Capture light and depth
Peter Chan shares his plein air tips.
Previously, I went through the important aspects of working the painting as a whole, constantly comparing value, colour and shapes with nearby elements. The process ensures that you don’t get bogged down in a specific area, but it can take more of your time and muddy your brush or paints if you’re not careful, especially when painting outdoors and time isn’t on your side.
This time I’ll go through another approach to plein air painting: the backto-front method. The idea is to break down your scene from the lightest colour values in the furthest background, and gradually apply darker paint to the foreground elements. This process applies to larger objects as well as small details.
There are two key things to keep in mind. First, put down quick and decisive marks and don’t fiddle too much with them, especially with the lighter backgrounds. Second, elements in the distance are nearer in value and are less detailed, and gradually gain value contrast and more details the closer they are to the viewer. If you follow these guides, you’ll achieve a greater sense of light and depth quickly. This approach works well with early morning and later afternoon scene as well as on overcast days.
For this article, I parked on a street and spent about an hour painting a early morning city scene on my daily commute.
Peter is from Taiwan but lives in Los Angeles where he works at Sony Pictures Animation. He’s worked previously at Pandemic Studios and DreamWorks Animation and you can see more of his work on his blog at www.pixelp.tumblr.com.
I mix more permanent white and gray no.1 into the paint.
1 Don’t overwork the background
First sketch out or mentally break down the scene into the background, middle ground and foreground. Here I lay in very simple shapes and colours that suggest the sky and distant city line. It’s very easy to get carried away with the details here, but it’s all about capturing the simple impression and not copying exactly what you see. I also mix more white and light grey in this area, so that it’ll sit back nicely when I add in the foreground darks later. Make a note of your paint mixture so you can go back to areas and keep the colours and values similar. I apply less white to foreground elements.
2 Remembering your paint mixture
I continue to paint my midground elements of the trees and street shadow, all the way to the foreground tree on the left, with more darks as it transitions forward. Everything is kept simple and abstract, enabling me to focus on creating a feeling of depth. I keep mental notes of the paint mixture I use for each area, so that when I revisit those area, the value will be similar.