully designed compositions that artists can use as the basis for abstract art. In today’s class we’ll look at a photo of an interesting scene from the Cog Railway, Mt Washington, New Hampshire, USA. The image offers interesting depth of layers; from the blue sky, railway cars, and mountains in the distance, that we can use as an inspiration piece.

We’ll examine the image, then create a simple pencil sketch. From there, we’ll begin painting layers that capture “something” about the photo that makes it unique. It could be the color, shape, or even the size of the object. In order to truly express something that intrigues us in the photo, we’ll focus on two types of boundaries for the shapes: blurry and sharp.

From there, we’ll add some final abstract touches that will unite the objects that impress us, to create a cohesive painting.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Daniela Mellen

Artist & Author


I'm an artist and author living in coastal Florida and surrounded by plants, animals, marine life, and the warm sun - all things that inspire me.

I am drawn to creating things and love to get lost in projects. Each day is an opportunity to learn something new, build on existing skills, and branch out to new ones. I was formally trained as an educator which is my passion and incorporating art into teaching makes my life complete.

As of March 2023 I have a catalog of classes on Skillshare. You'll see handmade books, memory keeping, watercolor, acrylic paint, unique art supplies, and photography composition. Thanks for joining me and I look forward to seeing your work.

Check out my Patreon Channel or my YouTube Channel for additional class info... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Class Intro: Hello, I'm Daniela Mellen, an artist and author. In today's class, we'll use photographs of landscapes to paint abstract pieces based on some of the objects we see. The class, abstract painting inspired by landscapes, shows a method of using actual compositions to create paintings based on some of the interesting elements before us. We're not copying the landscape or even trying to replicate what we see. Instead, we're using our curiosity and intuition to play with elements that are included in the landscape and paint them in a very abstract way. So instead of creating a sky with clouds, we may paint repeated lines that form a cloud structure. Or instead of a road that goes across the page will be drawn to follow that line in another direction. In addition to making note of the elements that intrigue us, we'll work on creating two types of boundaries, blurred and strong. The contrast between the two adds an interest to our peace and plays with one element of abstract art that we may sometimes overlook. Today's paintings can be done on paper, in a journal or on Canvas. I've included four images to inspire you to create your own abstract landscape. But feel free to use any landscape that captures your curiosity. I use acrylic paints in class, but the techniques can be modified to use whatever medium you enjoy. So gather your supplies and please join me today. 2. Class Supplies: So here are the supplies that I'm going to use to create our abstract painting from a reference photo. I'm going to use a four by six piece of canvas. You can use any size Canvas, any formation, whether it's square or rectangle, or you can use watercolor paper or mixed media paper or in our journal if you want to keep it in a book. Here, I just have it some old packaging. I'm going to use this as my palette to put my colors onto, mix them into, bring them out. I have a pencil to make my sketch. I'm using a palette knife because I'm using acrylic paints, but that's not necessary. You can use watercolor with this technique or guage if you'd like, or even tempera paint. I'm also using an assortment of paint brushes. I'll include the exact colors and paint brush size on the class supply list to download. I have some paper towels, a water jug, and then I have my downloads. And today in class we're gonna take this photo, transform it with this sketch, and then create it in a very abstract form. Here's another sheet in cases images into your liking. Each of these images are landscapes, but they have elements that we can take and really make abstract. So they're no longer recognizable as a tree and a blue sky. Or light coming behind two trees with very interesting branches or seen from the Alps with wild flowers. In the next chapter, we'll go over creating our sketch. 3. Creating the Sketch: So I'm going to create our sketch to select the landscape photo you'd like and you can, you can use any landscape photo. I've included three plus the one we'll do in class today. So what I'd like to do is I take that sketch and then I have just that little shape here that matches the formation of the canvas. Then I'm going to work on. So just make a very abstract, very light sketch, very easy. And there are basic steps that I do to create this. First thing I wanna do is create the line, the background, and so that will be the horizon line. Now in this photo in particular, there's a couple of horizon lines are a couple of lines that I'd like to make note of. I have this here right in the foreground. And then in the background there are some mountains. So I want to include just a rough sketch of the foreground here. And it goes at a slight angle. And then I have the mountains in the background. And you can't see the remainder of the mountains. So I'm just imagining that they go like this. But as an artist, I can choose to have them go anywhere I want. Then I have some dark spots here, which in this photo correspond to the rail lines. And then I have my box cars here. So I'm just going to roughly make the shape of these cars. They're not exact. There are just images on my sketch. And then there's some clouds and I'll lightly scope them in here, not really too worried about them. And then I'm going to leave out the little picnic table, but there is a little bit of terrain here. So I think I'll just include that. Going to make just a little mark here for when I do my painting. So here I have my sketch, I have my elements, my lines. And now I'm going to just work from this sketch. I'll refer back to the photo for some color suggestions. But as the artist I get to choose if I want to change the colors completely or use the ones in the photo. What I'm really going for by using this photo in particular, is the images and how they look, the composition. I'm not looking to create a realistic image. I'm taking shapes, colors, and playing with them to make my abstract painting. In the next chapter, we'll go over blending lines and shapes. 4. Blending Lines & Shapes: So now I just want to give a quick little tutorial on how to make boundaries with your painting, whether you use a brush or a knife, it doesn't really matter when you paint on existing page or on a bare paper and you make a line, you have what's a very sharp edge, especially right at the top here. And then as it faded out, it kind of faded in as you saw, there's almost equal parts, white and the red. If I have a bunch of over a wet area of paint. And then I want to blend it with another color, say this yellow. If I go right on top, I can blend it and with enough strokes, I get a different color, but there's no harsh edge. Can really blend it out. So as you can see, it's quite red to orange. And then if I continue over here with my lighter color because it's wet with wet, I can actually blend it out very nicely and get a nice gradient. Now, how do you get a gradient when the colors are dry, when one color is dry? Well, you have to build it up. So if I take my color, in this case the orange, because that's what's left on my brush and I want to blend it out onto my dry paper. I have to keep doing that. And it doesn't blend out as smoothly as it does here with the wet, but I can get somewhat of a gradient. The reason I'm pointing this out is because you can have a very sharp line with very sharp boundaries here, which there is something of beauty in that. Or you can have your blend or your complete smooth blend. And it really doesn't matter. These are different effects and you can do it with a line or a shape. And these are the effects we're going to work on in class today, is playing around with the blending to create different objects in our painting. In the next chapter, we'll start our painting. 5. Painting the Background: So now I have my palette setup with my colors. I have my canvas, and I have my sketch there. Take that sketch. I'm just going to focus on the sketch, not the photo and just transfer my image with a pencil. And I might not do this. If I wasn't doing the class today, I might just eyeball it with the paint. So I created the foreground horizon, create the background line, and then I have the sky. I'll set my site, I'll set my pieces side. Now. I'll start my painting. I'm going to take this number 7 flat brush. I like to work with a damp brush here. And I want to just work on my background. So I'm just going to scoop up some of this titanium white. And I'm just gonna put it down on the background and that's sky area just to give a little basis. Then I'm going to take some of the Cyrillic in blue, put it on my palette, mix it with a little bit of the white. And I'm going to start up at the top here. And I'm just going to create large strokes. Now with this abstract painting here, I want to work on my boundaries. I want some to be sharp and some to be very blurred and kind of suggestions that seemed to come out of nowhere. So I like to work with enough paint that I can get a nice smooth effect. So some of my sky here and I'm going to come back in with a little bit of that darker full pigment blue. And I'm just going to put it up top here just like this. Again, not looking for brushstrokes, I'm just looking for an interesting effect. The way it comes down here. Going to wipe off my brush a little and I keep some scrap paper on hand just so I can wipe off some of my brush and then I'll rinse it off. Not worrying about getting it to clean. Now I'm going to mix and I want some dark green here for this background. It's kinda like a little mountain scene. So I'm going to mix my green and my blue here. And I'm just going to put that down, creating kind of a ragged edge. Again, clean my brush off a little bit. And then I want to work on this foreground, going to start with just some black because that foreground has a lot more sharpness and that's sky. So I'm just gonna put some black down on that foreground, kind of the way I did the white for the sky. So now I just have a basis here, kind of an underlying layer. After I have that down, I can start mixing my color. I'm going to take some white and I'll take a little bit of the blue that we mixed and combine them, and then a little bit of that, Payne's gray. And now I'm just going to brush it across the area that I already put down with black. So my under color was black. Now with that blue and that white, I'm getting kind of a gray showing up. Just like that. No, I know I'm going to have objects here, so I'm not too worried about what happens with the color here. I'll clean off my brush just by wiping it down. I'm not rinsing the brush just yet. I'm going to pick up a little of this white and put it down here. And I'm going to play with the edges. And I want to have a sharp edge up here, but I want this area here to have a very soft edge. So to make it have a soft edge, I'm going to play with my pigment, my wet pigment, and just blur that back and forth until I get a look that I like. Now, I want this to be a little more blended. So with my brush, I'm going to dip a little in my blue and a little in with my green. And I just run it across so I have my brush loaded with the color and I make sure that my blue is on top. And I can just blend that back and forth until I get that look that I like. That a come back in with a little more deep blue and then just play with my color until I get that the way I wanted to pick up a little more green and get a nice blended edge and this background here. Then I'm going to pick up some black, this Payne's gray. And now I just want to create that sharp edge. Just like that. I'll blend that out. Pick up a little white, mix it in with that Payne's gray and blend that out as well. Now I'm not looking for a smooth edge. I like some brushstrokes as long as they don't distract from my painting. And once I have it, just like that, I'll have my first layer. The one thing I do like to do is go in there and make sure there are no spots of a white canvas showing. And it's just a pet peeve of mine. So I go in there and I've created our first layer or background layer. We'll let this dry and this is acrylic paint, so it shouldn't take very long to dry, maybe 20 minutes. What I'll do is I'll cover my palette with Saran wrap or plastic wrap. And that will keep my pigments still flexible so that I can use them again. So I'll let this dry and we'll come. 6. Painting the Foreground: So now we have the first stage of our painting complete. I have the background. Now. I want to work on the background layer, but I want to introduce some abstract elements. So if I refer to my reference sketch in photo, you can see here that my background has some texture. My intermediate stage here, these mountains has some shadow from the clouds, and I have some clouds in the sky. So you have to decide how much of that I want to add to my piece. I'm going to start by adding some texture here to this little gravel area. So now I'm taking a number 5 brush and I'll start with my palette knife and I'm going to mix some color here. Let's take a scoop of white. And I'm going to mix it with some Payne's gray to get a lighter version of that gray. Remember, take a little cerulean blue. Gonna take my round brush, number 5 brush. And I'm going to scoop up some of that pigment. And now I just want to make some texture because this is an abstract painting. I'm trying to create different texture, different interests. And I'm just putting some pigment down here in there. I know that according to the reference photo, there are some railway tracks. So I'm going to leave those dark, but I'm going to create this texture all the way over here. I'll leave a little boundary, but not a straight line, but just kind of an interesting little line here. So I can put my shapes on it. And I'm just going to create this texture with this lighter color, pulling it right to the edge. I'll come back in with some of that dark Payne's gray. Put that back down. And again, blending that texture out. So it blends is not a harsh line in between. I'm going to clean off my brush. And then I'm going to pick up some of this white, mix it in with just a little gray. I don't want it to be stark white. And I'm just going to very gently not take too much on my brush and I'm just going to create some speckles in some areas. Think that adds a little interest. And I usually save this part for the end. This little detail work. But I'm drawn to it. So I'm going to do a little bit of it right now. I'll do a little back here as well. We'll come back and we'll work on adding some shadow to our mountains. 7. Painting the Mountains: So now I would like to add some shadows to our mountains here. It's very subtle, but there's different greens, dark colors, and even some blue. So I'm going to start by just going with my dark color. I'm gonna make my green again. Just taking some yellow with a little of that blue and mixing it till I get a green. You want to have a green that I like to add just a very small amount of that Payne's gray little bit more. And now I want these to be nice blended images. So I'm just going to pull some mountain shape in the back with the green here. To take my blue, set it down. Take some Payne's gray with that. Enough. So it really darkens that blue. And I'm going to create some of the shadow. And again, it's a very loose image. I want it to come right to the edge and meet that sharp line that we created for that foreground. And it doesn't cover the mountains completely. It just adds an area of interest. But a rinse my brush. I'm gonna go back in with the Payne's gray just a little bit on my brush and create that sharp line between them. So now because this is abstract, I have this sharp line here and I can really play that up all the way across. And then I have this nice blend behind it, reminiscent of the mountains. Get a switch brushes. This is my number 4 angled brush. I'm gonna just going to dip in a little bit of this titanium white and a little civilian blue. I'm not gonna try and blend it completely. I want different swatches of blue and white on my brush. And I'm just going to create some areas over here reminiscent of those clouds. Some of them hang preload down that mountain. And now I'll let this layer dry. And we'll come back in and add some interesting abstract elements reminiscent of our railroad cars. 8. Adding Objects: So now we have the background of our painting dry, as well as a middle ground. Here's where I want to add the elements. And if I look at the reference photo, these are little box cars here for the train. I'm not going to worry about creating their dimension. I'm just going to create objects here. And now, because this is an abstract painting, I want the objects to sort of balance with what I have here. For this background, this area of interests, this dark area. So I'm gonna take my small brush and just lightly sketch it out with a debit rate and the red paint since my first box car was red, and I'll dip a little black in there just to tone down that red. And with a sharp point, I'm just going to create something reminiscent of that box car. Make a very thin layer of paint. And I go right down to the tracks here. I'm going to overlap uniting our piece. And we want to fuzzy edge here, create a little more of that car. And again, it's just my first layer. I'll rinse my brush. And I'm going to start with the yellow. Gonna take that yellow. I have that other car here. And I'm going to play with the shape instead of it being straight like this first car going to have it come with a little bit of a roundedness. It'll overlap with the red. And now I'll just blend it until I get that yellow. So now I have a very sharp line here from that yellow car that I've transformed into this yellow orb. There are rinse my brush, dry it off, and just push that pigment around. Play with that shape a little, maybe make it a little less fully rounded, introduce some areas to it that are a little more boxy. Then I'm gonna come in here with this red and add more pigment. I want to pull that pigment down to, and this is something I'm doing just because I like the way that looks. And I'm creating long strokes. Again because I like the way that looks. I think these strokes will cross over that orb. And this is the artistic license on taking. Gonna come back over here, create my shape. I'm going to let this layer dry and then we're going to come back and work on our piece. And that's the intuitive part. 9. Playing with the Abstract: So now our pieces dry to the touch. I let it dry for about 20 minutes since our last coat. As you can see here compared to our reference photo, I've taken some of the elements from this piece and added it to my Canvas to create the abstract piece. Now I'm going to remove the reference photo altogether. And I went, I'm left with is just my canvas with a bunch of colors, textures, and blends. And now is where I'm going to add my abstract part. I'm going to take it from something working from a reference photo to something completely abstract in my own imagination. I'm going to turn it to the side like this and I'm going to consider some of my options. Now I like the way they're sharp edges and blended edges. And so I'm going to play that up a little. I'm going to continue with my colors. And I'm just going to add something to unify my entire piece. So I think I'm going to start with my dark color first. So I'm going to take my round brush here and number 5, and I'm going to go in there just with a little bit of this black. I'm going to reinforce this area here. That kind of comes down though length here. And I find that very interesting. It leads the eye across the piece. So I might emphasize it a little more by pulling that down even further. And then I want to do something to match that. I like to have repetitive images. It doesn't have to be exact, it doesn't have to match it perfectly. It just has to be something indicative that on some level your mind sees and it connects it. So I'm going to flip this over and I think I'm gonna have my shape go this way. So I'm going to paint over what I have down here. Going to have my line continue across. But I'm going to have it come out this way. So I'm gonna put that down on my piece. I have my color here, my sharp line. And I'll let that dry and I might come back and add another layer to that after it's dried, just to make it a little sharper and rinse my brush here. I think I want to work on this little yellow. I really like that yellow and I want to emphasize it somewhere else. Gonna take my brush, pick up some of that yellow. I'm going to mix it with a little bit of that green that remains just so that it's not such a harsh yellow. And on my brush, I'm going to take it and I like those rounded shapes. So I'm going to just put that rounded shape over here. Again, repeating it. Create that sharp line, and repeat that yellow. And now I want to do something with this red that I have in the center of my piece. I like the way the red comes out. It's very unexpected and it offers me an interesting look. But I want to blend it further. So I'm gonna take my brush here and mix a little of this gray similar to this color, this lightest color gray that we put down on top of that foreground. So I'll just mix a little white with a little of that gray. And now I'm just going to push that color up, creating just a nice, slight line, nice little blend. And then I want to put a little over here just to match it. Pick up that color and blend it out. I'm going to pick up a little white, pull that across as well. Coming up from the bottom and going down the page. Kind of looks like a little fog rolling in. Take my brush again, go back in with the black to create that sharp line at a little more black on this piece here. And then I'm going to let the set completely and we'll come back and add some final touches to our piece. 10. Final Abstract Touches: So now I'd let my piece dry. I've stepped back and now I can come and take another look at it from a different perspective. I'd like to turn it on its side once again, what I'd like to do is I'd like to add a little more green over here on the red and then a little more white to tie it all in, unify the piece. And again, this is all just things that I look at and I think that would look nice or that might look interesting because it's acrylic paint can be painted over again as well if you don't like the results. So I'm gonna take my green and my number five brush and I'm mixing a little more blue with that to get that really nice and green. And now I want to kind of match this very blended line. So I'll create that shape, something that is very organic. Wipe my brush off, and then pick up a little of that gray. And now with it wet, I'll blend that edge. I'm going to switch my brush to my flat angled brush, pick up a little of that gray and just pull it across. And then I'll pick up some more of the gray and just swipe across to create a very gentle blend. Again, I don't want that harsh edge. Gonna come over here and take a little of this blue. And again, I want to blend that edge out just slightly. And I'll pull some blue up here as well. So now we have something that's looking completely different than when we started adding our abstract details. You could take this as far as you want. With as many details as you want. I want to take a little blue on a very small brush and break up this clump of red. So I'm just going to stroke interesting lines here. And I like the way those lines look. They kind of blend out and kind of imply that background. So I'm just going to pull that in another layer over here as well. And again, I want it to fade. Just like that. I'm going to rinse my brush and I'm going to just take some white and a sharp point. And I want to create some areas of interest. Just going to make little strokes. Dipping my brush in. It's echoing the little bits of white we had here for what look like clouds at first. And I'll put in a few over here as well. Get a switch to a dry brush here. Really emphasize it and just gently swipe across to blend it out. Go back to my small brush. I just want to break up a little of this black here, this dark color. So I'm just going to create that little white line. And I'll do the same thing over here. Create that little white line. It'll blend right into that area. And then we have something very abstract and very different. In the next chapter, I'll show you just working at some abstract touches to a different painting. 11. Painting #2 Playing with Abstract: So now just to work on our little abstract elements, I want to show you a piece which I created the background shape from. And this was my inspiration photo. And so really I took the colors and the blends and I have everything blended here. There's no harsh lines anywhere. I could stop and leave the piece as it is and it's beautiful colors. But I'd like to add some abstract elements to that. So I'm just going to add some simple abstract elements and I'm thinking I want to do something reminiscent of those mountains. So I'm gonna take my brush here and I'm gonna take that Payne's gray. And the first thing I'm gonna do is mix some very light gray. I'll just mix some white with some of that Payne's gray until I get a light color here of that gray. I'm going to spread it on my palette, and then I'm going to switch to my brush here. I'm going to use my flat brush to pick up some of that color that we just said down. Really load my brush but make it nice and sharp. And I'm just going to create those lines that for that mountain. Just like that. I'll do that a couple of times, maybe adding in a little more white to vary the color just a little bit. And then I'll just do some with the gray, the Payne's gray to get a nice sharp color. And again, I'm just playing around. Again. It's called intuitively because you're just kind of doing it what, what feels right. And so you might make some mistakes, but you do have something of interest when you're done. You can always paint over it or you can learn if something you don't like or you took it too far. And then I'm gonna come in here, take a little white on my brush and just with a thin line created. And so there I have something very interesting to me. The effect I got and I added some very interesting boundaries here with those sharp lines. The next chapter, we'll go over our work and I'll show you some variations. 12. Class Wrap Up: So here we have our finished painting. From starting from the reference photo. I took elements from it and created a very abstract piece. I had a lot of artistic license, but I played with two major things. I focused on the edges, I focused on blurring the lines and creating sharp edges. And so that creates a contrast all in itself. I could have done this with two colors. And because I used those two elements, those sharp edges and those blended edges, I got something very unique and interesting. Included in classes, the download for that second set of pages in case one of those images is more to your liking them. The first, I wanted to show you some variations as well with different images. So here is a piece that we worked on in class when we just played with this one abstract element of creating sharp lines. Again, it's reminiscent of the original photo in that it has similar colors, similar placement of shapes. But then I just played around until I got an image that I liked. I also took this reference photo, beautiful landscape with really brilliant colors of either a sunrise or sunset. And I played around with it. I created a background image just like I had. And it was kind of a simple background with just the foreground of the snow and then the sky. And the next one, I added some shading too reminiscent of the mountains. And then for my abstract pieces with a very harsh edges, I created some lines here reminiscent of a heartbeat to indicate the trees and just some rounded shape here for that sun. And the last image is I took this landscape of a water line with trees in the background and the reflection from the sky and the reflection of the clouds in the water, kind of a mirror image of itself. And I played around with that here. Again, blurring edges, creating sharp edges. It's a very abstract look and it's very interesting. So here I have four abstract paintings based on actual landscapes. And the only thing I really focused on playing around with was those blurred lines or those sharp lines. I took the colors and the placement of some objects from the painting. And then I just followed my intuition, just what I wanted to see. A couple of tips for you when working in an abstract way. Start with something real and tangible, just like we did in class today, where we took a landscape and then we changed it. We took elements from it that we liked, that I enjoyed, or that I found intriguing. I put those down and in that case, I did it for the background for these. And then I added some additional elements, just things that I wanted to do. In which case, in this one I added some lines, some dashes, and some shapes. I took a shape that I liked and I continued with it. I took a element here and I played with it over here, and I added some repeating pattern, as well as the texture. I hope you'll try your hand at one of these paintings and post a photo of your work in the project section. Please be sure to follow me here on Skillshare to get notified of future classes. And please consider leaving a review. Thanks for joining me today.