After dark: painting the twilight on Lake Nipissing

While I was staying at Memquisit Lodge, I painted two “sunset” paintings. Well, not quite … permit me to explain.

This one was actually the twilight before dawn. I got up quite early one morning, and looked out to a beautiful scene. The sky was clear, there was no rain, a crisp, cool morning was about to arrive. I quickly put on a warm jacket, grabbed my phone, and dashed out to snap a few photos.

It was quite chilly, and still dark, so I hopped back to bed, already thinking about the painting I wanted to create.

As you can see from my preparatory sketch, I snapped the photos at 5:46 AM — not even the fishers were out then!

You might wonder why I do a preparatory sketch when I have taken photos? Well, several reasons. First, the photos are never as nuanced as what the human eye can see. Especially in low light conditions, our eyes experience much more.

Another reason is that I am creating a painting, not reproducing a photograph. The painting will likely be somewhat different than the actual scene — I am simplifying some things, emphasizing other things, reducing complexity, showing you my ideas.

The dark sky is not all one color. Nor is the dark water. I love painting the gradations of the values, and adjusting the scene to capture my impression of it.  The challenge with a painting like this is making the darks DARK enough, but not generally black.There is a beautiful mixture you can buy from paint suppliers called Payne’s grey, which is a mixture of blue and black, and I used that quite a bit in my mixtures for this painting.

For the emerging sunlight, the challenge is to make the lights LIGHT enough, but not the same light as full daylight.

Once I was up and had a hot coffee in hand, this painting came together quickly. I set my easel up on the rocks outside the cabin, and by mid-afternoon, the painting was close to finished.

Those late August days can have quite cool nights when you are in the near north, like the Lake Nipissing area. Often you will see the mist rise from the water in the morning.

I was very pleased with this piece, which captures that beautiful time of day we call twilight, when the day is not yet here, and some of the mystery and the magic of the night remains.

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