Edgar Payne on landscape painting

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Edgar Alwin Payne (1883-1947) was born in Missouri but was raised in Arkansas. At the age of 26 he went to California, discovering and falling in love with Laguna Beach…later to settle there for a time with his wife, Elsie. He met Elsie in San Francisco during that first California visit and later in Chicago where she was a commercial artist. They were married in 1912. As the story goes, on the day of the wedding, the morning light in Chicago was so beautiful that Edgar wanted the ceremony delayed until later in the day so he would have time to capture that light in paint.


In 1918 the couple moved to Laguna Beach, becoming influential in the community. Edgar was instrumental in forming the Laguna Beach Art Association and became its first president.

His favorite subject, the California Sierra Nevada Mountains, are represented in some of his most famous paintings. The Sierra’s also inspired his very popular book, which was published in 1941…“Composition of Outdoor Painting”. It’s a comprehensive and instructive book on composition and composition forms. The book also explains landscape painting techniques, color, repetition, rhythm, and value.


Here are a few important insights from this great painter concerning preliminary compositional work:


Importance of preliminary work

“In starting the actual arrangements on the canvas, the placing of the horizon or other main lines, and the largest dark and light masses or spaces, is the first consideration. Then the secondary, tertiary and other masses may be placed in whatever location gives the best balance.

“If the student will adopt the habit of putting much time on the preliminary compositional pencil sketches – the preparation for painting – he will have gained aid that will benefit him as long as he paints.

“While any amount of effort may be put into the preliminary notes, the actual work on the picture should go along without a hitch. The less effort, the more pleasure and finer quality.”

Edgar Payne – “High Country-High Sierras” – 12″ x 16″ – Oil


No one is on the road to success until he feels at times that he is entirely beaten.


Edgar Payne – “Eternal Surge” – 34″ x 45″ – Oil


“Real advancement generally comes from studying and experimenting with one problem until it is mastered.”


Carefully consider the composition.

“Anyone gets into difficulties often enough without attempting to compose with a poorly considered first plan. Often the painter who has not gone into preliminary study of his subject may find after the work is well under way that his horizon is too much centered, or a vertical edge or line divides the canvas in half. Perhaps he has two points of interest, several equal masses or spaces…one or more of the many errors that cause discord and spoils unity.

“The idea in any composing is to get the work to a sense of completion as soon as possible and then proceed with a feeling that the work may be left off at any time. As a matter of fact, many good pictures are ruined by constant striving to make them better.

“There is always a place to stop painting. This is the point where the maximum quality has been achieved.

“The practice of painting in a broad impressionistic manner is best brought out with considerable preliminary planning, and then painting the picture rapidly.”


Want the book? Here’s the link.

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I’m pleased to announce the release of my latest teaching video and book. The video and accompanying book, shown here, along with my first video, “Limited Palette Landscape”, include everything I’ve taught in my workshops. You can now take my oil painting workshop right in the comfort of your home, and for a lot less money than physically being present. (Click image to learn more)

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