Recently we added an informative article to the members' area of The Artist's Road called "Understanding Light in the Landscape: The Carlson Theory of Angles." It gives the student a crucial tool to make sense of the confusing array of values seen in the landscape when plein air painting. Normally the value planes, as Carlson explains them, are, from lightest to darkest: Sky, Ground, Slopes and Mountains, Trees (or verticals of any kind).
|The value planes, as Carlson explains them, are, from lightest to darkest:
Sky, Ground, Slopes and Mountains, Trees (or verticals of any kind).
While under "normal" circumstances, Carlson's system can be relied upon as a guide to ordering the four main values in a landscape painting, there are circumstances during the year when the values get a little topsy-turvy. Spring is one of them. During the very early spring, just as the light-colored new leaves emerge, you will notice that the second lightest value in the landscape will be the new leaves, especially if you are painting into the light. Next lightest will be the ground, then the slopes and darkest will be the vertical elements, such as the trees. In a sense, we now have five main values with the addition of a second lightest tone in the leaves. Carlson's painting above shows this situation. Fall is another season in which the plein air painter can expand the value range to advantage. Brightly colored leaves lit by the afternoon sun can turn the trees into Japanese lanterns of light, trumping the value of the ground significantly. Carlson also loved to paint snow scenes, as we do. Snow creates another situation in which values are flipped. When full daylight is on snow, the snow will become brighter than any part of the sky except that nearest the sun.
We have been putting Carlson's theories to use while painting in the Flint Hills of Kansas this spring. The last of the winter colors of the grasses are still present along with the emerging new greens of spring. Along the tree-lined creek beds and sloughs we are finding that the second brightest values are indeed the emerging new leaves in the upper branches. The scene is at its best in the late afternoon when the low angle of the sun backlights the trees and creates luminous pale yellow-green masses that contrast very effectively with the ochres and russets of the bluestem grasses. In a few weeks or less, the grasses will catch up to the leaves and we'll lose that wonderful play of color.
We'll be painting more in the quiet beauty of the Flint Hills over the coming weeks and will soon show you some of our favorite landscapes and paintings from the open vistas of the Great Plains, inspired by Walt Whitman's quote: "As to the scenery (giving my own thought and feeling) while I know the standard claim is that Yosemite, Niagara Falls, the Upper Yellowstone, and the like afford the greatest natural shows, I am not so sure but the prairies and plains, while less stunning at first sight, last longer, fill the aesthetic sense fuller, precede all the rest, and make North America's characteristic landscape. Even (the prairies's) simplest statistics are sublime."
John & Ann
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