Drawing mountain contours, wireframing the landscape, and topping it all off with a little gouache

Mountains drawn in charcoal
Mountains drawn in charcoal


Sometimes I need to tear apart a subject and really understand what is going on with it before I can continue a project. There’s a view near my home that I’ve been trying to paint, to no avail.

I decided to strip it down to a simple charcoal study, which you see above, but before I could continue working on it, I needed to break it down even more.

Landscape contour drawign
Landscape contour drawing

A wireframe, or a contour study, helped me see the folds of the hills, and where the planes are catching and blocking light. I also realized that mountains and folds in fabric are built in the same way (I’ve realized this before, but you know, when you get older, one of the joys in  life is the endless repetition of epiphanies.)

Mountain painting
Gouache on paper
11″x 8.5″

Then I added gouache for some color. I love that the paint can be applied transparently—you can still see the marks of charcoal under those glazes—but the pigment can also be slathered on and moved around like oils. In fact, gouache seems to encompass characteristics of both watercolor and oils, depending on how much water you use. I’ve just begun using gouache, but I’m really liking it so far.