|Fire and Ice by John Hulsey, watercolor.|
We both love painting landscapes outside, especially in the winter, when the air is clear and the landscape is reduced to its architectural purity. But winter weather conditions are rarely moderate in the places we paint, so we have developed some strategies that enable us to work en plein air in relative comfort.
The biggest reason we are motivated to brave the elements is for the light. In winter, the sun is off to the south, and the light rakes across our latitude at an angle, causing longer shadows and greater contrasts, especially when there is snow cover. Snow reverses the usual sky/ground contrast; the ground is now lighter than the sky. However, this can cause other problems for landscape artists. In full sun the extreme brightness of the light reflecting off the snow causes our irises to narrow down to protect us, which causes our perception of depth of field to extend fully, forcing everything from background to foreground into sharp focus, accompanied by a general darkening of our subject.
|Ice Storm by Ann Trusty, oil.|
In order to create a focal point in our plein air painting, we have to be aware that this is happening and then compensate by selectively choosing to un-focus the other parts of our composition. Sunglasses can help, too, but they also cause changes in what we’re seeing that might not be desirable, so more adjustments have to be made. Shadows in a snowy scene are not only bluer, but appear deeper as well. Because our eyes have adjusted to the brightness of the snow, the shadows often appear too dark, and it is easy to paint them that way as a result. If we only gaze at the shadow areas for awhile, our eyes readjust, showing the true value, but as soon as we look back into the bright snow, they adjust again! This is one situation where the histogram in the digital camera can be helpful in showing the relative value shift between the brightest areas and the shadows.
|Tracks I by John Hulsey, watercolor.|
The combination of extreme winter weather and the unique lighting conditions force many landscape painting artists to abandon the fields until spring. But we look forward to winter painting and think its advantages are worth the trouble. Do you? What winter painting adventures have you experienced? We would love hearing from you!
And to see a step-by-step demonstration of a winter plein air painting visit us at our website, The Artist’s Road.
To be continued next week…!
John & Ann