East of Swansboro, 1979, alkyd, 20 X 13. This scene near the coastal town of Swansboro is a study of land, water, cloud and sky as they recede into the far distance. A number of glazes (20-30) were used in this painting to imitate the effect of atmosphere on near and distant objects.
The idea of trying to paint space and air will impress many as a nebulous exercise at best, and I must admit that I feel it is one of the more difficult aspects of painting. However, air exists as surely as a rock or a figure , and its constant state of change affects the objects we see both near and far. When looking at the work of the better realist painters, one can almost stroll through their paintings and breathe the air. Perhaps it is this seeming ability to walk into these paintings that leads one to remember them as larger in size than they actually are. I don't mean to imply that the air in the paintings seem breathable because the works are so detailed and "magically" real. I feel the quality of air in a painting has little to do with tightness of technique. One can see good examples of paintings that seem full of air in the works of the Impressionists whose use of the vibrant color can be studied and applied to realism.
Blues off Fort Macon, 1981, alkyd, 24 X 24. My sons and I have fished many times from this jetty at Fort Macon, near Morehead City, North Carolina. The title refers to both the bluefish the fisherman are catching and the blue sky and water. The line of the ocean on the horizon is not a hard edge but a hazed one, achieved by scumbling and glazing. Had this been painted as a hard edge, it would not tend to recede into the distance.
be able to render atmospheric effects, perhaps one should know the air's
chemical makeup. However, I have always felt that too much dependence
on the scientific or mechanical aspects of art (such as mechanical perspective)
has a tendency to draw the life from art. Proper understanding
of such subjects is essential, but after one knows the facts behind
what is happening, it may be best to relegate that understanding to
the subconscious and think more about art.
The effect of air on a landscape will obviously change with each minute, day, and season. A humid day will find the air filled with minute particles of water vapor. An extreme example of this would be a dense fog, but this vapor can be seen on almost any day when viewing distant landscapes. These particles of water vapor combine with dust and tend to blur our vision of distant objects. They also give distant objects a bluish or purplish cast and flatten their three-dimensional quality. A good example would be a distant view of a mountain range or islands off the coast of Maine which would tend to look flat as in a stage set. This effect can be exaggerated as seen in many watercolorists' backgrounds done with flat washes of granular color.
As we look through this layer of air, the objects closest to us will naturally be seen with sharpness and clarity. But as objects recede, this layer of atmosphere begins to haze the edges of distant objects. The shapes seen to melt into the distant atmosphere. During the day, this effect will change according to the dictates of temperature, humidity, light, and wind-blown dust or smoke. Also to be considered is the eye's focusing ability. When focused on nearby objects, the eye loses its ability to focus on distant objects. This also results in the illusion of depth. The paintings of the Luminists Frederic Edwin Church or John Frederick Kensett clearly depict those phenomena. Winslow Homer's The Artist's Studio in an Afternoon Fog and Thomas Eakins's A Pair-oared Shell show these effects on background objects.
This haze-like atmosphere can be rendered through the use of multiple transparent or translucent glazes which imitate the actual haze found in nature. Just as the real atmosphere mutes color and blurs edges, an applied glaze can do the same in a painting. I have found that the addition of a bit of white in the glaze will imitate the effect of the vapor particles in the air. Thus, the underpainting should be a few values darker than the final value desired. An atmospheric glaze might consist of a bit of white, cobalt, and ochre ( I use alkyd paints) and a good deal of medium ( in my case, Liquin). This mixture will vary in color selection and transparency according to the effect desired. Through this type of glazing, the value and color of distant objects can be controlled in the most subtle of gradations. However, a similar effect can also be accomplished by careful color and value selection of opaque paint while trying to compensate for slight darkening or lightening as the color dries. I personally feel that opaque color cannot carry the same sense of depth seen in a glaze.
and reflected light also play a large part in creating the feeling of
air in a painting. In fact, a painting may seem devoid of air
until shadows are painted. A sense of three-dimensional space
can be achieved through the use of reflected light on objects.
STEP TWO: The basic underpainting. Some areas, such as the distant forms, were painted a few values too dark, since I planned to paint over them with lighter glazes which would represent atmospheric haze.
STEP THREE: I continued working on the buildings and water tower structure; glazes were applied to the background trees beyond the bridge.
STEP FIVE: The completed painting: Columbus, Georgia, 1984, alkyd, 18 X 40. Click anywhere on the painting above for a enlarged, detailed view.
B. Dance was born in Tokyo, Japan, and lives in Kinston, North Carolina,
with his wife Coleman. He is a graduate of the Philadelphia College
of Art where he studied under Henry C. Pitz.