Watercolor on Paper
Few things in life are truly easy, painting not being one of them. But even artists for whom painting comes naturally, rendering landscapes or seascapes with fog, mist, or overcast days is often difficult. Today’s Image is my watercolor of a Malibu beach on an overcast morning.
What makes it difficult and sometimes challenging to portray this very natural weather state?
First, let’s look at the opposite—a bright, clear, sunny landscape or seascape. The sky is clear, the clouds, if any, are puffy and white; the horizon is distinct; the hues are pure; and shadows are sharp. There is a lot of contrast between dark and light with the accompanying changes in values. None of that is the case on a misty, foggy, or overcast day where everything is subdued, especially the colors.
Following are a few things and tips I have learned about painting this weather state in a land- or seascape. Caveat--since I paint using watercolor and acrylics, these don’t necessarily apply to oils.
The basics still apply only they’re different—objects in the distance, including the horizon, always appear bluer due to the atmosphere, but because of the overcast, they also take on a grayish white tinge as well. If you’re using watercolor, this means your washes should be almost colorless.
As you begin, keep in mind that you need to tone everything as you paint. It’s easy to forget this, but if you do, one area will look brighter as compared to others and will spoil the effect. Tone it down.
Pick a suitable palette. The watchword is subdued and limited. No bright anything. It’s similar to painting a winter scene in which the land and foliage are dull, but you may not be painting snow.
The horizon line, be it flat land, mountains, sea, or treetops, is noticeably blurred. As you paint, you should continually remind yourself of this so that you don’t make the horizon a distinct line. In my watercolor, I went back after the area had dried with a small brush to ensure the area was blurred. Just FYI—a fancy, art word for this blurring is sfumato.
Mist and fog can be tricky to paint. For one, there are different kinds of fog--light or dense, and depending on the time of day, it looks different and so should your painting. Mist is not as dense as fog, and it usually floats along near the surface of the land or water. One thing that perhaps makes painting these a little easier is that you don’t have to worry so much about showing details since they’re basically washed out. Of course, objects closer to the picture plane will be somewhat sharper even in the fog or mist.
If you’re painting a seascape, which in itself can be difficult, an overcast day just adds another level of difficulty, I think. Remember the color of the water is a reflection of the color of the sky. If the sky isn’t blue, which it won’t be on an overcast day, the water won’t be either. In addition to the usual difficulty of painting water—waves, foam, the shore--selecting and mixing the right colors on an overcast day is even more difficult. This means you have to really study what colors are present either in plein air or your reference photo. In my painting, Malibu Morning, offshore the water was a very washed out pale light gray-blue. However, near the shore the water took on the color of the sand and is gray-beige and mauve.
Trees and foliage should not look very green. Of course, it also depends on the type of tree and foliage. Greens should be dark with very little yellow if you mix it; they’re also washed out and can take on a brownish or dark gray color.
Even though there are no distinct shadows, there are still shadows although they will be lighter. Remember to include them.
As I said, it’s tricky. Good luck!