Our increasing familiarity with the view from our window can help us become more sensitive to the ways that the environments around us are constantly changing, with the time of day and weather altering the light and colour that we see. One subject can be approached multiple times under the different conditions, yielding drastically different results. This is especially relevant to painting, but even when we draw, we capture different conditions of light.
Light conditions can drastically change our subjects as time of day, and weather conditions change. It is a good exercise to study this, as it will help you develop a sensitivity to light and colour. It can be easy to use colour in a generic way, but by observing the same subject under fresh lighting conditions, you can make comparisons and tune your ability to see colour.
(Claude Monet – Wheatstacks Series – 'Snow Effect, Overcast Day', 'At Sunset, Frosty Weather', 'Thaw, at Sunset', 'Wheatstack' This series of paintings is one of the most well known examples of revisiting a subject under different conditions. Monet created multiple canvases in parallel, working on the painting most similar to the conditions at hand and switching when the light changed. Some paintings capture very brief time periods of the day)
Broadly, we can split natural light into several main types:
However, these are just generalisations, and different weather and environmental effects will alter colour in subtle ways. Sometimes sunsets are more pink than gold. Large amounts of atmospheric particles, like pollution, or sand, may alter the colour of the sky. Heavy rain and dense clouds will obscure your subject, as well as reduce the amount of light in the scene, making it darker.
Night scenes are a challenge to paint, as we are unable to see our palettes or paintings clearly. We are also forced into a dark, and narrow tonal range, which is very different to the world of light and contrast we are used to. As light decreases, our ability to perceive colour diminishes, until we are eventually left with only black and white vision. In dim light, it is important to observe colour and light carefully. Besides man-made light sources, the sky will be a weak source of light, and will be lighter than the land.
(John Atkinson Grimshaw – 'Shipping on the Clyde' Grimshaw was most known for his depictions of night scenes. Notice the difference between the warm colours of man-made light, and the green-blues of the sky)
A big issue to watch out for when painting night scenes is the Hollywood look. One way films emulate a night scene is to shoot everything through a blue filter; however, this is not how our vision actually works. Avoid painting everything blue – unless that is your intention – and try to compare the different colours in your scene. In particular, look for greens, which we often see better than other colours. We cannot perceive reds well in low light conditions, so they tend to look dark.
Weather can play a dramatic role in our work. Often we cherry pick the best weather to go out and paint, but different conditions can be used to add variety to our work. Admittedly, trying to draw and paint in high winds is near impossible without cover, but it is no issue to do studies from one's own window, or car.
(Heinrich Gogarten - 'München Winterwald mit Jägern' (Munich Winter Forest with Hunters) It is unusual to see wind depicted in art, but here we can clearly see it reshape the trees and foliage)
Overcast light will remove a lot of the contrast in our scene, but rain or snow will limit how far we can see as they get heavier. This can create interesting and more expressive atmospheric effects – something that you don't get on a calm, sunny day. Snow in particular creates some unusual weather effects that we can easily observe as it sticks around on the ground. Typically, landscapes are darker than the sky. With white snow reflecting the sun, this can be turned upside down as the values for the snow are often as bright, if not brighter, than the sky.
(John Fabian Carlson – 'A Stream in Winter')
Your challenge is to create a series of colour studies of the view outside your window, selecting different times of day, and different weather conditions. Pick times to do studies that are around the clock, including at night. Try to keep these quite small and quick, concentrating on broad shapes, overall colour dominances in the scene, and how the shadows are changing your tonal composition. You will also find that the light changes too much if you work for more than half an hour, or even less towards dawn and dusk.
(These gouache colour studies show the view from my window over different weathers and times of day)
If you are not a painter, a good alternative is to create tonal studies. Ink and charcoal are particularly effective mediums for this, as they can create the deep blacks needed to capture strong contrasts, and create broad, tonal shapes.
(This ink and wash picture was created from a window view at night)
This is the tenth of our weekly 'Drawing From Home' blog posts, commissioned during lockdown to help you draw more at home. Please do share your drawings with us, as we would love to see what everyone is up! Just tag us with @Draw_Brighton on social media or use the #DrawingFromHome #DrawBrighton hastags. These articles are written by Lancelot Richardson, commissioned using money raised by the Draw Patreon.