Extreme Painting – Part III: Painting the Winter Night en Plein Air

I like pastel for winter work because of the ease of not having to deal with paint thinner,
stiff paint, or mixing color on a palette.

When winter graces us with her charms and everywhere you look is covered in a beautiful layer of snow, Ann and I get our exercise by roaming the woods and fields in search of plein air painting subjects. This month, we were lucky enough to have a nearly full moon on a clear night with the temperatures in the relatively balmy low 30s. Strong moonlight adds an essential element to the night landscape—shadows. Without shadows, there is little depth or dimension. So this was the perfect opportunity to do some nighttime winter painting outside. I grabbed my pastel gear and headed out along the back road to a favorite spot.

I like pastel for winter work because of the ease of not having to deal with paint thinner, stiff paint, or mixing color on a palette. It is also very difficult to mix the proper values in oils when looking back and forth from dimly-lit palette to your subject at night en plein air. Even under a bright full moon, where the eye can perceive a 5-step value range in the landscape, I have found it nearly impossible to mix oil colors accurately on a palette without some supplemental lighting.

Moonlight by John Hulsey, pastel.

Because nighttime reduces everything you'd possibly want to incorporate into your outdoor painting in to large masses of tone that lack detail, composition becomes simpler. Contrary to what one might think, there are few solid blacks out there. Most of the tones are some version of deep brown, deep green, deep umber, dark gray-blues, and in snow, a range of light blue-grays. It is how the artist uses those colors to create the world of the night that can make or break a nighttime plein air painting.

If you are interested in winter plein air painting, don’t miss our step-by-step article on the subject. On our site, you will find information about special gear, on-location photos, helpful tips and more examples of successful plein air nighttime paintings. And, of course, we’d enjoy seeing your nighttime work. Post them here!

–John & Ann


Plein Air Painting Blog
John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.

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