Field Notes

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!

Why Draw?

Ivan Shishkin
Ivan Shishkin

Why Draw?

Often  landscape painters don’t think drawing is important. I am always amazed in my workshops and classes at the number of students who do not regularly use a sketchbook or include drawing as part of their art making process.

 

Isaac Levitan
Isaac Levitan

I was fortunate that the first artist I seriously studied with- Ned Jacob- is a fine draughtsman of figures, animals and the landscape. He is passionate about the importance of drawing. One of the most important things he said to me over the many years I studied with him was: Drawing will set you free. He never really explained what that meant, but over time I figured it out. So, now I am telling you: Drawing will set you free.

OK, that may sound like hyperbole, but it’s true. And, it’s true for several different reasons. Here they are.
First, drawing encourages observation- not casual looking, but concentrated, analytical observation. It slows you down. Its economy of means and materials allow for this to occur at almost any time and when time is short and effects fleeting.

When drawing, we are more likely to zero in on the one thing that first caught our notice, and less likely to try to capture everything out there (which often happens when painting).

Drawing, particularly mass drawing, is a bridge to painting- forcing us to focus on shape and value, without having to tackle color.

Deborah Paris Stream Study
Deborah Paris
Stream Study

Drawing, specifically, thumbnail sketches, can be an enormous aid to not only learning to compose but to trying out different compositional solutions before investing lots of time and painting materials in a bad one.

Drawing encourages intimate understanding of the structure of objects in the landscape as well as their surface appearance.  This knowledge will inform your efforts and make your work more authentic.

 

Tree Study Deborah Paris
Tree Study
Deborah Paris

But, perhaps the most important reason is that you cannot ever become a good landscape painter without being able to edit the raw material nature provides. If you are dependent on either what’s in front of you or a photographic reference, your options are always limited.

Deborah Paris
Deborah Paris

Editing means not only leaving things out, but moving them around, redesigning how they are shaped, in what part of the picture plane they are found, moving the viewer’s location, adding elements that support your visual idea but are not actually in the scene before you, and painting from memory and imagination. Drawing can give you the skills to do those things- the freedom to take the raw material nature provides and design works of art.
And, a long the way, you find that drawing itself is a great pleasure.  Drawing sets you free.

 

P.S. Our six week online class Drawing the Landscape is designed to introduce students to methods, materials, concepts (like linear perspective and comparative measurement), and strategies for successfully completing drawings from Nature both for their own sake and as invaluable reference for painting, reducing dependency on photography. There will be some art history thrown in to demonstrate the long and glorious tradition of drawing from Nature and some video demos to supplement the thorough written materials, illustrations and examples. 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.

 

p.txt-4 2

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”.

p.txt-3

 

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!

Speed of the Line and Stoppers

“Speed of the line” is a concept that plays an important part in landscape design. Often we see strong diagonals at work in Nature- a mountain, a line of trees, or even a roofline of a building. The more steep and uninterrupted that line is, the “faster” it moves the eye- and often it will move the eye right out of the canvas! Here is a little thumbnail showing how that might work.

 

speedofline thumb 2

The eye sails right out the right side of the composition.  The speed of the line can be slowed by creating variety in the line, interruptions so to speak, which slow the movement of the eye and break up the extreme diagonal look of the line.  As you can see, the movement along the top line is much different in this example. The slight upward tick in the line creates a little eye “stopper” .

 

speed of line thumb

 

 

In this thumbnail a stronger stopper in the form of a tree has been added. 

 

stopper thumb

 

 

Here a “redirection” stopper has been employed. Although it does not actually break the line it operates to redirect the eye upward into the sky. 

 

stoppers thumb 2

 

These are all fairly simple examples and solutions. Let’s see how this has been employed by a variety of artists. These first two are by American ex-pat plein air painter Marc Dalessio. I love how he has used the vertical poles here to both break the horizon line and its “speed” to the right side of the canvas. In the second one, he has used trees to break the line of the roof. On the right side the trees actually obscure it and on the left that small tree behind the building disrupts the speed of the line there.

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 11.45.00 AM

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 11.45.17 AM

Here is Maynard Dixon, iconic painter of western landscapes. That distant mountain on the left side is a stopper and the upward movement of the clouds also works as a redirection.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 11.47.39 AM

Hudson River School painter Thomas Cole used those trees on the right of the falls to slow down the descent of the mountains behind.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 11.50.38 AM

 

In a more intimate scene, Hudson River School painter Jervis McEntee used that tree on the left to stop the eye and to redirect into the sky.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 11.51.49 AM

So learn to recognize “speed of the line” problems and use some creative variety in the line and “stoppers” to solve the problem!

 

PS Our online class Composing the Landscape starts October 31. Learning to compose effectively give us the tools to express our unique vision of the landscape. Nature gives us raw material. It is up to us to make a painting. Join us!

A Composition Lesson from Corot

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 7.04.34 PM

A View of Volterra Corot
(click for larger view)

As landscape painters, one of our main tasks in composing is to get our viewers into the painting and gracefully out of it. The creation of entrances and exits requires that the viewer move easily and at the appropriate speed through the painting as well. No easy task!

Here the great French painter Camille Corot has used that little hill on the right bottom of the picture plane on which to perch his viewer. The shadowed foreground gets us into the painting and the lit up area surrounding the horse and rider form a natural focal point. The road pulls us up into the trees, and then the trees move our eye over to the distant trees and hills and sky. Look at the painting and squint and you will see how carefully and masterfully Corot has designed the light and dark areas. This is the use of value as abstract pattern which serves the design well.

Enjoy!

PS Our upcoming online class Composing the Landscape (starts October 31). This class covers the fundamentals of landscape composition and gives tried and true strategies for both learning about and creating compositions that work. All the great color in the world won’t save a bad design! 🙂 Join us!

Painting Fall Foliage

It is that time of year- when we are all tempted by the bright colors of fall foliage to throw every high chroma color we can lay our hands on onto a canvas! In many ways, painting this season can be even more daunting than painting the overwhelming green of summer. So put down that cad orange and take a few moments to read these suggestions! Painting autumn colors successfully comes down to paying attention to basics- in this case, value, chroma and temperature.

Value

One of the most difficult notions to overcome is our perception of warm high chroma colors as lighter in value than they actually are. I am not sure why this is, but it does seem to be universally true. When I ask students to identify the values in a painting like this for example…..

Autumn Montclair George Inness
Autumn Montclair
George Inness

 

they will almost always guess that the lightest foliage areas are a 7 – 8 on the Munsell value scale, rather than  a 5-4. Of course we know from our new best friend Carlson that trees are upright planes and therefore the darkest values in the landscape, right? So, intellectually we ought to know that they would carry a darker value. But, nonetheless, when faced with an electric orange or yellow, the guess is always to the lighter side of the scale. One look at the greyscale version of the painting confirms the folly.

Inness autumn Montclair greyscale_edited-1

One other factor should help us understand, intellectually if not visually, that these colors are indeed in the mid to darker value range, and that is their intensity. As a color is tinted, i.e., made lighter, it also loses chroma. Adding lots of white to a color will inevitably lead to that color being not only lighter, but cooler and less chromatic (duller) than it was before!

 

red chroma 2

Chroma

Chroma refers to how intense or dull a color appears. Colors in nature rarely hit the chroma jackpot in the way manmade colors do. Nature is much greyer and lower in chroma than we often realize. So, careful observation is required to convince our eyes we really are not seeing a color that comes straight off the pop tarts package. This is why in fall, when there actually is some chroma in the landscape, we tend to go overboard and paint it more chromatically and too much of it. Use restraint. That beautiful maple tree will look more fetching against a screen of more neutral trees.

 

 

Autumn Homer Dodge Martin
Autumn
Homer Dodge Martin

 

Temperature

Temperature is one of the least understood and most badly used of color attributes. It takes some time to see and understand temperature changes in the landscape and to know where to look for them. But, we can all agree that a fall landscape will have an overwhelmingly warm cast. Overwhelming. So, for that reason, looking for opportunities to introduce some cooler notes into your painting is very important.

 

Autumn Sunrise, Lennox Woods Deborah Paris
Autumn Sunrise, Lennox Woods
Deborah Paris

 

So, get out there and paint the fall foliage! If you get the values right, use restraint with chroma, and add some cooler notes for variety, you will have a much better chance of success in the field.

 

PS Our most popular online class, Drawing & Painting Trees, starts October 3. Sign up and you will never look at a tree the same way again. Promise. Information and registration is here.

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.