Painting the light effects created by fog can be frustrating at first. Fog is generally moving, so trying to paint it on-site makes the scene ever-changing. This can be maddening, and may cause artists—like Claude Monet—to put a foot right through their canvas! Since we don’t want you to feel foggy when painting, or ruin any of your precious art supplies, we’re here to share a quick and simple solution.
Supersized Photo Reference
For our oil classes, we developed a good exercise which can go a long way toward elucidating the fundamentals of painting fog effects. Instead of trying to keep up with a moving subject, we have our class work in the studio, using one of our photos greatly enlarged.
To make it even more interesting we use an image taken on an exceptional day, when warm yellow sunlight back-lit the subject, turning the normally cool-toned bluish-gray fog effect on its pictorial head. Everything in our subject was suffused with this yellowy tone, even the snow. This can present a serious color mixing and value-matching challenge.
The Value of Color Mixing
Using a large, strong photo reference (such as the one we use in our class), break the image down into large masses of tone and then carefully analyze and match the values and temperatures of those in a pool of color mixed on the palette.
For our yellow-infused, fog-filled image, we identified four main masses in the subject and started to mix the darkest values of each color first. This was followed by mixing a color string of the other tones within that mass until we had all the apparent colors/values mixed and ready. This may sound like a tedious approach to the problem, but it doesn’t take long to do–and it’s a very accurate method.
The importance of this process cannot be overstated. It can save artists from constantly making corrections to colors and main values when painting, which can greatly speed up progress while adapting to a shape-shifting subject outside.
Any of the color strings can be cross-mixed with another and still work as a whole. All that remains when painting is to lighten, or perhaps darken, your colors as necessary.
In short, this exercise is great for teaching artists how to assess colors and tones as large masses/shapes and quickly mix up the correct matches—important, since painting fog is a kind of performance art. Painting outside means there will be moments when the fog lifts in basically no time at all, and your once hauntingly beautiful subject for your next masterpiece has, well, literally evaporated.
–John and Ann