Night Wharf 14 x 18″ Acrylic © Christopher Leeper
In our 2020 Voices of Experience interview with Christopher Leeper, we noted his facility with multiple mediums—watercolor, oil and acrylic. He has used all three mediums in his nocturnes as well, but says that acrylic seems to fit the unique conditions of working at night best for him. Leeper sent us examples of his nocturnes in all three mediums along with his tips for artists wanting to explore night time painting en plein air. Visit our interview with Leeper to see more of his work or go to his website: Christopher Leeper Fine Art.
Christopher Leeper’s Five Tips
for Painting Plein Air Nocturnes
in Oil and Acrylic
1. When starting a painting, put down a dark ground. It can be deep blue or violet or even a deep umber or red. I avoid using tube black and always mix my black. You can use a black pigment but be careful that it does not cause your darkest values to get too dense and flat looking.
2. Establish your basic light/dark pattern early in the painting process. This helps you move the painting along quickly. I often wipe back my light shapes out of the initial ground color.
3. Try to avoid using a painting light that is too bright. It is really hard on your eyes if your painting surface is too brightly lit and it will affect how well you are able to see the dark scene in front of you. I use an LED light that has variable brightness settings. Most times I use the dimmest setting.
4. As you work, your eyes will adjust to the dark and you will begin to see more details in the shadows. Make sure you do not put too many middle values and details in the painting. Go with your initial impression. Cluttering the painting with unnecessary detail will make the painting look fussy and overworked.
5. Keep your lights opaque and use transparent layers for your darks. This will give your painting more depth.
Early Evening, Gloucester 15 x 22″ Watercolor
This was a studio painting based on a photo. Since most of the values of the landscape were rather dark and similar, it was important to render the subtle color changes to show the depth of form.
Midnight Harbor 15 x 22″ Watercolor
This painting was done as a demonstration video on my YouTube channel. Many layers of a Indanthrone Blue/Permanent Brown/Raw Umber mixture were used to get the inky black of the sky and water.
Lakeside Nocturne 14 x 11″ Acrylic
Lakeside Nocturne is one of the quickest plein air nocturnes I have completed. The time painting was about 45 minutes. I like the brevity and economy of the brushwork. Sometimes less is more when it comes to night-time paintings. When you render too much detail, it can defeat the fleeting impression that our eyes take in at night and can create an unrealistic and stiff painting.
Night Wharf 14 x 18″ Acrylic
I had been painting all day as part of the Cape Ann, MA Plein Air event. I was hoping to finish the day with a nocturne. I started the block-in and then hit a wall. I stood there in a stupor and just could not make myself do it. All I could think about was going back to my host’s house and sleeping. When that happens, you pack it up and leave. It was finished later in the studio.
Bus Burlesque 16 x 20″ Acrylic
In 2016, I participated in the En Plein Air Texas event in San Angelo, TX. I found this great subject when I was wandering around in downtown San Angelo. When I saw this red bus sitting behind the Dead Horse Saloon I was thrilled. What an amazing subject! Little did I know that it would be the most memorable nocturne painting of my career. It turned out that the bus was owned by a Michigan-based traveling rock-and-roll burlesque group. They lived and traveled the country on this bus. As I worked late into the night, the barely dressed female group members would come out to the alley to see my progress. It was a surreal and fun evening of painting.
Vista 24 x 30″ Acrylic
Under the Brine 30 x 48″ Acrylic
The two paintings above are older, studio pieces (2012-2013). They were based on extensive photography sessions in the Youngstown, Ohio area. I was intrigued by the reflected light of the city upon the winter sky. Most of the photos were shot on rainy, damp evenings that would create atmosphere and reflections.
Night Yard 18 x 24″ Oil
Technical Ecstasy 30 x 40″ Oil and Acrylic
Another older, studio piece based on my photography sessions in the Youngstown, Ohio area.
Many thanks to Christopher Leeper for providing his images and text on Nocturne painting. All artwork copyright Christopher Leeper.
Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.