It’s a few years in a row London has had a powdering of snow. Each time I’m keen to get out and paint it. Everything is simplified and the white reflects the light back up into the scene. It has also been a chance to refine my choices of tone. Many painters seem to believe that there is a “right” tone, and that any tone can be accurately mixed. In my experience this is just not the case. There are just too many variables, and degrees of subjectivity. Painting a scene from the shade for example will produce a different feeling than painting the same scene standing in the full light, neither will be right or wrong just a different take on the same thing. A photograph may be taken at different exposures but the perfect exposure is a matter of subjective taste, so the spread of acceptable tones making up the image might be quite wide. As painters we therefore have a choice as to what “key” to set our painting in. What is important is the relative relationships between the tones. Below is an example deliberately exaggerated but I hope it shows what I mean.
Above are three variations on the same subject the extremes are too extreme but it should be plain that a perfectly good picture can result from more than one ranges of tone and no particular range is more or less right. In each one the whole range has been compressed one to light the other dark but the internal tones have the same relative relationships as the centre one. There are some paintings by Monet of the Seine that show the same raising and lowering of the key to great effect.
He painted ten or so of this scene in all different moods. In order to exploit this you need to decide from the outset what is to be your darkest dark and your lightest light. Then arrange the rest of the tones to fit it is always tempting to use the full range from light to dark in every painting, but if you resist this and work to a restricted range that suites the subject then I hope you will find interesting results as I have. So that’s the thought for the day over, now some recent efforts. Some can be clicked for a larger view.
This is Galway Harbour in Ireland. I sketched it on site, but the rain prevented me starting to paint and besides I was meant to be doing Christmas
shopping not painting. It is done on “hot pressed” paper which I don’t often use but it is quite good for these complex ship scenes.
Out with the Brass Monkeys again. Here is a picture where I didn’t stop to think about the relative tones before starting and I paid the price in getting an
average painting from a quite good subject. Not a scraper but nearly!
This was painted in about twenty minutes, it had to be fast because the sun was about to come into view and I would have to stop. These are the spice
wharfs where exotic flavours were once offloaded from distant parts. Only a sketch but I was pleased to get this much down so quickly.
Snow at last! Waking up to see a good covering of snow I put my day on hold and set off up to Blackheath. On this one I tried an experiment in that
I put the figures in almost first thing. This was prompted by this couple who I got a snap of as they approached me. I drew them in squinting at the
screen on the back of my camera. It really helped to have them there from the start though, better I think than adding them after. The light was so
constant that I could take my time with this.
I hadn’t intended to do another due to the cold but I couldn’t resist this. I sat on the nice warm bonnet of my car and stood on a bit of polystyrene to keep
the cold at bay. Again I had plenty of time and enjoyed attempting to get the subtle tones in place.
This is another outing with the Brass Monkeys, the light was very flat at first and worryingly the pub I had told the group to meet at was boarded up!
I did my best with this but the light wasn’t very inspiring, I have a feeling it might make a good watercolour. As I was finishing this Mike Richardson
arrived and we decided to go up on to the downs in search of snow.
After driving up a very slippery track this was what we found. Paints were set up pronto and the light improved as we painted. A very easy subject but
the way the snow subtly changes hue and tone make fascinating painting.
I rotated 90 degrees to do my next one looking out over the Medway valley.
Last one of the day, neither of us could resist this wide view of the Medway curving across the valley below.