Let it Snow!

Many of us are facing bitter winter weather just now. So, it seemed an appropriate time to talk about…painting snow!

Two of the main concepts to keep in mind when painting snow are value and color temperature. When painting a light, highly reflective surface like snow we are hampered by the value limitations of our materials. Our white paint is the lightest light we can muster. In order to effectively represent snow and its surroundings, we must darken its value just a little, as well as the other planes in the landscape likes trees, hills and sky.

Because of its reflective surface, the color of snow is affected by the colors around it, most particularly the sky. That is why on a bright sunny day when the ground is covered with snow, you will see those intense blue shadows. That’s the zenith of the sky reflecting into the shadows. Recognizing the source of that color and maximizing it helps to describe the snow. In this painting you can see contemporary American landscape painter Stapleton Kearns doing just that. He has used a warm white for the sunlit portion of the snow and cooler whites to depict the planes turning from the light and the shadows. This is a great example of how one might model the snow on a sunny day.  Notice too how the value of the sky has been lowered just a bit and the rest of the scene brought into that range as well. The warn notes in the foreground logs provide a temperature counterpoint to the overall cool cast of the painting. Finding opportunities to include a warm note in a snow painting adds variety and richness to the snow filled world.

Stapleton Kearns
Stapleton Kearns

But, often when we paint snow, it’s not a sunny day. Here is a lovely tonal homage to snow by American painter John Carlson American ,1875-1947), author of Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting. The color of the snow reflects the muted sky color, and the close values of grey, brown and violet in the near and distant trees evoke a quiet winter day in the woods. Subtle warm notes in the trees and plants sticking out of the snow provide the needed variety in temperature.

Carlson snow
John Carlson

Here’s one of my favorite snow paintings by Frederick Mulhaupt (American, 1871-1938 ). Mulhaupt has used value masterfully here. The counterchange between the light tree trunks and darker confers behind is echoed by the small triangle of dark water on the left. The violet sky is darker than the snow which helps to set it off and appear luminous. Subtle temperature and value changes within the snow describe the ground plane underneath, and the dark bits of earth peaking through lead the eye to the central arrangement of trees. The remaining foliage on the trees provides a warm counterpoint against the violet sky. Quite an orchestration!

Mulhapt snow
Frederick Mulhaupt

In this painting, I wanted to evoke the memory of a day in snow filled woods. The quiet muffled quality of sound, the intimacy of the deep woods, and my part in it were all on my mind. I used subtle value and temperature changes to depict the foreground snow and describe how it began to pile up on top of grasses, plants and tree trunks. Warm notes in the foreground provided a counterpoint to the violets, greys and browns.

Winter Woods Deborah Paris
Winter Woods
Deborah Paris

Finally, here is a painting by Marc Dalessio (American, contemporary) which he posted recently on his blog. He helpfully included a photo of the scene he was painting. This provides a great example of how he has manipulated value and temperature to create an effective design. Note how the snow value has been lowered and its temperature cast shifted to a very light blue green. Notice also the warm note of pink on the edge of the shadow underneath the main tree on the right and a similar note on the other side of the road. He has also darkened the value of the trees in the distance just slightly and the main tree as well, providing needed darker notes (along with the tire tracks).

Dalessio snow photo
Dalessio snow photo
Marc Dalessio
Marc Dalessio

Orchestration of value and color temperature is the key to success in snow paintings. So, go out and paint some snow!

P.S. Our Values II online class and Color Mixing  online classes are a great place to learn how to “key” the landscape and to understand the concept of color temperature. Join us!

The Dark Side

One of the most challenging effects to paint are depictions of the night. Nocturnes have particularly fascinated artists since the latter part of the 19th century. Painting the night presents special challenges in “keying” the landscape- that is, selecting a range of values which best depicts the light effect desired. Of course, in the case of nocturnes, the value range moves toward the darker end of the scale. The majority of values are compressed into a very narrow range.
Here are four nocturnes by Isaac Levitan (Russian, 1860-1900) which show both the beauty and variety he brought to nocturne color harmonies. But, when we convert these to greyscale, we can see that narrow range of darker values provide the structure for these paintings.  In each of these Levitan has compressed the value scale to the “dark side” . He has used “lights” sparingly for drama and often the lights are actually a middle key. Yet, each nocturne is keyed slightly differently, but still reading as night. Study these closely and try to identify the values used in each portion of each painting. Much to be learned here!
cabin nocturne     road nocturne   bonfire.jpg!Large river nocturne   cabin nocturne desat munsell_value_scale road nocturne desat munsell_value_scale bonfire.jpg!Large desat munsell_value_scale   river nocturne desat   munsell_value_scale P.S. Our online classes Understanding Values in the Landscape I and II are scheduled for January and February and filling fast! Learn about Carlson’s Theory of Angles, atmospheric perspective, keying the landscape and lots more. Join us!

The Three Uses of Value

As we know, when we refer to value we are speaking about how light or dark a shape or form, or part of a shape or form are. Generally when we refer to value we are speaking comparatively, that is, how light or dark something is compared to something else. However, by using a value scale we can begin to assign specific values to things and to talk about value in a more precise way.

 

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Generally speaking, values serve three functions in the art of landscape painting. First, using the correct values can help us create the illusion of outdoor space, air, atmosphere, and forms receding into the picture plane and to generally create a convincing depiction of outdoor Nature. This is Carlson’s Theory of Angles and aerial perspective.

Carlson Illustration

 

Secondly, values can be used to create the illusion of three dimensions in specific forms like tree trunks or rocks or any other objects we might find in the landscape. This is called modeling, shading or “turning form”.

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Third, values are used to create the overall structure of the painting, organizing them in such a way as to create a pleasing design. This is composition.

 

Morning Light 2430 72 greyscale_edited-1 Morning Light 2430 72 dpi

Of course, all these functions are interrelated. When we choose a certain value scheme to depict a sunny day for example, we are also making choices about how the values we use will help us show the solidity of forms and create a pleasing design. But, for purposes of study, it is useful to separate these functions and study them independently until they are all fully understood and can be applied together.

P.S.  Want to build a solid foundation for your landscape paintings?  In our online class Understanding Values in the Landscape I we study in depth Carlson’s Theory of Angles, atmospheric perspective and how each affects the values in every part of the landscape.  In UnderstandingValues in the Landscape II students will learn the all important skill of how to “key” a landscape , using a particular value range  to depict different times of day and lighting conditions. Join us!

Carlson’s Theory of Angles- An Introduction

It was over 20 years ago when I first got my hands on a copy of Carlson. I had wandered into the bookstore at the Scottsdale Artist’s School trying to escape the overwhelming odor of maroger and of course went straight to the landscape section, which was what I was really interested in. I picked up a copy of Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting, planning to read it on the plane on the way home to Florida. The next day, somewhere over Texas, I had an epiphany. I had reached Chapter 3, and all of a sudden everything made sense. Carlson’s book is considered the bible of landscape painting by most contemporary landscape painters and his Theory of Angles is perhaps the cornerstone of that well deserved reputation.

Now, let’s go to our friend the all-knowing Mr. Carlson. Chapter 3 – the Theory of Angles- is the place to go to understand values in landscape painting (and drawing). The Theory of Angles is the best way to sort through and organize values in the landscape and your thinking about them. Although there are exceptions to it (as there are to all rules), generally speaking it is the best guide you can use. So, if you have not read it, read it now. Right now! If you have read it, go back and read it again!

 

First, here’s the Munsell value scale-your new best friend (after Carlson of course). Click for larger view.

 

munsell_value_scale

 

Carlson’s Theory of Angles is based on the organization of the landscape into planes- the sky, the ground plane, slanted planes and upright planes.

 

Carlson Illustration

 

Carlson tells us that the sky, as the source of the light in the landscape,  will generally be the lightest value  – so values 91/2 to 7 on the scale above (on a sunny day). In our previous posts on skies, we saw how those values would grade from light to dark from the horizon to the zenith, and from light to dark nearer the sun and moving away from it. The next lightest is the ground plane, which because it is a flat plane receives the most light from the sky. On a sunny day those values would be in the 8-7 1/2 range in the light and a 6 in the shadows.  Slanted planes like mountains and hills come next- values 5 and 4, and upright planes like trees are the darkest 4-2. A dark accent would be a 2-1. These values would be present on a typical sunny day, when there is the broadest range of values present in the landscape. It is that broad range of values which creates the illusion of a sunlit day.

Think of each one of these value groupings as a value “family”- a discreet separate group of values. Each plane of the landscape has its own value group. So, for example, the darkest value in the ground plane (a shadow on the ground) is lighter than the lightest value in the trees !

 

Carlson Illustration with Values

 

Value Scale

When you first begin to think about the landscape in planes and to try to assign those values to the landscape, it can be helpful to keep each “value family” completely separate, with no overlap of values. In my experience, most students really struggle to keep those planes separated, which is the key to making the painting “read”. In reality you will see some overlap in those value ranges between the planes, and in some lighting effects, those ranges can be very close. But, for now, just keep the idea of the separation of the planes in the forefront of your mind. And read Carlson!

P.S. In our online classes Understanding Values in the Landscape I and II offered in January and February we study Carlson’s Theory of Angles and atmospheric perspective (the other great over arching concept which affects values in the landscape) as well as how to “key” a landscape by using the appropriate value range and relationships to create the illusion of different lighting conditions and weather- from foggy, misty days, to hazy sunshine, sunlit days,  to “Magic Hours” of evening, dusk and night.

Sky Values- The Key to Big Atmospheric Skies!

One of the most important ingredients for painting big atmospheric skies is getting the values right. We know that generally speaking the sky will have the lightest values in the landscape because it is the source of light (think Carlson’s Theory of Angles- if you don’t know about that you should!). The value of a typical sunlit sky will grade from light to dark from the horizon to its zenith. But it is helpful to assign an actual value to these gradations so we can place them in proper context within the entire landscape . If you key your sky too dark, it will look leaden and lower the value of your entire painting. First, here is the Munsell value scale, running from 10 to 0, light to dark. All images can be clicked for a larger view.

 

munsell_value_scale

 

So, remembering that the sky is a vault (right?) here is what that might look like, assigning values to the sky. You will note that there is just a slightly darker value that occurs right at the horizon. Often this is not visible because objects (buildings, mountains etc) are in the way. But, when it is visible, making this value adjustment is crucial.

Vault of the Sky 2The values in the sky also grade light to darker from the source of the light to the opposite side of the sky. So, near the sun, values will be lighter and get progressively darker farther away. Here is what that might look like.

Zenith 4So, go outside and look up! Observe these gradations and how they look in different parts of the sky. The values might be somewhat different from what is shown here depending on weather conditions.  For example, on an overcast day, the values will actually be lighter than they are on a sunlit day!

Often we may be painting a smaller part of the sky or a lower part of the sky than would include the whole range of gradations. But here is where some artistic license can be taken. Showing both vertical and horizontal gradations, even if not the entire range, will help make your skies look big and atmospheric.