Lights in the Sky, Lights from the Land: Moonlight

October 27, 2020

Watching the Landscape, near Malham, North Yorkshire: watercolour
These fields seemed like a magic staircase in the landscape so I transformed this very green daytime scene into the pale yellows and dark blue of moonlight

This week’s challenge is the moon and its effects on the landscape.  You may paint an observed scene or introduce something more imaginative. The works of Turner and Samuel Palmer combine large elements of observation with imagination. Much smaller than the sun its size is often exaggerated in paintings; look at Turner’s watercolour sketch of Shields Lighthouse, 1823-26.

Several of Turner’s works together with works by Samuel Palmer and the contemporary artists John Caple and Richard Cartwright and others feature on the Pinterest Board titled Lights in the Sky, Lights from the Land, section: Moon and Stars, Link below;

Another featured artist is the Victorian artist, John Atkinson Grimshaw of whom Whistler famously remarked “I considered myself the inventor of nocturnes until I saw Grimmy’s moonlit pictures.” This is unbelievably arrogant in the face of moonlit paintings by Turner, Palmer etc. years earlier. However it is really worth studying Whistler’s nocturnes of the Thames which we’ll look at in a couple of weeks time.

The moon’s light being a mere reflection of the sun’s light is less bright, but is most often depicted during the hours of darkness, so affords huge contrasts with the darkened skies. Because of the darkness the palette used for painting moonlit scenes is generally less colourful and may be depicted in near monochrome.

This week you may work in pastel which will work very well on a dark paper, perhaps a very dark blue or even a dark burgundy colour as in the demonstration piece below. If you are working in watercolour you may choose a white paper as in the illustration above, or if you consider working in gouache, or white added to your watercolours, again you may like to choose a dark paper. Pastel papers can be stretched in the same way as watercolour paper, or you could work in gouache on an off cut of mount board.

The images below show stages in creating a moonlit landscape based loosely on the Eden valley in Northumberland.

First light applications of pastel on burgundy coloured paper. Note how small the moon is, how in this case it is surrounded by a ring of crimson and a pale halo of a very pale blueish green. The main areas of light and dark are established
The sky is darkened with blue and shapes in the landscape more clearly defined.
Finally much more blue was added and rubbed into in the sky area. The halo round the moon was lightened and rubbed in. Areas of the landscape were then darkened with black/ultramarine and more pale highlights added to the vegetation. Finally the stars were added with a soft pastel with a fine point tapping it against the paper..

Below are a few suggestions for painting the moon in watercolour.

Lifting out: here a small circle was drawn feintly, to indicate the moon and the first light wash applied to the whole paper. When completely dry a small moist brush was used to dampen the moon area and the paint lifted out by pressing a dry tissue into it. This leaves a lovely soft edge to the moon. If wished in the painting’s final stages a little white gouache can be applied if a punchier effect is needed.
Masking: stage 1: here the moon was masked with blue masking fluid using a small very old worn out brush. Clean the brush with soapy water ASAP afterwards. I usually prefer white but it wouldn’t show for the demonstration. You get a better feel for the end result if white ( looks very pale cream) masking fluid is used. Allow the masking fluid to dry completely before applying the first washes.
Masking: stage 2: Apply most of the washes, allow to dry completely before removing the masking with a very soft eraser or finger. You may then wish to soften the edges of the moon with a small moist brush and lift with a dry tissue. You may then wish to paint a feint cloud back over the moon as above.
Reserving the White: here the crescent moon has been painted around, leaving the gleaming white paper. A feint halo has been lifted out with a moistened brush and dry tissue paper.

Whatever your medium, compared with the sun the moon is a tiny object though it appears a good size from earth because of its proximity.  It sheds a much paler silvery light on the landscape which is very different from the vast range of hues revealed by direct sunlight.

Your challenge for this week is to paint a picture of a moonlit landscape with the moon visible in the night sky. This may take the form of a very imaginative scene as in the works of John Caple or Richard Cartwight or something more literal. Have fun!

Your paintings:   

Pastel by Barbara
Winter Moon by Liz
Soft pastel and oil pastel on dark blue pastel paper
Oil pastel touches were added for the snow in the foreground.
Full moon by Liz
Pastel on dark grey Pastelmat
After Grimshaw by Shane
Moonlight over Water
Pastel by Heather
After John Caple
Watercolour by Heather
After Grimshaw by Ann
After Turner
Watercolour by Jan
Two Fir Trees and a Lake
Watercolour by Jan
Moonlight over Water
Pastel by Jan
St, David’s Head
Pastel on buff paper by Shirley
Snake Pass, Derbyshire
Pastel on print making paper by Shirley
Moonlight over the Sea
Watercolour by Maricarmen
Moon over the Valley
Gouache on black paper by Maricarmen
Moonlight over Freshwater Bay by Malcolm
Acrylic and pastel
After Samuel Palmer by Jane
Pastel pencil and pastel
Trees and Moon by Sarah
Watercolour and pastel
Moonlight over Water by Sarah
Watercolour and pastel

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *