Thursday, January 24, 2008

Painting the January Nocturne

I'm researching nocturnes these days. In case you're not familiar with the term, these can be studio or plein air paintings of night scenes. Whistler, who is well-known for his nocturnes, came up with the term as an homage to Chopin; his original term for nocturnes was "moonlights." (See how much I've learned?)

I've never painted a nocturne, either in or out of the studio. I thought I should attempt one so I'd share common ground with the artists I'm studying.

I paint en plein air, so of course I went out. I'm also a very early riser, which explains the title of this painting. Five a.m. was perfect, and so were the conditions: full moon, good snow cover, 27 degrees F and a dead calm. A great horned owl kept me company.

I took a 5x7 Gessobord and my usual plein air gear, but also a little LED light that clips to my hat. Even though a full moon on snow seems incredibly bright, it's only relative. I knew I would need more light to see the colors I was mixing.

"5 A.M."
5x7, oil, plein air

Even with perfect conditions, I really struggled. Here's why:
  • My light wasn't bright enough to truly see the color of my paints. Of course, I always place them in exactly the same position on my palette, so I knew where the Alizarin Crimson was. But I could just barely tell it apart, color-wise, from the Ultramarine Blue! Next time: brighter light.
  • My format was too small. I never thought that I, Mr 5x7, would ever consider a 5x7 too small. But I just couldn't see well enough to make accurate brush strokes. A bigger panel would have been an easier target. Next time: at least an 8x10.
I was truly afraid to look at the painting when I came back indoors. In fact, it wasn't until lunchtime when I finally got up the nerve to open my pochade box.

I was quite surprised. The painting wasn't bad at all!

The color was a tad too red in the darks. No doubt this was the result of using a lamp with a cool, bluish LED. To compensate, I unconsciously pushed the palette to the warm side of the color wheel. Next time, I'll consider using two lights, a cool LED and a warm, incandescent bulb. Still, I easily corrected the color balance by putting a little blue into the darks. I also cleaned up my brush strokes. It didn't take much work to bring it to the state you see here.


Daniela said...

I just read the above post about painting outside in the dark, I have often wondered how this is mastered! If ever you get the time to get hold of a book called The Color of Night, it is a beautifully presentated big book, full of the nocturns painted by Frederic Remington, paintings like The Old Stage Coach - Coach of the Plains. They were just getting started with electricity then. I think as an artist you would love just to look at this book, I know I do.

Daniela said...

Have the feeling I said Color of LIGHT, instead it is called the Color of NIGHT.