Painting in the Dark
Artist Ron Stocke has been painting en plein air in some fashion for more than 20 years, but a few years ago, when he first tried painting at night on location, he encountered new challenges that reminded him of that time when he first started painting outside.
“I was preparing for a nocturnal series of paintings,” says Stocke. “And, unlike painting during the day with natural light, when painting at night, you’re often confronted with multiple light sources. Light from inside shop windows, street and public lighting, and headlights from the many passing vehicles — they all can cast separate shadows that can be confusing. My solution for this situation? Isolate the main light source and stick with it.”
In spite of any added complexity, like most artists, Stocke relishes any opportunity to find additional hours in the day (or night) for painting. Below, he shares a few quick tips and essential tools for painting at night en plein air, so you can enjoy your time painting outdoors — even after the sun goes down!
Let There Be Light
Stocke likes to set up and start drawing while there’s still light. Then, as the light disappears, he clips on a headlamp. “Be aware of the temperature of your light,” advises Stocke. “If it’s too warm, it will affect how you see the color.”
Plein Air Painting at Night ToolKit
To set up on location, Stocke uses a camera tripod with a Sienna plein air panel holder to carry his board and paper. “I made the shelf out of a piece of sheet aluminum,” he explains, “which is sturdy enough to hold my palette, brushes and water.”
Other essential supplies include:
Brushes: Both natural and synthetic. “I usually bring fewer at night than I would for daytime painting,” says Stocke. “The fewer items I bring, the fewer I might lose in the dark!”
Palette: The artist uses the same palette whether he’s painting in the studio or on location. This way, he is familiar with the color arrangement.
Miscellaneous: When painting on location, he also brings along a collapsible water container, a headlamp (or other light source) and layered clothing. “It’s not uncommon to experience dramatic temperature shifts in a short period of time once the sun sets,” notes Stocke.
1. The best advice is to pack light when on location – especially when painting at night. It will make the whole experience more enjoyable.
2. Stay focused on your painting. It’s easy to get caught up in everything that’s happening around you.
3. Don’t overdo the details. Stocke’s rule is: If you can’t hit it with a baseball, don’t paint it.
4. If your painting isn’t drying, try adding an opaque color to the mix. This will allow you to define the edges better. The end result will be a soft edge that delivers beautiful transitional areas.