Friday, November 30, 2012

Painting Nocturnes

Moonlight Over Meigs Point, 12 x 36, acrylic on linen


I'm working on pieces for a nocturne show in New York coming up in January. I showed you this one a few posts back while talking about Romantic art. Here it is in the frame I chose for it. I wanted something warm and dark, but not too dark or else the piece will seem heavy and oppressive. The gold fillet and trim on the outside edges was just perfect to keep this brightened up.

I also recently had this professionally photographed and wanted to show you the impasto and texture that is in this piece.

Detail 1


One of the things about nocturnes, or night scenes, is that naturally they are dark, relying on low chroma colors, and low value mixes. Contrast with whatever light source there is provides the greatest interest and drama, as well as the focal point in most cases for the painting. But often times something else is needed to create enough interest in a dark painting and texture is a good way to create that interest. Interestingly this is also the case in very high key, light chroma paintings, which run the risk of looking washed out and uninteresting with out a surface element of texture.

Detail 2

In this case the textural elements were sometimes planned as in the sky where I did significant work with a palette knife and in other places, such as the detail above the texture build up as a result of the painting process itself.

Acrylics are fun because there are so many mediums you can add to your paint to create different effects. I used several things in this piece including soft gel, heavy gel, and fiber paste. 

This piece took a long time to do. Years actually. It had many starts and false finishes before it was done. It's one of those pieces that I knew was worthwhile but it was a struggle to bring it around. It's been worked on, put away, brought out again, moved from one house to another, stored in the laundry room, and finally brought out again to be finished. It's based on a real scene, someplace I actually witnessed this beautiful moon over the water and sketched and took photos. Several photo references were combined in Photoshop to create the composite composition and then a fair amount of memory and imagination were added. 

One of the things for me about painting nocturnes is that they must capture that somewhat eerie, uncertain feeling we all get (even if we suppress it and send it to the very back of our minds) when we are out in the dark. There is something both fascinating and terrifying about the dark. Something we like to marvel at. If we are comfortable and secure where we are the dark can be still, and overwhelmingly peaceful. If that's not the case the dark can provoke panic. But the dark is a tricky thing, as is our imagination, because even in a very familiar place things can look different in the dark and bring on a wave of anxiety. These are very old and very deep feelings that have been with humans from the very beginning I believe. 

That's why nocturnes are so interesting to look at and to paint. They're very nature is contradictory. They can speak of both peace and danger, they can show both light and dark. Fascinating, evocative mood and atmosphere are the mainstay of an effective nocturne.

I'm hoping to get one more done before the show date. Stay tuned!

2 comments:

Joan Cole said...

Beautiful, beautiful paintings, Jan. I just love the mood in these.

Terri L. West said...

Love it! I hope to paint one someday too. I love your dialog on your paintings! Thanks!