Part 4

Project: Painting outside

Research point 2: ‘The Golden Mean’ and ‘Rule of Thirds’

Great, clear explanation in this website:

Scott, D. (2017) Using The Golden Ratio (AKA Golden Mean) To Improve Your Artworks. At: (Accessed 20/02/2020).

McNee, L. A. (2009) Rule of Thirds – Composition in Art. At: (Accessed 15/03/2020).

Exercise: Painting a landscape outside

Easier said than done when the weather has been rain, rain and more rain for weeks on end. Luckily I am going to snowy Lapland for a few days and staying in a glass igloo – it may be far too cold to stand outside to paint but I’m hoping the view from the igloo will be worth having a go with. Going to take watercolours but also a black pad and soft pastels in case there’s the opportunity to catch the northern lights!

Northern Lights! Wow so lucky to be able to see these on a couple of nights. Clouds of swirling green coming and going for about half an hour. Had a go with the pastels which smudge really well and it’s possible to quickly capture shapes as they happen.

Second night, even better: the lights are constantly on the move but the key thing I notice is that the light seems to flow upwards in lines. Frequently a hard line at the lower end which is then dragged upward in swirling patterns. Mainly really fluorescent green and white, but sometimes touches of pinks and purples too. Definite green glow to the horizon. Masses of bright white stars too. How awesome!

Long view over frozen lake to distant forest so much of horizon is visible allowing a large view of the sky.

I particularly like the last two sketches which include a small section of the silhouetted forest seen across the snowy lake in the distance (I added these just afterwards once the lights had calm down but the scene was still fresh in my mind). I brought down touches of the green as reflected in the snow which helps join sky and land together. Also highlights of white on the trees to show they’re laden with snow. This gives more context to the lights and shows their shear size.

Daytime snowy forest:

Quick pencil sketch of the tall pines – doesn’t really capture the depth of the forest but I couldn’t hang around in minus 15deg. Added a few more details from memory once back in the warm but pencil isn’t really the right tool for this.

View of other igloos from inside mine: Later in the afternoon the skies off to the west were beautiful in the low sun and the tall pine trees really caught this light wonderfully. There is only one view of this from my warm igloo so I’m went straight into painting it rather than trying out sketches first. I’ll see what cropping does once it’s finished. Also no time for a second sitting – it could be cloudy on our last day then we’re home.

Sitting on the edge of the bed with hairdryer to hand. Sky first with lots of water and allowed to run. Had to be completely dry before continuing. Used edge of card to make irregular trunk lines and to drag paint around for glass igloos so they’re not too precise. Strong low sun off to the left creating long shadows.

Added the white acrylic splats as snow on the branches once I got home. This was more tricky than I’d anticipated – left side of trees ok as my splats were at the correct angle for the heavy branches (diagonal down from top right to bottom left) but doing the right side meant I had to swap hands to flick the other way – this was when I got some rather large messy splats.

Angles of glass igloos aren’t correct, they should look hemispherical and they also need some dark patches within them to show furniture etc.

I know I wasn’t outside to do this but it certainly presented some of the same problems. Limited resources available and balancing paper and palettes in awkward positions. Had to work fast before the sun disappeared completely. Light changing constantly and having the decide what moment to paint.

Choosing exactly what to paint from the landscape before me was made easier by the fact that one view was the frozen lake and hence not much more than white paint would be needed. The other view was behind to the trees catching the light of the lowering sun. Tried taking some crops of the painting to see if a better composition of the area would have been possible:

Not good, tall tree is too central and chops composition in half.

Just focussing on trees and ignoring buildings – could have worked but needs more trees of varying heights

Like this one of just the trees but including the snow beneath – they feel more grounded and part of a landscape. Overall I feel painting the whole view was the best option: buildings give context, balanced with horizon one third up from bottom, foreground and mid ground (needs some more depth to trees to show distance)

Painting from life really highlighted for me how what the eye sees is so much more vast than a camera. None of my photos show this scene like this, instead everything looks further away and small. A photo wouldn’t include the width either.

Once home I decided to have a go at painting the northern lights from memory – no iphone photo does them justice.

Canvas Board 406 x 305mm. Acrylics: mainly fluorescent green, fluorescent blue, Paynes Grey

Lots of layers trying to get the effect of the light streaming upwards and the colours blending into each other. Found this very tricky!

Lastly added the tree and lake line. Not up at the 1/3 height I know but I felt the sky was the main event here and the ground is just there to give context. Diagonal lines of the lights help take the eye across the page. The lights shining through the trees looks good and that’s how it did look with the horizon glowing. The brush strokes are too visible still so more tries at this would help there. Finished off with white stars and over painted with gloss mediums as the areas of ‘black’ were far more matt than the rest.

Overall, I know I haven’t completed this exercise quite in the spirit of things but hope the weather will change in time for my assessment piece with I hope to do outside.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s