Stairways to Heaven

“Of the original phenomena, light is the most enthralling.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Crepuscular rays are those wonderful beams of light we see at the beginning or end of the day that appear to radiate from the single point of the sun and stream through gaps in the clouds or between other objects. Their name comes from the Latin word “crepusculum”, meaning twilight, and refers to their most common occurrences during the hours around dawn and dusk. They have long been sources of inspiration to artists, poets and movie-makers, for they seem to inspire a feeling of hope and wonderment. It is easy to understand why these dramatic shafts of light are also known as Buddha Rays, Stairways to Heaven, and God Fingers.

The After Glow by Frederic Church, oil on canvas, 1867.
The After Glow by Frederic Church, oil on canvas, 1867.

Because crepuscular rays pass through the atmosphere at dawn and dusk, their path takes them through up to forty times as much air as rays from the overhead midday sun pass through. Particles in the air scatter the light from short wavelengths, such as blue and green, more strongly than that from longer wavelengths such as yellow and red, causing crepuscular rays to usually appear red and yellow.

Frederic Edwin Church, "The Wreck," 1852, oil on canvas, 46 x 30
Frederic Edwin Church, “The Wreck,” 1852, oil on canvas, 46 x 30

They can be surprisingly difficult to paint. Their edges are soft, and become more softened as they get wider. They are usually uneven in density and widths. Because they are a very short-lived phenomena, a good photo is very helpful to study their effect. Trying to paint a background and then applying a thin glaze of tinted white over the top looks artificial and pasted on. To create this effect convincingly, each ray and everything it passes over or through must be painstakingly painted individually, with the lighted tones of each object in its path varying in chroma and value along the entire length of the sun beam. When painted masterfully, the effect is one of light emanating from the canvas itself. Painting the effect of crepuscular rays, or light beams coming through a mist is a great exercise to practice mixing correct values, colors, and edges. It is difficult to get right, but definitely a landscape painting exercise worth trying, and we guarantee that you will learn a good deal from the effort.

Thank you for reading our blogs. To read more informative and interesting articles, please join us on The Artist’s Road.

–John and Ann


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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.