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How do you make mountain texture with paint?


Creating a realistic mountain texture with paint can transform a basic landscape painting. The texture of mountain surfaces is complex, with rough, jagged rocks and smooth slopes. Mastering techniques to portray the nuances of mountain terrain will elevate your artwork. With some key skills, you can learn how to make convincing mountain texture using acrylic, oil, or watercolor paint.

Gather Reference Photos

The first step is gathering plenty of reference photos of mountains. Study images of various mountain ranges to understand the diversity of textures. Focus on:

  • Rocky cliffs and outcroppings
  • Fields of scree and talus
  • Smooth slopes and ridges
  • Sparse vegetation
  • Snow patches and glaciers

Analyze the colors, patterns, and textures seen in your reference photos. Pay attention to the way sunlight hits the mountains. Shadows and highlights create contrasts that enhance the texture. Spend time observing the reference images to properly depict the complexity of mountain surfaces.

Map Out the Composition

Start by loosely sketching the overall composition in light pencil lines. Map out the large shapes and values. Squint your eyes to visualize the simple values and planes within the mountain forms. Avoid including too much detail at this stage. Concentrate on the major lines, angles, overlaps, and silhouettes of the mountains.

Build Up Layers of Texture

The key to creating mountain texture is gradually building up layers of paint. Start with broad areas of solid color to represent the main sections of your mountains. For example:

  • Deep blue-grays for distant peaks
  • Cool purples and greens for north-facing slopes
  • Warm browns and yellows for sun-lit cliffs

Dry Brush Technique

Then begin adding texture on top of these foundation colors using the dry brush technique. Load a small amount of thick paint on a stiff bristle brush. Wipe most of the paint off on a paper towel so the brush is nearly dry. Then lightly drag the bristles across the surface to scratch out rough texture. Build up the jagged edges of rocks with this method.


You can also build texture by spattering small flecks of paint for a speckled effect. Load a stiff bristle brush and run your finger over the tip to fling droplets of paint onto the mountainside. This adds a sense of realism to the rocky terrain.


For smoother slopes, use the scumbling technique. With a lightly loaded dry brush, delicately scrub semi-circular brush strokes overlapping each other. Scumbling creates slight variations in value and texture for rounded, eroded landforms.


To further refine the textures, glaze transparent mixes of paint overtop. Blend together complementary colors like yellow and purple to neutralize them. Apply this colored glaze subtly over existing layers, allowing the underlying detail to show through. The glazes unify the texture and increase dimension.

Depict Vegetation

To portray realistic habitat, lightly dab in bits of vegetation among the rock textures. Use blotchy brush strokes to represent clumps of tough alpine plants and scrubby trees. Add touches of green glaze to blend them into their surroundings. Let some underlying paint show through for depth.

Add Finishing Details

Finish by taking a step back and evaluating the overall unity of the textures. Make any final refinements to ensure the mountain surface looks natural:

  • Soften any harsh edges in the textures
  • Darken areas to increase contrast
  • Lighten highlighted ridge lines
  • Add subtle shadows in crags and crevices

The combination of layered painting techniques will result in a textured, multidimensional mountain landscape. With practice, you can train your eye to observe and recreate the intricacies of mountain terrain. Aim to mimic nature’s complexity by building up the surface and integrating multiple painting methods. Soon you will be able to make mountain texture with paint naturally.

Tips and Tricks

Here are some additional tips for creating authentic mountain textures with paint:

Work Dark to Light

Start with darker earthy undertones first. Then layer lighter values and details on top to enhance realism. The depths of the shadows make the highlights pop.

Include Foreground Texture

Don’t forget to include some interesting rocky foreground texture. This helps lead the eye into the painting.

Use a Palette Knife

A palette knife can add thick, craggy ridges of paint. Let the texture dry before softening with smooth glazes.

Study Your Light Source

Observe how the angle of sunlight affects the shapes, shadows, and colors of the mountain terrain. Mimic the effects in your painting.

Break Up Smooth Areas

Add visual interest to any smooth, empty areas by scratching out small lines and flecks of darker paint.

Common Questions

What colors are best for painting mountains?

Cooler muted blues, greens, purples, and grays work well for distant peaks in shadow. Warm earthy browns, tans, yellow ocher, and umber represent sunlit rock textures in the foreground.

Should I start with detailed or loose brushwork?

It’s best to begin loosely and avoid small details until later layers. Work from large, simple masses of color to small, complex textures for a natural build up.

How do I paint shadows on mountains?

Use cooler, darker blues, purples and greens within areas of shadow. Let some of the underlying warm colors show through subtly for realism. Soften the edges of shadows for a natural effect.

What brushes work best for mountain texture?

Stiff bristle brushes are ideal for dry brush work. Small rounds work for details. Flat and filbert brushes blend glazes smoothly. Use a variety of brush types.

Should I work wet-on-wet or wet-on-dry?

Building transparent layers wet-on-dry allows the underlying texture to show through. Some wet-on-wet blending is good for smooth slopes and soft edges. Use a combination.


With the right reference materials and a grasp of essential techniques, you can learn to paint mountains realistically. Analyze the textures and colors seen in nature. Replicate the complexity by gradually layering dry brush, spattering, scumbling, and glazing effects. Work up dimension from large forms to small details. Mastering these mountain painting skills will boost your landscape painting abilities.

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