Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Book Review: Landscape Painting by Mitchell Albala

Landscape Painting by Mitchell Albala

Title: Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice
Summary review: This book will become a new classic manual of landscape art.

It takes the core concepts and skills required of those creating any type of representational art and interprets and relates how these apply and work within the context of landscape art. It's an in-depth guide produced by somebody who is an experienced educator. It's written and designed by somebody who is an excellent communicator. It deserves a place on the bookshelf of everybody who takes landscape art seriously - whether they paint plein air or in the studio.

  • articulate and accessible - it's a good read but it's not difficult to read
  • packs in a lot of information and covers all the key areas
  • provides a range of exercises and demonstrations
  • great practical advice for those new to landscape art - working both plein air and in the studio
  • an excellent graphic example of how to set up an easel in relation to the source of light
  • uses the principles and elements to explain composition of the landscape
  • reviews colour theory and relates it to landscape art
  • unpicks approaches for painting and explains how they work
  • a very useful chapter on working with photographs with a good summary of do's and don'ts
  • includes a chapter on abstracting nature - a topic which often gets ignored
  • helpful section for those who've been painting for a while and who have maybe lost their mojo and/or need new inspiration
  • excellent range of images of art by a wide variety of contemporary artists with different styles of representational landscape art
  • very useful glossary of key terms on landscape painting
  • contains 'on topic' quotes by fampus landscape artists throughout
Think Again?
  • It's emphatically not a dumbed down 'how to' book of the type that takes a scene and tells you how to paint it - with step by step stages
Who should buy this?:
  • landscape art tutors - as a recommended reference for their students
  • experienced landscape artists in need of a pep talk - it'll remind you of all those things you know but which you've maybe forgotten to employ of late!
  • intermediate landscape artists with a brain which doesn't mind exercise (ie those who don't mind a lot more words than pictures!) - iof you take pleasure in a good read
  • artists who want a LOT more than just a step by step guide - while there is a good mix of graphics and practical instruction this goes way beyond a lot of other books
  • ambitious novice artists wanting to study and work hard at their landscape art - this is a manual which you will return to time and time again
Who should not buy this?
  • people wanting basic instruction with lots of essential bits missed out - this book will challenge you
  • people who just want to copy step by step landscapes - because there is a great more than just demonstrations
  • artists who don't like art instruction books with a lot of words - there's a lot to read!
Publishers' Synopsis: Concise, practical, and inspirational, Landscape Painting focuses on the greatest challenges for the landscape artist, such as:
• Simplification and Massing: Learn to reduce nature's complexity by looking beneath the surface of a subject to discover the form's basic masses and shapes.
• Color and Light: Explore color theory as it specifically applies to the landscape, and learn the various strategies painters use to capture the illusion of natural light.
• Selection and Composition: Learn to select wisely from nature's vast panorama. Albala shows you the essential cues to look for and how to find the most promising subject from a world of possibilities.
The lessons in Landscape Painting are based on observation rather than imitation and applicable to both plein air and studio practice—are accompanied by painting examples, demonstrations, photographs, and diagrams. Illustrations draw from the work of more than 40 contemporary artists and such masters of landscape painting as John Constable, Sanford Gifford, and Claude Monet.
Based on Albala's 25 years of experience and the proven methods taught at his successful plein air workshops, this in-depth guide to all aspects of landscape painting is a must-have for anyone getting started in the genre, as well as more experienced practitioners who want to hone their skills or learn new perspectives.

Author / (Publisher) Mitchell Albala / Random House/Watson Guptill
Technical data: Publication Date:
Hardcover (with dust jacket) - 192 pages;
ISBN: 978-0-8230-3220-4 (0-8230-3220-5)
Price as at today's date:

If I was to try and write a book about landscape painting then this would be the one I'd wish I'd written. This book will be published in the UK tomorrow and has been available in the USA since November. Watson Guptill were kind enough to send me a copy to review.

It's very refreshing to find a book which focuses on and combines information about the key artistic concepts, skills and practical information relevant to the landscape artist.

Albala is a great communicator and makes the essential concepts and approaches accessible while avoiding the sort of 'dumbing down' which afflicts too many art instruction books these days. It was obvious to me that the text has been developed and honed and edited and refined until it's the best it can be - in summary it's a good rdead in more ways than one.

Nothing in this book is 'rocket science'. I think I knew virtually all the content - either from books, instruction or experience - but what distinguishes this publication is that he gets it all down in one book! I've known other books which have been excellent at some of the topics covered by this book but very few which have come anywhere near its breadth and depth.

It's also a book which pulls off the neat trick of providing a comprehensive manual for the newcomer to landscape art while providing a refresher for the more experienced artists who will find it provides a useful recap of key concepts as well as tips and techniques.
In my landscape classes, I argue that nature poses its own unique set of challenges that require a unique approach, which I often refer to as the “Essential Concepts of Landscape Painting.” Landscape classes focus a great deal on simplification and translation (“less is more”), composition, color and the inherent abstraction within nature. In my introductory drawing and painting classes, I stress a foundational set of ideas that can be applied beyond the end of class (as in all Gage classes). I also I stress observation rather than imitation and encourage students to find their own style, even as beginners.
Mitchell Albala
I like the fact that the book starts with an overview of where he is going - as per 'tell them where you are going'. It then covers all the bases.

The section on materials is basic but not generic - it's very specific to the landscape artist in the studio and working plein air and is actually useful! For example, when discussing colours he provides a recommended palette but then gives over a double page spread to review how to mixing green and which other colours can be helpful!

Chapters devoted to composition and colour cover all the key essentials - including all the ones which often get left out in other books. He's an advocate of colour temperature which some artists may quibble with but that didn't bother me. Overall it's pitched at a level which renders the complex simple and yet provides a useful and quick review for all those who already 'know' the basics.

Working with photographs highlights what NOT to do and also the how digital images can be manipulated to extract more information from an image which has distorted values. It also highlights how digital manipulation can be effective in identifying key shapes and masses and the basic values. I loved the demonstration of how paintings need not look exactly like their reference photos!

The section on abstraction will interest those - including me - who feel that there is more scope to abstract their work but are not quite sure how to go about it.

The final section is the one which will perhaps appeal most to those who have been painting for some time without quite getting to the place where they want to be. It talks of style, how that can be achieved, how you can maintain your momentum and inspiration and how you can develop your won critical faculties and continue to learn.

Finally, his book is generous in its use of works by various landscape artists and in providing a further reading list. In the latter he highlights a number of authors and books which are ones I highly recommend to people - so he's got to have good judgement! :)

I think this book will repay re-reading over time as people progress from novices to experienced painters - and begin to realise that the author has provided something for a range of different backgrounds and experiences. I suspect that it will particularly appeal to the experienced but self-taught artist who has not benefited from formal art education but wants to learn all they can.

Note: MITCHELL ALBALA teaches landscape painting at the Gage Academy of Art in Seattle. A respected and dedicated teaching artist for more than 20 years, he is best known for his atmospheric and semiabstract landscapes of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. He has lectured on impressionism at the Seattle Art Museum, has written about landscape painting for American Artist magazine, and hosts an educational website at He has exhibited nationally and is represented by the Lisa Harris Gallery in Seattle
The Best Books about Landscape Art
The Best  Books about Landscape Art
Do you want to learn about landscape art? Do you want to find out which which are the best books about painting landscapes? Do you want to know more about famous landscape artists? This site covers books - and book reviews - for people wanting to learn more about landscape art.


n. rhodes harper said...

Thanks Kathryn, I am intrigued and I just may have to have it!

Unknown said...

It really sounds like a great book and I am not even a lanscape painter! A lot of the subjects seem applicable to all painting so I might just buy it. It would be nice to see more books on painting that are not just 'how to' books or show-off picture books. If this is 'it' for landscape painting, what books are out there for portrait painters, still-life painters etc?
thanks for the review - am about to spend £15 I think!

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