A plein air nocturne called "Full Moon over Waterhole Cove"

“Full Moon over Waterhole Cove”, 14”x11” plein air oil on canvas.

Plein Air Nocturnes

Nocturnes are paintings done at night. Plein air nocturnes can be stunning, but the inherent problems can be overwhelming. Much can be done to insure your success. Again, we will fall back on the friend we call Values. Just before dawn, just after sunset, and in the middle of the night, color is drained away. The brightest color is transformed into a gray. But grays are our first visual allies from ancient times. The discernment of grays, values, is built into us and so should not be considered foreign or even challenging. We survived for thousands of years on values alone.

If the nocturne is a subject that contains colored light, such as neon signs or tail lights, then we have it easy: out of the gray comes a delicious color. But if the nocturne has only the moon, or perhaps a very distant light from a house window, then the painting is not about color. Still it can be beautiful.

A plein air nocturne called “Cafe Terrace at Night” by Vincent Van Gogh

“Cafe Terrace at Night”, Vincent Van Gogh

In a nocturne you are painting a grisaille pushed to the maximum. Choose whether you want the grays to be warm or cool. That’s a personal choice inspired by what is before you. You will have to mix by flashlight but this is a grisaille with bits of color so it isn’t that difficult. Paint the color into the grays. Look for large contrast. Keep it simple, vague, mysterious, like the night itself.