Atmospheric effects

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Value and color go hand-in-hand when creating atmosphere in a painting. A proper organization of values (white to black) are critical to creating a painting’s mood. All of nature’s various moods require a different value structure. It’s value that creates depth in a painting, the application of color to that established value structure takes the painting to the next level. You will appreciate John Carlson’s great insights regarding color and atmosphere offered here.

I’ve included a few of my paintings that I believe illustrate Carlson’s teaching. (Click images to enlarge)

“One of the most important truths bearing upon receding color out-of-doors is this: It is the yellow that fades out of a landscape as it recedes from the foreground. This means not only yellow itself, but the yellow in all mixtures, such as brown, warm red, orange, etc. Green, for example, will range from a sappy yellow-green in the foreground to quite a cool green in the middle distance and gradually diminish in its yellowness as it goes farther back, until it turns to a faint emerald in the distance, and this emerald will become a faint greenish-blue at the horizon. Again, it is the yellow that fades out of receding planes. As the yellow fades out, the violets and blues seem to increase in intensity.”

“Italian Sentinel” – 30″ x 30″ – Oil


“Given a great stretch of country to study this phenomenon, it will be seen that even the violets eventually give way to the blue. We may have a range of hills, one behind the other; the nearest one may be a warm violet (or contain red, blue, and a slight amount of yellow in its color composition); the next hill behind it will be a trifle bluer violet; the next behind it sill bluer, and the farthest one almost pure blue (tempered with the prevailing sky color).”

“October Light” – 10″ x 10″ – Oil

“Family Roots” – 12″ x 24″ – Oil


“So far we have only mentioned the color changes in our stretch of country; let us add another factor: All things become lighter in value as they recede from the eye. This make our law read. ‘All things become cooler in color and lighter in value as they recede into the distance.’ Our nearest hill of warm violet would therefore be the darkest and the farthest one of pure blue would be the lightest. Remember that you cannot paint the color of any of the hills or of anything else until you get its proper value.” (My emphasis)

“A Cherished Moment” – 12″ x 24″ – Oil


Great advice from “Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting”…page 64.


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