Vog: an art lesson

29 10 2009

It’s voggy in the landscape today. I saw it when I drove from Kaaawa to Kaneohe.

Koolaus in vog © Rebekah Luke

The Koolau Mountains in vog, about 10:15 a.m. today. Notice the ridges appear in three tints of gray.

What’s vog? Vog is the less-than-clear air that we have when the kona winds from the southeast blow the emissions from the volcano up the island chain toward the northwest. It’s like the words fog and smog. It hangs around until the regular trade winds return.

Vog is worst on Hawaii island, a.k.a the Big Island, home of the eruption. The falling ash deteriorates homes and crops, and the smokey air makes it hard to breathe. It reminds me of when I arrived at art school in Pasadena (Los Angeles) one August and was told as I gazed out the floor-to-ceiling windows, “The mountains are right there in our backyard, and they’re beautiful, but it’s so smoggy, we can’t see them.”

One good thing about the atmosphere as today’s vog, though, is that it serves to explain how to paint distance. Generally, objects in the foreground have the darkest value, and as objects recede into the middle-ground and background, they become lighter in value. As one’s eye moves back into space, the values become lighter.

On an ordinary sunny day, the kind that prompts us to say, “It’s just another beautiful day in Hawaii!” the Koolau Mountains are clear and colorful enough to see the individual trees on them. To represent such a scene with paint and for it to “read” properly, we consider the logic of light and either lighten and/or mute the colors in the background, even though we don’t see them that way with our eyes. But on a day like today, you absolutely can see it.

If you have ever seen the Blue Ridge Mountains in Appalachia, or photos of them, it’s the same thing.

Nuuanu Pali pass © Rebekah Luke

Nuuanu Pali Lookout (center of photo) viewed from Luluku, about 10:30 a.m. today

This morning my destination was Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden at Luluku at the foot of the mountains where I go to paint.  Here is a photo of the Nuuanu Pali  pass viewed from Luluku. Ordinarily the cars on the highway and the people at the lookout are visible.

Notice that both photos appear blue, or blue-gray. My own eyes did not see the scene this way because I am used to seeing the scene in full color (the whole spectrum), and my brain translated it into full color. But, as the saying goes, the camera doesn’t lie. Blue is the color of atmosphere.

Now, knowing about values (shades of gray) as they relate to distance, and knowing about the color of atmosphere, you can represent distance in a painting by muting and lightening the colors of objects as they recede.

If you forget to do this initially in an oil painting, there is a glazing technique you can use, but only after the paint is dry. Take a dollop of painting medium with your palette knife and mix it with a tint of blue pigment (e.g., white + ultramarine + cobalt). Have a clean, soft cloth handy. Brush the glaze over the part of the painting that you want to lighten. Then, working quickly (because glaze dries fast), wipe off with the cloth little by little, if you wish, to get the effect you want. Ta-dah!

The values underneath that you painted originally will stay the same, that is, the relationships among the values will remain. You are simply putting in the atmosphere with your tinted glaze.

Don’t worry if the glaze gets beyond the area you want. Just go back and paint over it. (We call that “destroy and recover.”)

Copyright 2009 Rebekah Luke

Thanks to Gloria Foss who taught me how to do this. To see my oils, click on PAINTINGS in the menu bar.

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2 responses

4 11 2009
Rebekah

Thank you for the compliment, my foodie friend. I’m happy to pass on what I know from my teachers, including you! You say you’re not a painter, but you are a food artist. Your table and your plates have a hero or star, as well as supporting cast, color, texture, and sensory elements!

4 11 2009
linda

This is great art lesson even though I’m not a painter. You should consider teaching art.

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