Monday, March 1, 2010

Painting a night scene from a childhood memory...

When I was a little girl the picture window of our home faced Riding Mountain National Park. Yeah, I know, pretty sweet. I would watch the sun set and then the moon rise over that majestic little mountain. Really, it's kind of an overgrown hill, like a long dragon lying on it's belly, taking a several century slumber. I wanted to paint that memory but where to start and how to paint night?

First we start with a 4" x 6" canvas panel that has had 4 coats of gesso painted on it to make it the most brilliant white it can be.

This is one of the photo references I used to see the mountain (evident in the far background). Note the little wee one star rating Ford Tempo in the left side of the frame. Believe it or not that thing on four skinny wheels actually got me through a horrific winter storm while driving back from Winnipeg in March. So even though it kind of sucks, I have fond memories of that little car. That and that it was my Mom's and she took tender-loving care of it. But I digress...

I wanted to see how it the color would operate at night. I had a good idea but Photoshop makes it easy to fake. I selected a blue filter to put over the image. I just wanted to confirm my ideas and it's about right. Photoshop is a VERY handy tool.

So I start by selecting a portion of the mountain and lightly outline where the moon will go. This is an acrylic painting and I start with a quick little sketch in watercolor pencil crayon then go right to the acrylic washes. The blues I use are cerulean, pthalo, ultramarine and cobalt. The other colors are cad lemon yellow and titanium white.

Carefully I build up the layers of glaze to define the shapes and forms. You have to be careful as a glaze left too heavy in an area can virtually destroy what you are trying to achieve. It's a fun but little nervy dance.

I decide where the moon and stars will go and how prominent the mountain will be. I determine the main focal point is going to be the moon over the mountain and the peak where the sun late afterglow is most evident. It keeps the eye in the painting and creates a calming but interesting luminescent piece.

And once again, here is the final outcome. I am so happy with it. It is just like my memory, my happy memory of looking out and seeing the mountain at this magical time of day turning to night. That's what I love about painting, you can take the actual object (in this case Riding Mountain) which looked rather unimpressive in the above photos and make it a thing of magical, mystical, beauty which lies in your heart, and bring it out into the world in physical manifestation. Making the invisible emotion, visible, the mundane, magical!


  1. Your painting is GORGEOUS!!! You are very talented

  2. Lovely capture of your favorite mountain and a memory--:)

  3. LOVELY work! You are so talented!!!!

  4. Gwen, I just wanted to tell you how much you've helped inspire me. We met on etsy only today but I've been reading your blog and watching those videos you sent me, thinking over your advise, and I wanted to tell you again how appreciative I am. That kind of encouragement coming from a fellow artist whose work I respect has given me a lot of hope about my own career. I hope we keep in touch.



  5. Thanks so much! And Meda being a working artist, it's something that each of us have to deal with in our own way. Just keep working at it and do what you find you need to do. Your work is so beautiful. It would be a great shame if you didn't keep creating and reach your market. So go Meda go!

  6. Beautiful Painting! and the fact that it comes from a fond childhood memory from you makes it so much more special :) I just heart-ed it on Etsy and I twittered it too! hopefully that will give u a few more views on it :D