Wednesday, 22 September 2010

My Moonlit Landscape Painting Looks Dull

In an attempt to paint an evening landscape, the artist may automatically use lots of black paint. A little brown or grey may be included to provide variations to the dark colour, resulting in dirty monochromes that fails to convince. What colours should the artist use to paint a dark landscape?

The Problems with Painting Moonlight

What Colour is Night?
Rachel Shirley
The artist painting a moonlit landscape may experience a dilemma between what the brain knows about the scene and what is seen; the objects are bright in colour, and yet they appear subdued.

This may lead the artist to add black to all the colours normally seen in daylight, but this could result in dirty colours. In order to paint a convincing and atmospheric night time landscape, the following faulty practices need addressing:

  • Adding black to all the colours normally seen in a landscape. For instance, mixing green with black to render a dark meadow or mixing blue with black to express a seascape set at night.
  • Illustrating all objects in a moonlit landscape as being lighter on one side than the other.
  • Delineating silhouettes with the same black and using it in an illustrative way, such as painting branches or chimney pots, resulting in a painting that lacks depth.
  • Painting the moon merely white and without any variations in tone.
  • Flecking white dots over the night sky to express stars.
What Colour is Night?

Colours cannot be detected at night time, causing objects to appear monochromatic. But any light that shine upon an object will reveal its colour. This means that a partially-lit landscape, such as one set in the evening or by streetlight will consist of two colour palettes: monochrome and full colour. The degree to which the object is illuminated will affect how colourful it will appear. This means that an object lit under subtle lighting, will have soft colours.

But even a landscape painting illuminated by moonlight will have more colours than just black and white. In fact, I would use black sparingly. Close observation will reveal a multitude of neutrals, violets and earth colours that make up a moonlit landscape. The following pigments in any combination and in various amounts can be used for monochromes:

Ultramarine, pthalo blue, burnt sienna, burnt umber, permanent rose and varying amounts of white.

The Colour of Darks

A landscape under moonlight often contains a lot of blue, and sometimes violet. Mixing ultramarine and permanent rose with a little white will result in rich violets often seen on clear nights. Mixing pthalo blue and burnt umber with a little white will result in a bluish neutral colour often seen on moonlit snow. Rich darks, such as those found in deep shadows can be achieved by mixing pthalo blue with burnt umber, or ultramarine with burnt sienna. Darks also have different colour temperatures, some being warmer than others. Using contrasting darks will add richness to a moonlit painting.

How to Paint a Dark Landscape

It helps to paint dark to light when rendering a landscape set at night. This means applying a thin wash of neutral or grey colour over the art board prior to painting. This will help set the tones of the night time landscape, for painting straight onto white will give a misleading impression of the paints’ tonal values. Starting with the mid tones will help the artist accurately measure one tone against the other, which is what painting a moonlit scene is all about.

How to Paint the Moon

Close observation will reveal that the moon is not just white, it can be eggshell, china blue or even pink, depending upon the atmospheric conditions. A crescent moon will have tonal variations, not just a half-moon cut-out shape. Similarly, stars have different colours, some appear gold, others look blue.

Silhouette Painting

Light & Shadow / Oil: Learn to Paint Step by Step (How to Draw and Paint Series: Oil)
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Silhouettes of trees, rooftops or lampposts, consist of different darks and outlines. Silhouettes far away will have softer textures and darks than silhouettes that are close by. They will also have different brush marks, some softer than others.

The key to a convincing painting of night is close observation of the subject matter.

Relevant Links to Painting Night Scenes

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