The Na&iumlve landscape

The Naïve landscape

Partly as a reaction against the fashionable abstraction of the time, some early 20th-century painters adopted an exceptionally realistic style that celebrated their local heritage and its vernacular. Painting details with an accuracy that sometimes appeared naïve, some, such as the French artist Henri Rousseau, remained amateurs, while others such as the English painter Sir Stanley Spencer were academically trained; the American artist Grant Wood was very cosmopolitan and widely traveled. Each in his own way simplified and idealized the countryside, whether in France, the Thames Valley, or the rolling hills of Iowa.

Many of these "naïve" paintings are almost photorealistic, but they also contain stylized features. Perhaps the most typical is the topiary-like perfection, not just of trees and shrubs but also of crops. In Grant Wood's undulating landscapes, the fields are ploughed and harvested in mechanically precise lines and patterns. Reproducing these is another opportunity to brush up your Photoshop painting skills; but it also requires a surprising application of Layer Styles.

I remember thinking of Grant Wood's 1930 oil painting American Gothic when I took this pictureit must have been the couple's slightly stiff, arms-by-the-side pose.

This landscape had some of the simplified elements I soughtrolling hills and distant, striped crops reminded me of Wood's Iowa.

  1. Open the start image, create a new file (Ctrl/Cmd-Shift + N), and use Edit > Fill to make the whole image layer white.

  2. To add the stripes, ensure black is the foreground color and white is the background color. Then choose Filter > Sketch > Halftone Pattern and set the Pattern Type to Line. I intended to have wide stripes, so I pushed both sliders up to maximum.

  3. Delete the white lines. A quick way is to use Alt/Opt-Ctrl/Cmd-~ [Tilde] to load the layer's Luminosityin this case, the white lines. Double-click the background layerso the layer has transparencyand press the Delete key.

  4. Change the layer's blending mode to Multiply, reduce its fill opacity to 20%, click the "Add a layer style" icon, and select Bevel and Emboss.

  5. Drag the Stripes layer from the Layers palette and drop it onto your landscape.

  6. The Stripes layer will need to be resized. Use Edit > Free Transform, and then drag the handles to stretch the layer, or skew it by dragging a corner while holding Alt/ Opt + Ctrl/Cmd. You can also impose perspective by dragging corners while holding Alt/Opt + Ctrl/Cmd + Shift, or rotate it by putting the cursor near a corner until it changes to a doubleheaded arrow. Here I used all these options to stretch the layer over one of the slopes.

  7. Click the "Add a layer mask" icon in the Layers palette and use the Brush tool (shortcut B) to paint black onto the mask, hiding stripes in areas you want to leave unaffected. Here I painted the stripes away from the isolated tree as well as from the rest of the landscape.

  8. At this point some finetuning may appear necessary; try adjusting the fill opacity. If the angle of light looks wrong, doubleclick the layer and change the Layer Style. Here, in the Shading section, I dragged the Angle so that the bevel was lit from the same direction as the landscape.

  9. You may also need to stretch the stripes again with Edit > Free Transform (Ctrl/Cmd + T). First, preserve the layer's mask by clicking the chain between the thumbnail and mask. To match the undulating slope, use Edit > Transform > Warp, which is new in Photoshop CS2. In this tool, drag the lines to warp the "hedges," then press Enter to apply the changes.

  10. Add other striped areas by repeating steps 611. Vary the layers' opacity. Another trick is to delete rectangular chunks from the stripes area.

  11. At this point, bring the couple into the scene. To make the background less sharply focussed, I temporarily hid the people, and held down Alt/Opt as I chose Merge Visible (in Photoshop CS and earlier, you'll need to create a new layer first).

  12. Now use Filter > Blur > Lens Blur, concentrating on the way the most distant points lose focus.

  13. Finally, click the "Add a layer mask" icon and drag the Gradient tool to hide the blur in the nearer background.

  14. It's often worth "unifying" a composite image. Either add a Photo Filter adjustment layer or use Layers > Merge Visible and apply the Paint Daubs filter. Don't use high valuessome naïve paintings were almost photorealistic.

In marked contrast to early 20th century abstract painting, "naïve" artists turned to representational, photorealistic styles.

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