View Full Version : 'Painting the Dark' info and demonstration

Deborah Secor
10-26-2007, 03:39 PM
I began this painting after teaching a class on painting the night. We examined how to use rich dark colors, not just black, and how you leave so much to the imagination of the viewer. You get to play with colors—rich, dark colors and bright lights—and the viewer completes a lot of what you leave unsaid. Sometimes it's not what you paint, it's what you don't (have to) paint!

This doesn't mean it's always easy. You still have all of the necessary parts of painting to control—value (a primary concern since you will be working with so much dark and a little light, and you have so few medium values), contrast, color, line, shape, form, balance. But in the night the brightest hues are the sometimes few and far between highlights, while the majority of the rest of the landscape is a somber tone. It takes some practice to paint using a believable balance of dark and light, and to structure a low-key, high contrast painting.

Remember that dark is always defined by light. Without light nothing can be seen. This means that I'm still painting the light—I have to fight not to start to think I'm painting the dark, which too often makes me think of black and gray only. I tell myself, think colorful darks.

I've heard people say that 'in the dark all cats are gray.' This is because vision is predicated on value, which is all we have to rely on in dim light. This is part of what makes the intensity of light very visually attractive, so I try to use those light areas to draw and direct the eye of the viewer.

This one isn't strictly a 'night' painting, it's more of a last-light painting, but I think it makes for an interesting demo. At least, I hope so! The original photo is one of lisilk's (thanks for sharing Li!) and I'm just getting started on it, so I thought I'd share my demo in steps for you.

I painted this on a virgin piece of Wallis paper, 12x18", that I toned a VERY dark blue. I taped the paper down and used a dark blue Townsend pastel all over the paper, then used a wet foam brush to scrub it down, and let it dry. This fills the grain of the paper more than toning usually does, which means I rely a lot on that dark blue. It's the only way I've found to make it truly DARK in color. Wallis paper is so remarkable--even when the grain is slightly full it has a lot of tooth left to play with. :D

I'm sort of taking a risk here since I haven't already resolved this painting. I suppose it would be easier to paint and shoot a series of photos, so before posting I can be sure it's successful, but...well, I'm willing to risk it! :rolleyes:

Trust me, the dark in the bottom half isn't black. Here's a slightly tweaked shot to show a little more accurately what's there right now:
I hope you can see that it's dark blue, dark green and a bit of true black, all mixed together.

I have a lot more to go on this one, so stay tuned!


water girl
10-26-2007, 03:58 PM
Thank you for going into such detail on the porcess. I can't wait to see the end result, although I like it as is.

Deborah Secor
10-26-2007, 04:37 PM
I can't wait to see it either! :D I just looked at the painting again and realized my photo of it is fairly light. Oh well, maybe the next shot will be better.


10-26-2007, 04:49 PM
Thanks for the demo Deborah. I will be watching with interest.


Donna T
10-26-2007, 05:16 PM
Deborah, you are so kind to share this with us. It looks great so far. Something tells me this will be a lesson in values if ever there was one. Thanks!


Deborah Secor
10-26-2007, 06:40 PM
Here's the next step:


I still need to work on the foreground, of course, so ignore that. I'm also planning to tweak the shape of that too-large tree in the distance on our left-hand side.

I like the shine and color on the water right now, although the orange of the rocks may still be too raw. Here are close-ups for you:



I like the way the dark paper is showing through. Can't wait to work on the reflections in the fore.

More to do!


Deborah Secor
10-26-2007, 07:45 PM
Here's all I can do for today. The light is going, which is why all the lights are blown out. I haven't really touched them, except adding a bit of yellow toward the bottom, so you can see how bad the photo is... (sorry!)


So far, I'm really happy with this one. I decided to allow the water in the foreground to move a bit, causing some more interesting light in the water. The color is hard to see.



More later.


Kathryn Wilson
10-26-2007, 09:33 PM
You KNOW how much I like to do night paintings - I love this one and thanks for the demo.

Deborah Secor
10-26-2007, 09:39 PM
Thanks, Kat! :D I love these paintings too... Not long ago I checked out nocturnes using the search here @ WC and saw some really nice stuff.

I'll do more when I get a chance, but there's not too much left to do on this one.


10-26-2007, 11:55 PM
It's good to see how you work up a painting. Is it from a photo, or were you doing it by moonlight?

Deborah Secor
10-27-2007, 09:35 AM
It's a photo from the RIL taken by lisilk. It's very moody. I wonder where the place is?


10-27-2007, 09:53 AM
Beautiful Deborah!

Deborah Secor
10-27-2007, 10:22 AM
Thanks, Stephanie! :)


10-27-2007, 11:02 AM
Oh Deborah - this is marvelous. :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap:

I have to say I started at the top and said.. oh that's perfect - why change it? then the next stage came and I liked it even better - then it got better still. You are so gifted an artist !!! thanks for sharing so much of this talent with us.

Just out of curiousity - I have my pastel box broken down into essentially 5-6 values. do you find that most of the colors you've chosen are in the darkest darks and only a few lights where the reflections on the water are?

It's stunning and I have so much more to learn from you!


Paula Ford
10-27-2007, 11:24 AM
This is so absolutely gorgeous Deborah!!! Thank you so much for the demo. Looking forward to seeing more.


10-27-2007, 11:46 AM
Absolutely fantastic! :clap:

10-27-2007, 01:14 PM
This is great. Eagerly waiting for the "more" part later.

Deborah Secor
10-27-2007, 03:10 PM
Oh, thanks! Glad all of you are enjoying this. I'm having fun! :lol:

Just out of curiousity - I have my pastel box broken down into essentially 5-6 values. do you find that most of the colors you've chosen are in the darkest darks and only a few lights where the reflections on the water are?

Barb, this is built on strong and interesting darks, but there are medium-dark colors used, too. It's just been shifted in contrast from the usual daytime painting. Stronger darks and medium-darks, and more of them; less light colors, mostly left intense. In your five values, if dark was 5, I've used 5, 4, & 1 mostly, (although the photo below doesn't show the subtlety of value 2 that's there in the water.)

Here it is in grayscale.

I shot a couple more photos of it before starting again. I think they're a little better than last night's shots!

Here's my critique of it as it stands now:

I'm happy with the composition. I haven't changed it much from the photo except to crop from the top a bit more. I didn't feel it needed as much foliage. It seems to have the movement I thought it would, from the water up to the light and back, with interesting little side trips to the flowers, rocks and orange bank...

I like the overall tonal structure of the painting. The value contrasts are drawing and holding the eye where I want it to go.

The color pleases me in most respects, the notable exception being the overly orange areas of the water:

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/27-Oct-2007/23609-DSCN7453.JPG That orange is a bit too raw for my taste, although I don't want to lose it, just marry it into the yellow and blue more. I'll play here next. It has a chance to be a very lyrical and beautiful part. The grain of the paper is almost full here, however, so I might have to erase before I can move forward. If so, I'll show you!

Back later!


Deborah Secor
10-27-2007, 04:37 PM
Okay, this is as far as I'm going to go for now. It's time to put it on the back burner and let it simmer for a while. I need to see it anew, which takes time. I often bag it and stick it in my cabinet, where I occasionally go through and pull out things for reconsideration. Then if it looks finished it goes in the portfolio, and if not it gets more work.


Here's a close-up of how I carried through the orangey area of the water. I didn't erase, but there's one spot where it's fragile. I've learned when it gets that way to leave well enough alone!

If there are questions or thoughts, I'm open! :wave:


Paula Ford
10-27-2007, 05:44 PM
Deborah, I just see one thing. The tree that is leaning to the left over the creek, it looks like it is getting thicker towards the top.

This painting is so beautiful!!


Deborah Secor
10-27-2007, 05:51 PM
Good catch! Thanks, Paula. I hadn't seen that.

I'm fairly sure this one isn't a winner. It lost that freshness...but then you never know what might come of that! I've been known to take it out in a month or two and gaily wipe out and recover things. Time will tell.


10-28-2007, 02:53 PM

Thank you so much for the wonderful demo! I haven't been painting for several months but you have inspired me to pick up my sticks again.



David Patterson
10-28-2007, 04:35 PM
Great light in these Deborah...love the demo!


Mary Brigid
10-28-2007, 07:09 PM
Love this demo Deborah. The orange in the water looks marvelous. You are always so brave with your colours
Mary Brigid

Kathryn Wilson
10-28-2007, 07:17 PM
You know how I love this - but I have a nit also. The yellow light in the water looks too solid