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In this painting demonstration I show you how to paint a landscape that features Milford Sound in southern New Zealand. Milford Sound is an epic location where the mountains meet the sea. It is a natural fjord.

Suitable for oils and acrylics.

Reference Photos

Please feel free to use or copy these photos if you would like to have a go at painting this art work. Also check out the painting tutorial video on my Patreon channel where I demonstrate how to paint this art work from start to finish.

Sketch, Colour Study and Composition

Before I start a painting I always do some prior planning to design the composition first. This can be as simple as a couple of quick pencil sketches or a colour study such as the one below. Planning and designing the composition will help you to give you an idea of what your painting might look like and it will reduce the chances of you running into trouble mid way through a final painting.

It is always a little tricky to make a composition from the scene of Milford Sound because it is such a recognisable location and it looks better with the whole mountain vista in the painting. However in this painting I have made Mitre Peak (the mountain on the left) the main area of interest in the painting.


Never have your main focal area in the middle of the painting as it spoils the composition and forms a displeasing static. You will see the opening in the trees is to the left of centre and it is creating some space in the composition.


The colours I used in this painting are as follows:

  1. Titanium white
  2. Burnt sienna
  3. Yellow ochre
  4. Cadmium yellow
  5. Cadmium red light
  6. Alizarin crimson
  7. Ultramarine blue
  8. Phthalo green


Here is a list of the brushes I used in this painting:

  • No.5 flat
  • No.3 flat
  • No.2 flat
  • No.3 filbert
  • No.1 round
  • No.0 round 
  • 1/4” ivory dagger

Painting Demonstration

Stage 1 – Blocking-In The Painting

I painted this art work on oil primed, medium weave Belgian linen and the painting itself measures approximately 22cm x 40cm.

I sketched the composition using a No.1 round brush with burnt sienna mixed with Liquin Original (Liquin). I am using Liquin as a medium to thin the paint and it also has the advantage of speeding up the drying time.

Paint Your Dark Values and Shadows First

Whenever I start a painting I always identify where the dark values and shadows are first in the scene I am painting. Value refers to how light or dark a subject is and by painting in the dark values first I personally find it is much easier to create atmospheric perspective my paintings. It also makes it easier to add the areas in light and to get the saturation of your colours correct once you have painted your dark values.

I painted the cloud shadows and background mountain shadows using a mix of ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, alizarin crimson and titanium white. In order to make the darker values in the mountain shadows I have used less titanium white in the mix.

For the shadows in the foreground and mid ground I have used varying combinations of ultramarine blue, yellow ochre and titanium white so the mix has a green cast to it.

Once the main dark values are established I start painting the areas in light starting with the cloud highlights using a mix of titanium white with a dash of burnt sienna. I allow the highlights to mix in with the cloud shadows.

The water is reflecting the clouds and mountains so I am able to use my cloud and mountain mixes for the water.

I paint the foliage on the mid ground mountain using a mix of yellow ochre, ultramarine blue, titanium white and a dash of phthalo green. I have also in places used a small amount of cadmium yellow. It is important to make sure the greens in the mid ground are not saturated otherwise the greens will come forward in the painting and the atmospheric perspective will be lost.

The most saturated greens are in the foreground. I used varying combinations of yellow ochre, cadmium yellow and ultramarine blue which I use as my base then I added titanium white, phthalo green and cadmium red light to create some different hues.

I complete the blocking-in stage by painting the reeds in the foreground using a varying mix of yellow ochre, burnt sienna, ultramarine blue and titanium white.

The snow on the mountains is a mix of titanium white with a little ultramarine blue, burnt sienna and alizarin crimson.

I complete the blocking-in stage by restating the dark values in the scene. I then let the painting dry for a few days

Stage 2 – Adding Details, Modelling and Refining the Painting

Once the painting was dry I then spent a few sessions on this painting modelling the paint and building up the details. Essentially I am using the same colours I used during the blocking-in stage in varying amounts.

I worked on adding a small amount of detail and texture in the background mountains being careful not to go overboard with the details. I worked on the foliage in the mid ground hill by adding lighter values of my green mix to the many tree growing there. Creating this spot lighting effect is going to add more atmosphere to the painting as well as draw the to this area of the painting.

I also worked on building up details in the foliage of the foreground plants and bushes and adding lighter value colour to build up their forms.

Stage 3 – Final Details

Once my painting was dry again I added the last details and this is where I also apply my lightest values such as the sparkles on the water and the snow on Mitre Peak, the mountain on the left side of the composition.

I painted more details in the foreground including the reeds, the water where I added stones and also some final highlights to the plants and bushes. I was using small brushes to paint the last details on this painting including No.0 bristle and synthetic round brushes.

Final Note

I hope you enjoyed this written painting demonstration, however I have only scratched the surface as there is way more to this painting. Check out the painting tutorial video where I show you how to paint this scene, available on my Patreon channel.