Water and the Night - Perspectives from The Artist's Road

Water and the Night

Perspectives from The Artist’s Road


Night Painting on the Pond, 9 x 12", Oil, © JM Hulsey
Night Painting on the Pond          Oil          © JM Hulsey

   Painting outdoors in the night reawakens childhood memories of nighttime adventures with my brothers and sisters. With no adults around, it was our special world of imagination and play. We made up games which relied on the concealments of the darkness. These days, I am still exploring the concealments of night in my nocturne paintings. Working outdoors at night opens up all the senses to the new sounds, smells and mysterious shapes and shadows which supplant the familiar daytime world.

   Whenever there is moonlight, I take my studio boat out to paint on the still waters of the large pond next door. This is a very special experience—in many ways, even a spiritual one. Nature provides the grandest cathedral of them all in which to contemplate the world and create. And, it is quiet. Reflections double the landscape and sky, creating a wonderful confusion between the land and water. The marine life adds even more excitement to the menagerie of other nocturnal animals moving about on shore. There is nothing quite like the unexpected loud splash of a jumping bass right next to the boat or the sudden slap of a beaver’s tail to break one’s concentration! All part of the admission price.

   Art history is rich with Nocturne masterpieces, but the intrusions of ever-increasing amounts of artificial lighting into our night skies makes it very difficult for artists today to find somewhere sufficiently dark to paint moonlit rural scenes. Darkness has become a disappearing resource.

   There are other challenges to painting at night as well. The colors and values on our nocturne palettes are quite different from those we use in the daylight. At night, we can only see in a very limited range of values. From the white of the moon to the black of the deepest shadows, we might only discern three or perhaps four steps. So we must expand artificially the tonal range and remember to paint things lighter then what we actually see, or our paintings might well look dark and dull under room light. The color cones in our eyes have shut down, switching to the nearly color-blind rods to see in the dark. We must imagine the colors.

   One needs to use a bit of artificial light to make out the palette and canvas, but that light must be color balanced and very soft or we risk overpowering our vision. So there is some trial and error to the nocturne-learning curve. What we are doing with those skills is creating a believable illusion of the nighttime world which doesn’t actually exist! Try it—we think you will find it is well worth the effort.

The Conversation, 9 x 12", Oil, © JM Hulsey
The Conversation          Oil          © JM Hulsey


Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
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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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 Hulsey Trusty Studios