Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Creating Atmosphere & Tonality in a Painting

Smoky Day in Mt Shasta
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California is experiencing a record number of forest fires, and the smoke from these fires affects Mt Shasta. Although the devastation caused by the fires is heartbreaking, the light effects because of the smoke in the air are dramatic. Early this morning, I traveled deep into the woods behind the Grand View Ranch. As I descended into the brush, I discovered an old Indian path that led me to this secret place. Many early Native Americans made their home near Mt Shasta and their presence is still felt everywhere. I’m sure that many of those early explorers were as impressed by the grand vistas of Mt Shasta as I am. Inspired by the luminous glowing effects of the sun filtered by the smoky air, I quickly painted “Smoky Day in Mt. Shasta,” before the mood and the value changed.

A great landscape painter includes his own emotional experiences for the viewer to identify with and relate to in a painting. Many artists use the subject matter to tell a story. However, when artists paint a landscape, they essentially convey their personal experience of what they see and feel by painting the wondrous effects of the light on objects, and communicate the mood of their story on canvas with beautiful colors on their brushes. Artists can express themselves by using time of day, sunlight, heat and humidity, particles in the air, and even weather to influence the feeling of their painting to open a dialog with the viewer.

Successful artists carefully choose their tools of expression to use before beginning the painting. For example, you might include what kind of light (warm or cool) is present, and what time of day it is. Also, see if you can determine what angle or direction the light is coming from. Observe the light to see if it unifies or divides the values in the scene, and then choose the value and color key that enhances the mood of the painting; a light and bright key for an up-beat mood, and a dark key for a more heavy or subdued mood.

In this example, “Smoky Day in Mt Shasta,” I chose to paint with a middle range of value or a middle color “key” that gives the painting a tranquil effect. The smoke in the atmosphere affects all the colors and objects so the light is consistent throughout the painting. The sun has the highest value and is the lightest color key in the painting. If the overall tonality or key in this painting were too light or too dark, the message of tranquility would be lost.

If you would like to experiment with these tools, begin a painting using a few colors to create an atmospheric color such as a cool bluish-gray or a warm, yellowish-orange, and paint the entire canvas in that color. Then, use dark values and highlights in the same color key to form objects such as trees, rocks, and mountains in the atmosphere, and see what develops.

We, at the Grand View Ranch, are preparing for the fall workshops, and if you have not had the chance to come to a workshop, I invite you to visit our website at

http://www.thegrandview.com/ for information about painting outdoors in Shasta, California. While you are on the website, you can download my free book, “Everything I know About Painting” under “Information” on the home page of the website.

I am offering (for a limited time only) the readers of our blog and Outdoor Painting newsletter, a $75.00 discount off of the price of the workshops that will be held in September and October, 2008. You can call me at 415-606-9074 or register on the website. Space is limited, so call soon.
If you are interested in experiencing a breakthrough weekend that will take your art to the next level, visit our new website at http://www.thegrandview.com/, and you can download my FREE BOOK where I share “Everything I know About Painting.”

I hope that we can build a community of artists that can share information with each other.If you know of any artists that might appreciate being included, let them know about this blog.

I hope to offer more painting tips as this conversation continues. If you have questions that you would like me to answer, please don’t hesitate to email me anytime.

I welcome your feedback. Stefan_Baumann@yahoo.com


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