Drawing Wisconsin & Minnesota Landscapes - The Basics with Caitlyn Kviz

Drawing Wisconsin & Minnesota Landscapes - The Basics

Hi, I’m Caitlyn! I’m a recent university graduate and graphic designer. I started selling prints in the store here in August  after selling at a number of craft fairs in the Eau Claire area over the past year or so.  Most of my art is inspired by nature and the world around me. I enjoy using a variety of different mediums, whether traditional or digital, to remember places from my travels while giving them a bit of my own imagination. 

Today I thought it’d be cool to teach you guys a bit about how I break down different scenes around me in a tutorial on how to draw or paint Wisconsin and Minnesota landscapes.

First, gather your supplies. I’m taking a kind of mixed-media approach to this one, using gouache, colored pencil, and pastels. For beginners, it may be easier to paint using a more forgiving medium like acrylic gouache or soft body acrylics. Some examples are pictured above. Feel free to use whatever you have laying around the house. You could also try marker, crayon, pencil, Sharpie, anything you can think of. 

Another thing to think about is the surface you’re working on. If you’re only using dry media, like pencil and marker, anything down to a regular blank computer paper would work fine. For water-media and acrylics, it’s generally better to use a thicker paper so the paint won’t soak through. Your local craft store likely has a variety of options for you to choose from. Some of my personal favorites are the Canson XL watercolor and mix media papers, and the Strathmore 400 Series watercolor and acrylic papers. Some acrylic painters prefer to work on a regular canvas or wooden board instead. It’s up to you.

Besides the paint and paper itself, you also need a few more supplies to get started. Be sure you have a water cup, a paper towel or old rag, and brushes on hand. I’m currently using an old plastic ice cream container for water, although things like yogurt tubs and take-out containers work as well. For brushes, I’m using a filbert size 8 from the Princeton Velvetouch line I’ve recently become addicted to, but some more of my favorites include the Royal Langnickel craft brushes. I’ve had them for years and they hold up pretty well. Most other store brands of brushes you’ll find at the local craft store will work great too. 

To start, find a good reference photo to use. I enjoy taking photos on trips for work and vacations that I use for painting references. I took this picture near the university in Eau Claire, from a walking path I used frequently to get to class. 

When choosing pictures to use, keep the composition of your finished piece in mind. For example, I found this shot a bit more visually interesting than the others because of the variety of textures in the branches and plants covering most of the frame. It has a solid depth of field and atmospheric perspective, with objects in the foreground, middle, and background. By paying close attention to the values in this photo, it is easier to recreate this sense of depth on paper. 


I began with a bit of paint in each primary color on my palette, plus black, white, and burnt umber. I often don’t really sketch out my paintings before starting, but rather make a rough outline in my first layer of paint. Here I took a desaturated green paint and a mostly dry brush to map out where the big shapes of the piece would be. I divided it up into a few areas: the plants down at the bottom, the river in the middle, and the treeline and Haas in the distance. 



I continued by filling in these areas with fairly solid color. I varied the amount of water on my brush to get some watercolor-like textures in the finished piece. You will also notice here that I break up the straight lines in my sketch to create a more organic-shaped treeline in the foreground.





Here I use different shades of green to start to build a bit of contrast in the work. I go between a lighter and darker brown to depict the shadows of the plants along the lower corners. I further define the bridge and its shadows in a color I paint over later. 




I start to get the values in the background closer to where they should be as shown in the reference photo. I use a cooler green to visually pull the Haas area backwards in space. 

While painting, make sure to use the principles of atmospheric perspective to give the illusion of deep space in your piece. Keep in mind that shapes are more cool-toned (use more blue), less saturated, and less detailed as they go back in space. (and vice versa).


Here I’m using more colored pencil and pastel to add in more of the finer details in the branches and vines.

Have fun with this step! This is really where I’m able to add some of my own creativity to the pre-existing scene. For example, I use a dotted colored pencil pattern to bring out the different textures of the plants in the foreground. I added a bit of pastel in the hills in the background to reflect the changing fall colors in the photo. 


After a bit more time spent goofing around with the tiny details, here is the finished piece. I hope you enjoyed playing along with me, and maybe learned something about painting in the meantime. Your skills will improve with practice, so always keep an eye out for new things to draw. Until next time, keep creating!

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