Fog and Mist - Perspectives No. 111

Fog and Mist
Perspectives No. 111

Meadow Walk IV by John Hulsey   Meadow Walk by John Hulsey
             Meadow Walk IV            30 x 40"             Oil                Meadow Walk             30 x 40"             Oil

   We often receive questions from a readers about how to paint one of our favorite landscape subjects - fog and mist. To understand how to paint light effects, it can be helpful to have a basic understanding of why things work the way they do. Light starts with the sun. As it penetrates our thin shell of atmosphere, it is diffused, or broken into different wavelengths. The result of this diffusion we perceive as the general color of sunlight. The sky is not really a blue substance but sunlight which has been scattered sufficiently that only the blue end of the spectrum reaches our eyes.

   Since the atmosphere is the same shape as our planet, it is curved over our heads. This means that we look through the least amount of atmosphere when we look straight overhead. That’s why the sky appears darker blue overhead. As we lower our vision toward the horizon, we must look through increasingly thicker amounts of atmosphere. The blue at the horizon is often paler and warmer for this reason.

   Our atmosphere is largely made up of gasses, such as oxygen, but also contains vast amounts of water vapor and other aerosols and pollution which can color the light we perceive. This is the reason why, even on a clear day, a white structure some distance away will be cooler and duller than it would appear up close. 

   Fog and mist, being made of water vapor, tend to appear as a cool color, even blueish at times. Sunlight striking dense fog is further diffused, which can cause an overall, seemingly directionless illumination. With a light fog or heavy mist, there can be a centrally lit, but gauzy kind of light that makes the scene beautifully ethereal. This is one of our favorite lighting situations and is the subject of a suite of John’s four large oils in the Meadow Walk series above.

   To convincingly paint these effects, we must remember that the upshot of this light diffusion means that objects within and behind the fog or mist begin to lose their detail, color saturation and value in proportion to the density of the mist and the distance those objects are from the observer. In most cases, objects also lose some or all of the yellow component in their local color as they recede in the background, making them appear  cooler. So things get softer, cooler and paler as they recede. Keep in mind that the cooler color of the mist should be mixed into the color of everything it touches, and all those objects must be painted correctly individually. Especially in the case of streaming sunbeams, as in the paintings above, one cannot simply glaze a thinned-down white sunbeam over all the objects to create an accurate and believable effect.

Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
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Photograph of John Hulsey and Ann Trusty in Glacier National Park
We are artists, authors and teachers with over 40 years of experience in painting the world's beautiful places. We created The Artist's Road in order to share our knowledge and experiences with you, and create a community of like-minded individuals.  You can learn more about us and see our original paintings by clicking on the links below.
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