Sunday, November 23, 2008

Day to Night

I'm going back in time a little bit, but I am in the studio working on longer term paintings. So to stay a little active with some posting here, I thought that I'd let a little 'kitty' out of the bag concerning nocturnes and the way I paint them. There is going directly to the source and painting from life, a requirement IMHO, and then there's using that experience to draw on to do work in the studio.

This isn't really a secret. Artists like Whistler, Maxfield Parrish, Howard Pyle, NC Wyeth, Harold VonSchmidt, Frederic Remington, Frank Tenney Johnson, Tom Lovell, Doug Dawson, and a myriad of other painters and illustrators from the past and in present have painted nocturnes from inside during the daylight hours. Most if not all of them had spent a lot of time in the saddle of a horse, or out observing what happens visually at night, in order to be able to render the effect of the 'lack' of light on the subject that they wanted to paint.

As a side note of interest... At night the rods ( about 120 million, the light and dark receptors ) in our retina take over from the cones ( 6 to 7 million, our color receptors). This is the reason that as it darkens our ability to sense color diminishes. Many scientists think that this makes evolutionary sense. At night is when the predators are out. In our early development as humans, it was very important to be able to see those critters, who were out there to eat us, in order to have a chance for survival. Seeing movement was critical, color not as much so.

Harold VonSchmidt, for instance, painted many, many illustrations and easel paintings of the old west, stampeding horses and cows, the cavalry and their scouts, and much more, at night with a very limited palette of either a blue or green dominant color scheme. For many of his paintings he used a palette of Ivory black, Viridian and Alizarin Crimson. Prussian blue and black with burnt sienna is another popular palette for nocturnes. These are very effective generic palettes for nocturnes due to our inablility to see much color at night.

'Cold Riding' - oil - 30x50 - 1954 Harold Von Schmidt

Painting only in the studio with a generic 'nocturne palette', without the experience of painting from life at night, however, presents the painter with the dangerous possibility of becoming 'formulaic' with the subject. Back when Remington was painting there was often a palette for nocturnes referred to as the 'Frank Tenney Johnson' palette because he had so perfected the luminance seen in the night sky. For an illustrator, that's fine. Their job is to communicate the idea of their client to an audience not necessarily of their choice. It's completely possible to make up a situation on canvas in the studio. To do that takes the right amount of skill, and they are skilled.

For a painter who is trying to paint a response to what they're observing in an honest, objective way, I believe that it's imperative that the work is based on direct 'on the spot' observation. Once that you've understood the principles of a particular lighting situation it is possible to use studies from previous, different experiences to make a complete and meaningful statement.

Just take a look at the quality of work that Frederic Remington did with nocturnes. He didn't stand outside painting a wolf staring at him in the moonlight. Yet it's totally believable as an image. And I doubt that the native Americans setting the prairie fire would have thought it a good idea to stand there and allow an artist to set up the easel either. He did use a new tool, flash photography, to capture some models and nocturnal reference. And he did do small sketches from life as a base for his reference.

'Moonlight, Wolf' 1909 Frederic Remington

'The Grassfire' (Backfiring) 1908 Frederic Remington

I've been enjoying painting the nocturnes for a few years now, both from life and in the studio from both life studies and from photo references. Another thing that I do and want to share with you, is to take daytime studies and convert them to nocturnes. I've actually done this a number of times and am going to show you a few here. This first image is my reference for the painting below it. I posted this same image in the recent post about the nocturne article.

'Palmetto Island Park' - oil field study, 9x12 © Marc R. Hanson '06

'Palmetto Island by Night' - oil - 16x20 © Marc R. Hanson '08

Another example are these two images. First one is a little field study painted a couple of years ago in spring. I used it as the only reference for the painting below it called 'Spring Night Light'. I'd been painting some nocturnes from life at this point and felt comfortable with translating day into night.

'Spring Painting' - oil - 10x8 © Marc R. Hanson '06

'Spring Night Light' - oil, 20x16 © Marc R. Hanson '06

In the following images I took the idea of this translating a little further and am showing a couple of examples. In both of these cases the only reference was photographic.

The point of all of this is that what we do as artists is make 'paintings', not duplicates of nature. I find this kind of challenge to be one that gets my creative juices flowing. From the source, to the reference photo or sketch, to the finished painting, the similarities between the two change. I move things, shrink, enlarge, emphasize, de-emphasize and employ any number of other alterations to make 'my' point. To me this is where the creativity in my work lies.

'Full Moon Barn' - oil 14x18 © Marc R. Hanson '06

Reference photo

'Winter Solstice Night' - oil - 20x24 © Marc R. Hanson '06

Photo reference


Peggy Montano & Paintings said...

Wow, Marc, Thank you so much for this lesson. I was not aware of this interesting information. I will refer to it many more times.

Marc R. Hanson said...

Hi Peggy... If I had the time, there is so much more to talk about. But thanks and I'm glad that it shed some light on a new subject for you.

Janelle Goodwin said...

What a great idea, using your past paintings for nocturnes. Your work is amazing and an inspiration to me. Thanks for the great information.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Hi, Marc - This is an excellent expansion on my interview with you in The Artist's Magazine (on-line version.) I'm glad you did this, as I really enjoyed seeing the extra pictures and reading the extra information that couldn't be included in the article.

Donna T said...

Thanks for sharing so much information, Marc. I am also amazed at how you transformed day into night in your paintings.

Frank Gardner said...

Good stuff Marc. This was a great read. I'm sure I'll read it a few more times.
I have a real urge to do some more nocturnes, but trying one in the studio looks like a good exercise too.
Love the barn piece with the reference especially. Just seeing the way you've adjusted things ever so slightly is very insightful.
I'm going to tell a few friends to come read this.

Robin Weiss said...

Thanks Marc! Wish I would have read this before I did my recent nocturne...

Thanks again for being willing to share your's very helpful!!

Marc R. Hanson said...

Hi Janelle...Thank you. It's a treat to be able to share work and thoughts in this format. We're lucky to be painters and artists working today, in the present. There are so many ways (too many actually) :) to meet other painters, who share our interests, and never leave the studio. We can be self indulgent hermits, heads to task, and yet we're able to commune with our favorite people, artists (the only humans that 'get' what we do), almost at will. What a life!

Marc R. Hanson said...

Michael I'm glad you approve! ;) You did such a great job in that interview. Thank you!!!
I've been running into a lot of blog conversation around the web about nocturnes. Seems to be a very attractive idea as a painting effort for a lot of painters. I was thinking about that, the article and some of my paintings laying around the studio(nocturnes) and thought that it might be of interest to explain a little of the process to those who stop in here. I've ALWAYS loved Remington's and FTJohnson's nocturnes... And Harold Von Schmidt an artist who has sort of been lost since his death. And of course NCWyeth did some amazing 'conceptual' pieces as illustrations. So like I said, we're in an age of 'plein air' is good, and it is, but it isn't necessarily the 'only' way to paint, nocturnes in particular. That experience from life is essential to have under one's belt. But it's also possible to spend your life out in a fishing boat setting trot lines for catfish, or to be doing some other sort of nocturnal activity that emblazons what it looks like to be in a full moon's light envelope and to then retain that experience for reference. I mean I think that besides being 'really' good painters, those painters I listed were alive at a time when you did spend time outside in the wilds, maybe hunting for your food, or because there weren't street lights and house lights everywhere. They probably had (a guess only) an innate experiential catalog of what the full moon landscape looked like. That in addition to their artistic sensitivity to what they did see probably gave them a very large reservoir of image making material stored up.
Anyway, just a thought.

Marc R. Hanson said...

Hello Donna T... Thank you. I remember when I was young that in the movie business they used filters on the cameras to shoot night scenes, but shot them in the daytime.
The biggest thing to remember is that there is only one light source at night. That is if painting a natural situation. Of course in a city nocturne there are many light sources. But out in the wilds there is the moon, that's it and how much moon is from none to full. I've painted nocturnes in the winter, and in Italy in the summer,under such a bright moon that there was not a need for an auxillary light source. The moon's ambient light was bright enough to light the palette and painting enough to paint with.
But because of there only being one light source there is very little, or no, reflected light. That's why the shadows go so dark. But even though they're very dark values, they do have color and usually complimentary to the color of the light source.
Also, the moon light is always cool. It's a refected light source from the sun. But it isn't a source of light that is due to it's being generated by heat (warmer light). Of course everything is relative, but compared to any artificial light, the sun or even north light, ti's cooler. Sometimes it's a little more green, a little more blue or even occasionally has a reddish cast, a very cool grayed reddish/violet cast.
Well I could write about this forever. The best way to see these things is to get out and look. Even if it's just with your eyeballs and note taking brain. :)

Marc R. Hanson said...

Hi Frank!!! Good move on the tagging obligation. That would be way too much to do to individually go about it.
Thanks for the comments. I bet you have some great full moons down there to paint??? I can't wait to see what you do.

Marc R. Hanson said...

Robin it's my pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to comment and look in.

Solvay said...

...have been swamped the past several days - and few to come - so I haven't had a chance to read your post. You surely know that I WILL, though - can't wait......but, I wanted to mention that I have been too, layta!, maybe while the turkey's roasting..........the good aromas will accompany the beautiful paintings I'll be seeing and the great lesson in art history I'll be having!

Solvay said...

...well, I wasn't SO swamped that I couldn't post a thing or two on my blog - just because Frank G. sort of prodded me I was busy doing THAT in the wee moments I had available, instead of reading YOUR blog.
: )

Solvay said...

Finally READ it! Interesting. I have always been drawn to your nocturnes - they were the first paintings of yours that I looked at on your main site. Breathtaking...

Anyway, I like that wolf painting you featured in this post - and it was interesting to read about those palettes most commonly used in that era. ...I try to think if it's like a composer choosing a certain tonality.......not exactly the same, but there must be a tie-in somehow - it's all wavelength perception, after all....I think about this a lot....
Happy Thanksgiving!
I'm very grateful for you - yours was the first painter's blog I ever saw - you're the source of this strange and wondrous chapter of my life. So, I thank you! Your paintings have a very special place in my heart's eye!


Marc R. Hanson said...

Thanks Solveg. Hey, I was watching a program on a lady who was climbing the Matterhorn in Switzerland. The second base camp was called 'Sovay'. Guess they opted for the phonetic pronounciation too! ;)

Marc R. Hanson said...

oops 'SOLVAY'

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

Alright, I have just no choice but to link you.
I am also a huge admirer of Trevor Chamberlain and many of the other artists you list here in your posts.
I'd better get to work before I spend all day in blogland which, really, is not a waste of time ;)

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

I forgot to say how much I love these nocturnes and daylight paintings of the same scenes. Lots of great information here. Thanks, Mark.

Jala Pfaff said...

These field studies are so beautiful!

Marc R. Hanson said...

Thank you Jala!

art by susan said...

Marc, just received my Feb 2009 issue of Southwest Art and found your nocturnal painting on page 99 congrats on a great painting as well as the publicity

Maggie Kruger said...

Hi Marc: I own this painting...and love it very much. Maggie Kruger