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Painted Night

Saturday Apr 24, 2010

Painted NightIf a painter sees only with his eyes, then he should be called a painter. When a painter, using all five senses, sees with his mind through his eyes, he should be called an artist. If you close your eyes for a moment and allow your hands to play with the surface of a piece of statuary, then you can clearly “see” the figure you are touching in your mind. To see only with the eyes is to see only the effect of light striking an object and reflecting. To hear sounds help the artist to see. To touch, taste and smell adds to the artist’s ability to understand and see more quickly the subject before him. A picture that is painted with great technical knowledge only will not convey to the viewer the deep emotional quality that a work of art should possess.

On a moonlit night, as you walk along a narrow bridge over the tide race of Good Harbor Beach in Massachusetts, you find yourself in the land of quiet sounds with the ever-present smells of the ocean. You feel the still sun-warm sands beneath your feet, you taste the fine salt mist on your lips, and your eyes are opened wide to the mysteries of the night before you. The sounds of the night are different from those of the day. There is no call of the gull. Most birds have ceased to fly. Only on occasion do you hear the lonely honk of the geese as they migrate to their new feeding grounds. You notice the small stones which have been worn round by the never-ending movement of the water clinking them together, the ocean arranging them in patterns with each surge, the surge sweeping over the sands making a wishing sound. Somewhere off shore a deep-throated whistle buoy is directing the fishing vessels to Gloucester Harbor. Here at the end of Good Harbor Beach, the rocks are large and stand strong and clean against the sand and the ocean. The moonlight adds an air of mystery to their shadowy ace. The ocean plays about their base, sometimes showing itself boldly with creamy foam, other times disappearing into the night. I have heard people say of artists that they are dreamers. Perhaps. I am more inclined to think the “dreams” are living thoughts and experiences that exist in the moods of their paintings. Artists are moody, they say. They come by it honestly. How else can one paint nature with a sense of truth?

During my short visit here on the beach, changes have taken place. Rocks now stand offshore, separated by a moat of churning foam. The rising tide has driven a small army of fiddler crabs to higher ground-they feed nightly the thin layer of ocean water washed over the sand, safe in the knowledge that the gulls will not feast on them again until dawn.

One of the main reasons I prefer sketching to using a camera is that during time spent working out your composition and observing the many things about you, changes are taking place. These things are seen almost subconsciously, but they are seen and registered. Your sketch will recall these moments to you. They add elements of knowledge and feeling to your painting. The tendency while using a camera is to click the picture and move on to find another subject, not pausing long enough to become acquainted with the entire subject.

Sketching at night presents its own problems, impossible on a moonless night and still not easy with a full moon. I have found felt-tipped pens and white paper the most manageable. You can at least make drawings of the large shapes and forms sufficiently well to make use of them later in your studio. As for color sketches, I find them useless. When they are brought into the light of day, they are unbelievably out of value and relationship. On a very brilliant night, primary colors (red, yellow and blue) can just be made out, but all colors below this class you can only guess at.

If you think about painting nighttime colors in the correct manner, you can arrive at an answer to this problem. First of all, nighttime, as we know it, is but a repeat of daytime in a much darker value and a much lower class of color and key. The moon that illuminates the night is but a poor reflector of the sun, and its power to light the shadow side of the earth is small indeed compared to the sun itself.

A color wheel will explain the different classes of color sufficiently for you to combine opposite colors or add grey to the primaries. Perhaps you can think about classes of color in this manner: First class is a primary; second class is the mixture of a primary with another primary; third class is the addition of a third primary. Or another way would be to trace yellow in actual pigments. First it would be yellow, then yellow ochre, raw sienna, raw umber. Your yellow highlight on a moonlit night may end up being raw umber and white.

The palette for the painting, “Good Harbor Moonlight” consisted of titanium white, ivory black, cadmium yellow light, cadmium orange, cadmium red light, cadmium red medium, alizarin crimson and Prussian blue. Although color plays an important part in the painting of a moonlight picture, values become the major factor from the outset.

I premixed on the palette seven steps of grey, starting with white and adding black to each succeeding step. I ended up with my seven greys each a tone darker than the preceding one, black being the last step. The middle grey divides the light side and the shadow side on the palette. These greys may be used throughout the painting of any Picture and the local color of a subject should be directly mixed into them. When I say local color, I mean the actual colors of the objects to be painted. One can, with this type of palette, premix more steps of grey and even premix the other colors of the palette to correspond in value to the greys. With this palette, you can exercise great control over your values and your painting. Frank Vincent DuMond, one of the great teachers of this century, instructed his students in this manner and I know of no better way to learn value along with color application and control.

Procedures in painting are many and varied. If you examine one artist’s life work, such as Rembrandt’s, you may observe the amount of experimentation in his canvases; extreme details at times, other times suggested detail; thin paint, thick paint; direct painting, glazing-yet, no matter what approach he used, it was still Rembrandt. His life’s work stands as a monument to all of the understanding and knowledge he gained through his years of observation and study, then executed with all of his creative genius.

White paint is only white paint when it stands alone, but with the proper use of darks, half-tones, and color, you may force your white to take on the appearance of a light effect. When considering the composition for “Good or Moonlight,” I arranged the large areas of light and dark so as to create the maximum light effect.

Because the path of moonlight coming across the water always goes directly to the person who is observing it, this becomes a near central composition. The lightest lights will be in the middle of the path, slowly diminishing in y as they go to the edge of the canvas. The four corners of the painting should be all but void of contrast of light and dark.

The placement of the dark rocks should be arranged so as to only enhance the lights. At the focal point, the dark rocks actually cross into the light, creating maximum contrast.

The horizon was placed below the middle line of the canvas so the observer would feel he is at the water’s edge. It also gives a large portion of the canvas to the sky, which creates the expansiveness that one always feels at night.

1 Comment »


Comments don’t seem to match the painting — unless the published painting is just a small patch of the actual work.

February 15th, 2011 | 2:52 pm
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