The Problems with Painting Moonlight
|What Colour is Night?|
- 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.
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.
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