Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Nocturne

I don't know why but I really have this thing for nocturnes...I love them. I tried doing one once but it was horrible. Night colors are so different to day colors and I just didn't get it. I loved seeing the works of Whistler and Grandville Redmond and lots of others. They have such an eerie feeling to them, and although I'm not an eerie kind of guy, I'm attracted to them all the same. At the house of a painter friend I saw some nocturnes he had done...really nice ones. Like most of the other nocturnes I had seen before I studied how he handled the scene. Always taking mental notes which is what I do constantly when looking at other artists work.

So....last night before going to bed I decided I might as well try one since I had 2 8"x10"'s gessoed up and ready to go. An 8x10 is not a huge canvas to lose if the painting goes sour...besides, I'm good enough now to recognize a bad piece as it progresses and can wipe that baby down in a heartbeat while the paint is still wet. Frugal...that's what my middle name should have been.

This scene I painted does not exists anywhere except in my head. I wanted sky, a distant mountain range, a big tree and some smaller ones behind it to create depth. There is a tree close to where I live on a slanted hilside that I took pics of the other day...again, and I just tried to visualize it when doing this one. I'm still not the expert at painting nocturnes but I figured the use of blues and greys would mute my colors enough to read as night colors. My tree here probably has too much color in it and in the future I'll try going darker there. The way different artists handle nocturnes is kind of strange...some paint them really dark which makes sense to is night time, but others paint them really bright. Whistler handled them both ways so I'll try the same...the guy was pretty damned good at painting so I have no problem following his lead in variety rules.

I'd like to explain my color mixes better but honestly so much of it was done on the fly I really would have a hard time doing it. I used my usual dark mix for the tree and then added slightly more yellow and grey to make the tree highlights....well, mids because there is no highlights on the tree. The grasses were just using this mid color and maybe adding some barely brighter grey or greens to them in places. Seat of the pants type or work there. The trail started out as just a splash of yellow ochre dulled with dark grey as just a small foreground highlight but my mix was too bright and I used too large of a brush. The first thing that came to mind was it looked like a flat patch of dirt in the dark to me and then I thought "trail"....a dew additional strokes and trail is was. Hey, it's my imagination so I can do what I want there. is my finished piece which now sits drying on a shelf and I'm pretty happy with it...turned out much better than I thought and most of it done Alla Prima last night. I did however mess with the foreground grasses some more this monring so I can't really call it an alla prima totally...but mostly.

"The Foot Trail"

8"x10" Oil on canvas

and some details....


stacydesign said...

Hi Ron,

Great painting!!!

Good morning Ron,

I was so excited to see your e-mail yesterday! Thank you so much for the help on mixing distant mountains!!! Last night my husband gave me the best 5th anniversary present ... we spent the evening mixing red/yellow/blue with varying amounts of white and the end results were so beautiful. I am making charts (& labeling my combinations) to have just incase I start going the wrong directions (I'm a Gemini & dyslexic so I have a tendency to get distracted. I told him that was the best anniversary present he could give me (just got married for the first time 5 years ago at age 55 ... he was worth waiting for). He's an architect, contractor & painter but he paints in acrylics so he sometimes can't help me.

I tried your exercise with titanium white, bit of ultramarine blue & tiny dab of alizarin crimson & like magic the end result was what I was trying to get! It is so wonderful when artists share their knowledge instead of hoarding it. I spent the last 22 years being a calligrapher which I realized I didn't like (too much stress ... no errors allowed). As you can tell from the pictures I've enclosed my style has jumped all around. I started painting last June after not doing any painting for 40 years & even then I just dabbled. I graduated from SFSU in 1969 during the "just express yourself" method of teaching and as a result I missed out on the basic skills (like mixing colors etc). I keep thinking I should take a class but I would have to swallow my pride to take a beginning class. There is a guy in the bay area, Sterling Hoffman, who does plein air workshops that John (my husband) & I are considering.

I don't have a webpage or blog yet (on my to do list) so don't have a way to send you my pics ... I tried sending them in a reply to your e-mail but it came back).

Thanks again for your generous help.


Ron Guthrie said...

Hi Maggie,
That's pretty cool you & John had fun doing color mixes...good thing he is an artist too so you both have that in common. The plein air workshop sounds like a lot of fun. I have an aunt who lives in SF right now. My first painting class in college was totally almost the same, I had a teacher who assumed we all knew everything about painting and just handed out assignments to be completed...I learned more from old Walter Foster books the following summer in my garage (look for the one by William Palluth called "Painting in Oils", usually found at Michaels in case you want more info on color mixing).
You can also get lts of help at It's a website all about learning anything art...I'm usually in the Landscape forum. You can post your work there and ask questions of others there too...they even have a Forum on color mixing and lots of info on color mixing in various threads there.
After you join there you can send private messages just like email back and forth with artists and send photos through that too. You and John should join's free and you'll learn a lot and be able to share your work with other artists....get good feedback and critique too.
I love caligraphy too but not very good at it due to the no room for error thing. They have a Caligraphy Forum at WC too!
my email is so you can send your pics...
Keep in touch Maggie.

Julianne said...

Hi Ron,

Long time! How are you? This is really lovely! It's got that lovely night time air of mystery to it!

Ron Guthrie said...

Hi Julianne,
Have been busy trying to learn my buns off...great to see you again Julianne...I'm always expecting to see your face on an album cover whenever I pass a music store!
I need to get over to AA and see what's going on there. Thanks for the comments, hope all is well with you young lady.