Night Painting in Rocky Mountain National Park - Perspectives No. 36

Night Painting in
Rocky Mountain National Park

Perspectives No. 36

Pastel painting from Rocky Mountain National Park by John Hulsey
Moon Walk               Pastel              John Hulsey

   We’ve been answering mail lately from artists interested in joining a workshop in Rocky Mountain National Park, and there are a number of folks who are  interested in trying a little painting at night. This excerpt from our article, Painting in Rocky Mountain National Park from The Artist’s Road should give you the flavor of the experience and a solid idea of what you might expect.

   I had been out working in the waxing moonlight for the last couple of nights, but this night it would be full. We decided to take a drive up to Bear Lake at midnight to see if we couldn't paint a pastel and take some photographs of the moon reflected in the water. Outside of the park campgrounds, there is almost no one up and about in the park at night, so we had the whole place to ourselves.

   It felt like we had our own private park for the night, and in my view, it is just one of the many benefits that the artist residency affords the artist. It is an eerie sensation to be walking around on a trail at night, perfectly able to see and navigate, but strangely, delightfully alone, save for whatever nocturnal wildlife might be around. We walked the path to the north side of the lake while we kidded each other about the hungry mountain lions that surely must be near. The aerial perspective of receding mountain peaks bathed in the clear, blue moonlight contrasted perfectly with the deep, inky shadows of the forest surrounding the lake. We set up our pastel gear and began a small painting working with broad strokes of blues and blacks contrasted with the cool whites of the moonlight and its reflection. In order to paint  at night, I have to keep in mind the necessity of making accurate color judgements based on what I actually see, rather than what I think I see.  Nighttime lighting is so very different than daytime that it takes some experience painting it to get any understanding of how the daytime colors of even a familiar landscape are radically altered by moonlight. First of all, the value range is restricted to a very low-key range, almost always composed of deep grey-blues. Then, we notice that unlike daytime, we have a dense dark, which appears to be black. There is the bright moon, which when full, can be very near white. Objects lose all their details and dissolve into broad shapes and silhouettes of subtley-modulated darks. This is really where the camera can be of little assistance to the painter. In order to make a nighttime painting have depth, color and life, we must be able to develop interesting, powerful shapes and put into those shapes all the wonderful subtle shifts in color. This means expanding the darks of our limited low-key value range out like an accordion to approximate the same width of tone we can find during the day.

   If you would like to join us for a painting workshop (and perhaps some nighttime painting, too) in Rocky Mountain National Park in the future, be sure to contact us. 



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The Artist's Road Store
A Primer on Night Painting - Nocturnes

Nocturnes - A Primer on Night Painting

Filled with inspirational examples by the masters of nightime painting, this little book is sure to fire up your creative energies. Never tried painting at night? We show you how it's done with a step-by-step-oil demo and a tale of night painting in the wilds of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Primer on Night Painting - Nocturnes is a 7 x 7" PDF download with 40 pages of text and images. It includes a gallery of paintings by masters of the nocturne, information to inspire and encourage you in your plein air nocturne painting, an illustrated step-by-step demo and tips for working in pastel and oil. Also available in a softcover edition. Check out the tools and other products that we use in our own art and travels in The Artist's Road Store. We only offer things for sale that we enthusiastically believe in.







About Us

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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