From Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting:.
"In many foregrounds in nature there is little to get hold of for the purposes of perspective construction, but there are always some things, such as groups of grasses, flowers, stones, depressions, cloud shadows, tree shadows, paths, roads, etc. If any of these 'materials' exist, use them to your purpose-but sparingly. Remember that the less material you use to carry conviction in a picture the better the picture will be."
Often the challenge is in exactly what to leave in, and what is extraneous.
The photograph on the left was taken just a few miles west of our home. Portions of the barn had collapsed at the time this was taken. Sadly the whole thing finally fell, and now a new "modern" barn has replaced it. Eliminating the non-essential telephone pole and street sign was an easy decision. The tree helps create depth, but in this case, I felt it was not necessary, so it too was eliminated. Left with a lot of flat negative space in the sky and ground, I added some interesting clouds from another photograph. The foreground was painted implementing some salt to create texture which, by adding interest in the foreground, gives the painting the depth needed.
Dealing with the foreground is always tricky. The tree in the foreground will immediately create a sense of depth, but it's right in the middle of the composition. I could have moved it to the left or right, but decided to eliminate it, and the remains of an old windmill. And I just use the grasses to achieve the depth.
The original photograph of this forest scene has a few elements in the foreground, such as grasses and rocks that I chose to include. Accentuating the frozen water also helps to give it depth.
Always remember that it is often more important to leave elements out of a painting to make your statement, than to try to include too much, which can often weaken a painting.
Oil and water
From Carlsons Guide to landscape painting:
"I strongly urge that the beginner work in oil for a year, or until he has mastered the rudimentary difficulties of landscape painting. Once these principles of landscape are mastered, through much experimenting ( in the more malleable medium of oil ) , the several other mediums of expression, such as water color, pastel or tempera will be found easier to handle."
After my first year of required classes, Fundamentals and figure drawing, I decided to study watercolor painting under the direction of Mr. Irving Shapiro. The forest scene is one of his paintings. For the next 20 years I painted primarily in watercolor. Several years ago I decided to try painting in oils. Even though it required me to think "backwords" i.e. dark to light, as opposed to light to dark in watercolor, I found that the procedures that were required in watercolor helped me to paint successfully in oils.
Studying watercolor before oils teaches you very quickly, that if you don't plan very thorougly in advance, your painting will fail. It is very difficult to make corrections. For example, in general, you can go darker, but can't go lighter in an area. If you gray a color too much at the beginning of a painting, it is difficult to make it more intense. In oil painting, while you can make corrections fairly easily, painting directly (putting down the correct colors, right values, right form, etc. from the start) will result in a fresher painting. All of the scraping and correcting tends to weaken and "muddy" up the painting. So the disciplines learned in watercolor are valuable assets when painting in oils.
While it is the common thought that you should learn oil painting first, you tend to fall back on the notion that you can always make changes or correct mistakes later, which can result in a painting that is overworked. The critical skills in planning that you learn very quickly in watercolor painting result in learning other medium, such as tempera and gouache with more assurance.
One of my recent oil paintings
"West of Kaneville"
"The Wales Tree"
Mixed medium-watercolor and gouache