Night Painting


Judith Reeve, “Night Tree”, 20″ x 18″, oil on linen, painted with the DR IV HC Palette, sections C1,C3

The day after the blizzard, I woke up early before sunrise. The snow was beautifully laid out in the fields behind my house and the moon was near full. It was a magical light, green-blue and violet emanating from the fresh snow. My maple tree, that I paint every winter outside my kitchen window, was gloriously magnificent. I decided then to paint a nocturne image of it.

I spent the next day composing colors on my palette that fulfilled my memory of the night scene. After evaluating the colors, I decided to use the DR IV HC Palette of Denman Ross. But instead of using the sections of the palette that I had previously painted with, I instead chose the darker, cooler sections of the palette to focus on. These are the C1 and C3 sections. The C3 section which has the triangle RO- GB – V, I used for the lights and the C1 section which has the triangle GB – V – Yhue, I used for the darks.

The DR IV HC Palette, section C3
The DR IV HC Palette, section C1

Adjustments I made to the palette: I immediately created several preset values to the GB and the V. The GB appears as a L, LD and D (these are Ross’ value indications, see the Ruben’s Palette). The V appears as M, LD and D. The main reason I did this is because when one paints in a limited light situation (at night) one cannot see clearly to mix subtle differences of value. Having these preset, I could just grab them off the palette and place them directly on the canvas. It also gave me the option to lighten a color with 3 choices. I could use the GB-L to lightened the colors of higher value and I could use the GB-LD to lighten the colors of dark value. I could also use the V-M to cool the colors of middle value and use the V-LD to lighten and cool color in the darks. That way, I kept the values under tight control. The only color that I did not add any white to initially in the preset was the RO. This color I only used in a very limited way- warming up the GB-L I used on the illuminated snow. I ended up not using any color between RO and V on the C3 section. I just did not need anything in the RO warm area for the nocturne painting. All the other mixes as indicated above, I used, pretty much as they appear here with no changes.

What I liked most about this palette is that it spoke to my initial experience of my subject, that early morning after the snow fall. In fact the color thus arranged already spoke of the image. The color was beautiful in and of itself before the image was even created. The color was just soft, cool, close in value, expressing, what would normally be, a corner of color on the palette. So, when I got up at 4:30 AM to begin my painting of the maple tree in the snow, my arrangement of color already reflected my experience brought forth from memory as well as in the present moment.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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