Painting During the Golden Hour

It’s no secret that Brian Keeler’s landscape paintings are filled with stunning light. The sunsets in his work are quiet, and take us to a time and place where drivers wave to each other on the backroads, and folks sit on their front porches with glasses of sun tea as they watch the clouds go by. I identify with Keeler’s rural scenes in particular, and it’s my pleasure to bring you his thoughts on and process for painting during the spectacular time of day known as the “golden hour,” when light is at its best.

landscape painting by Brian Keeler

Cayuga Moon, Sheldrake Point, NY (oil on linen, 30×36) by Brian Keeler

“Painting the landscape, figure or portrait with dramatic light effects has a long and distinguished lineage of artists that we can look to for inspiration,” he says. “The 17th century Baroque artists who portrayed the figure as their main theme is probably the best place to look for this artistic heritage, with painters like Caravaggio, Rembrandt, DeLatour, Velazquez, and others. With the landscape painters it came a little later with painters such as Turner, Lorrain, and Constable. But our plein air proto-impressionist painter is Corot who trail-blazed in the Italian and French countrysides in the early 19th century, painting directly from the motif. The tradition of painting light in the landscape came to certain apogee in the last part of the 19th century with the impressionist painters and one of my favorites, John Singer Sargent.

“In my own work, I like to paint during these hours of high drama at the end of the day or sometime early in the morning. During these times of day, the raking light of the sun brings out the forms, chromo, and heightening essential aspects of the landscape. The quality of light gives us a good boost of juice to seize the moment and express what we see on our canvases. Whether we’re looking directly toward a sunset, at the effects of late afternoon sunlight (observing the play of light as it courses over and around forms), or watching the cast shadows that reveal the topography, we avail ourselves of the inherent drama of atmosphere at its most sublime and dramatic. When skyscapes and clouds enter into our consideration they add another entire element to our expressive possibilities.

Over Watkins landscape painting by Brian Keeler

Over Watkins Glen, NY (oil on linen, 26×30) by Brian Keeler

“When I paint at these times, being direct and marshaling my skills to compose, draw, articulate, and express the beauty of the landscape is at once very challenging and rewarding. I often do quick sketches ahead of time. The purpose of these sketches isn’t to show detail, but to arrive at an initial statement of the division of space and intervals, and determine the main actors in these ‘operas.’ I start the canvas in the same way as the thumbnail sketches, which is to quickly lay in the main divisions and articulate objects with a short hand of strokes to indicate strategically placed reference points. I try to get a more or less complete statement in one sitting, whether it be an hour or three or four. I usually spend time with them back in the studio, tuning them up and bringing them to resolution, which may take several days.” ~Brian Keeler

I’d like to thank Keeler for taking the time to share this with us, and encourage you to watch this preview of his instructional video,”Oil Painting Techniques: Brilliant Light” (above). Even better–North Light Shop is featuring an exclusive collection on painting the landscape in oil with Brian Keeler. The deluxe kit includes three DVDs, the book Dramatic Color in the Landscape, a color wheel, and a New Wave Palette.

Now that spring is here, I hope you find many mornings and evenings to enjoy the golden hour yourself, be it with a canvas and paint, or simply sitting outside with a glass of tea.

Until next time,

Cherie Haas, online editor**Free download: Oil Painting Tips for Beginners: Learn How to Oil Paint!
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