Sunlight and Atmosphere

posted in: Painting | 1

In the 1600s Claude Lorraine experiments with light, atmosphere and distance. He observes that foreground information can be tucked into shadows with deep darks broken by a few sharp light edges. He further concludes that a feeling of great distance can be built from dissolved edges and light colors. When juxtaposed within a picture these two opposing conditions create a poetic meditation with an infinite feeling of distance preceded by intimate, shadowed foreground (example 1).
Many artists built on Claude’s discoveries. Among them were J.M.W.Turner and later, George Inness. Inness takes the obscuring atmospheres of Turner and applies them to the northeastern US. He finds tranquil domestic landscapes bathed in a fog of light as you see in Example 2. You can visit this painting at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA courtesy of the generosity of Catherine and Frank Martucci. Inness offers us rich darker foreground textures to a distance dissolving into luminous air.
Example 1. Claude Lorraine from 17th century,

Example 2. George Inness from 1891, Montclair NJ,

In my first example I begin with an older painting which already has a soft atmosphere. I will use this painting as my underpainting (example 3). Step two (example 4) demonstrates me blocking in my next painting as I cover parts of the underpainting. Step three (example 5) presents the painting further developed but, lacking the obscuring luminous atmosphere which you see applied in Step four (example 6).
Example 3, step one, the original underpainting,

Example 4, Step two, Blocking in,

Example 5, Step three, further developments,

Example 6, Step four, after glazing with semi opaque pigments,

The universal depth-giving qualities of atmospheric perspective can also be seen in my painting of city streets  in example 7. The painting is an abstracted view of a street corner and receives its feeling of space from both linear and atmospheric perspective.

Example 7 presents the first stage of this painting.

Often I feel an image can become crowded with too much  information and begs for simplification. The application of a luminous atmosphere can be of great service here. Observe the painting as it appears in step one then, simplified in step two (examples 8 and 9).
Example 8, Image before simplification and abstraction,

Example 9, Image after Simplifying and abstracting with atmospherics,

Examples 8 and 9 demonstrate the value of simplification but, there can be a reversed solution such as you see in examples 10 and 11.  In example 10 I begin with simplicity as you see with the graphic blocking-in of shapes.  I follow-up with an application of more textures and shape varieties as developed in example 11.  Example 11 also relies on atmospheric obfuscation along the top of the tree line and the edge of the meadow.

Example 10, Step one, “Cattails,” with graphic Blocking-in,

Example 11. Step two, “Cattails,” with later application of more visual noise with varieties of shapes.

I invite you to join me this April 20-23, 2017 (Thursday through Sunday) the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach sponsors of workshop with me; two days on location and two days in the studio. Call Sara Bass at 904-280-0614 x 204 or register at .
Please join me for a lecture on COLOR: ITS MEANINGS AND USES ACROSS TIME AND CULTURES  at the Silvermine Art Center  in New Canaan, Ct. on Sunday March 5, 2017 at 4:30 pm.

One Response

  1. Great stuff! I usually exceedingly favor the superb “pastorals” you always produce. But the Example 7 in this blog and the Example 7 in Overlapping Rhythms are just TOO COOL. Kind of wondering if they were BOTH painted in close chronological proximity? Still a fan of David’s in STL.

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