How to Paint an African Landscape

by Clara English
An African sunset makes a dramatic subject for a painting.

An African sunset makes a dramatic subject for a painting.

Anup Shah/Photodisc/Getty Images

The continent of Africa is home to a diverse and exotic array of plants and animals, making it an especially exciting subject for a painting. African landscapes make novel additions to home decor and their simplicity make them highly suited to the painting novice. African plains are often sparse, so choose only one or two classic African components to include in your painting. A single animal looks dramatic against the brilliance of the African sky, especially when complemented by a few well-chosen plant specimens.

Items you will need

  • Nature or travel magazines
  • Primed and stretched canvas
  • Clear acrylic gel medium
  • Acrylic paints in a variety of colors
  • Paintbrushes in a variety of sizes
Step 1

Browse through nature and travel magazines as well as Internet databases for interesting pictures of Africa. Choose well-lit, high-resolution photographic references for your landscape painting. You can use several reference pictures, choosing elements from each to assimilate in your painting. Print out pictures, if found online, and make small sketches to determine the best composition. Remember not to overcrowd your drawings. Include objects that are both close to the viewer and far away to communicate the vastness of the African landscape.

Step 2

Use your thumbnail sketches as a guide and use a pencil to transfer your favorite composition on a stretched and primed canvas. If you have trouble maintaining the correct proportions, try drawing a vertical and a horizontal line through the midpoint on both your thumbnail sketch and your canvas. Use the lines as a guide to determine correct placement. Follow the same procedure if you wish to paint directly from a photograph. Use a broad paintbrush to cover your sketch with clear acrylic gel medium. This will protect your sketch from smearing when you apply paint. Let dry completely.

Step 3

Mix colors of acrylic paint on a glass or paper palette. Use a palette knife to combine colors and compare often with your reference photographs. Yellow ochre is a good match to the color of African plain grasses, cobalt blue mixed with a small amount of white makes a striking mid-day sky and alizarin crimson mixed with ultramarine is a close approximation to the brilliance of an African sunset. Mix small amounts of white or black to each color for highlights and shadows.

Step 4

Block in colors using a medium sized brush. Try to cover the canvas using flat colors, disregarding highlights and shadows unless they are very high contrast. If you are a novice painter, you can thin your paints with more acrylic gel medium before laying in the base colors. This allows you to see your sketch through the layers of paint. Let your painting dry completely before focusing on detail work.

Step 5

Use a medium sized brush to add shading to your canvas. If you are painting a daytime landscape, shadows and highlights will appear very pronounced. If you are painting a sunset, mix small amounts of orange and purple to your base colors. Acrylic paints dry quickly, so add a small amount acrylic retarder if you want more time to mix and blend the colors while painting. Ensure your finished painting is dry before handling.

Tips & Warnings

  • Some pigments in paint are toxic. Wear gloves when painting, and take care not to get any on your skin.
  • Acrylic paint dries permanent, so wear old clothes and cover furniture with newspaper or a drop cloth.

About the Author

Clara English began writing professionally in 2010. She writes for various websites, focusing on topics in fine-art techniques, fashion and gardening. She studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art and is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in art history at the University of Rochester.

Photo Credits

  • Anup Shah/Photodisc/Getty Images