Next Monday evening is our Fine Arts Association meeting, and I’ll be in attendance. I enjoy the monthly meetings although I have to admit to feeling very intimidated by all the artistic talent in the room.
At our February meeting we discussed nocturnes or moonscapes, as they’re sometimes called. I’m familiar with the word nocturne since I’m also a musician. I’ve played many nocturnes on the piano.
I’ve always been a night-person, so I love the idea of painting night scenes. I’ve tried a few times before, and I’ve never succeeded. Now, even after a long art-association program about painting evening and night scenes, I still haven’t got the knack. Here’s one of my recent attempts.
I like my sky, or at least, I liked it when I was painting it. Afterward, my moonlight seems to have faded. In fact, to me, the entire painting simply looks faded and weary. That’s the problem I have with painting nocturnes. Well, one of the problems.
Here’s another recent nocturne — this one, a seascape.
Frankly, my waves look more like cotton balls, and the painting lacks any sort of focal point. Maybe I should have added a lighthouse in the distance. Oh, well. It wasn’t a well-thought-out painting — just a quick attempt to create an evening or night-time scene that didn’t look washed out.
I can never create a moon that doesn’t look ridiculous. The best I can do is to try to capture the sense of moonlight while the moon remains hidden behind clouds. I’m never sure about shadows when I paint scenes like this, and since it’s difficult to find good night-time reference photos, my ideas are coming out of my head — not the best way to paint.
During the Art Association program, we did get lots of tips on painting nocturnal landscapes.
- If you’re painting en plein air, the best nights are those with a full moon. This provides contrasts of light and shadow which lead to dramatic, dynamic paintings.
- Tonal values will be more limited in moonlight than in sunlight. Even the brightest lights should be a couple values down from white.
- Moonlight is a cool light, often casting a blue or silvery-green hue on everything around it.
- Artificial lights — campfires, street lamps, or lighting from buildings — will diminish the effects of moonlight.
- Look for ways to use complementary colors. These should be subtle touches. Even an elusive whisper of color will impact the viewer.
- With nocturnes as with daytime scenes, the rule is still the same: warm colors come forward, and cool colors recede.
- The lightest values will be closest to you, and in a night scene will quickly recede down the tonal value scale as objects get farther away.
- Light tone value elements in your painting (snow, pale sand, or white objects) will be heavily influenced by the silvery-green color cast from the moonlight.
Another tip that should be very helpful is that a good daylight photograph can be painted as a nocturne simply by swapping the sunlight color scheme for a moonlight scheme. I should have kept this tip in mind and looked for a few good reference photos to use for nocturne paintings instead of trying to conjure up a scene from my imagination.
I want to do more night scenes, and I’m hoping I will improve — both my oil painting techniques and my ability to use color to create the right effects. I’m going to be experimenting with various nocturnal color palettes and trying new things.
As a beginning oil painter, I’m still struggling to find my style of painting. I think it’s somewhere in between realism and impressionism, but I guess that covers a lot of ground!
The last few weeks have been very busy ones, and now I want to set aside a little more time for drawing and painting. Exploring landscapes at night will be an interesting area of study for me. With luck, I’ll see real improvement.