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

28 Feb 2011

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


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Comments

KatPaints wrote
on 17 Aug 2012 6:42 PM

Hi, I realize that this is an old post, but what lighting are you using? a headlamp? a book light??