Art has made great progress because of the versatility and diversity it offers. It has been the primary medium of displaying your inner self using physical and metaphysical elements. The most intriguing thing about art is that every individual related to it has an idea of his own about the structure and norms inside the field. This is what makes it beautiful. This is what makes it last for millennia.
If we talk about mediums and tools used by the artists, there was never a scarcity of ideas and their application. There are instances of using things on the surface that are not evenly remotely related to a brush or other pointing device. But the results were always mesmerizing because of the effect they have on the beholders.
In art, there are recurring themes that go with an artist or among the artists of an art movement. This helps the painters and artists to find their niche and then an angle that would help them define their work in a simple yet powerful manner. One of the most daunting themes in the history of art is that of the night!
From the earliest pieces to modern expressionists, you will find amazing specimens that have people in awe of the beauty and depth of the surface. From the psychological point of view, a night has many elements and effects on the spectator, depending on its angle and mental inclination. For some of them, a night is a terrifying void with no flicker of light, which could hint at hope. For others, it is too exciting and beautiful to let go and they find it appealing to probe into the darkness and look for things that are not seeable to a naked eye.
If you are a student of art who has just started painting, this is one of the most exciting things you can work on. It does not matter if you have learned some skills, painting a night sky will help you in honing your skills and make you a great artist.
Before we delve into the technicalities and practical tips on the subject matter, let us dig through the history and construction of night sky painting.
Flight Into Egypt
Renaissance was the time that paved way for the modern world through its progress in science and arts. In this period, the earliest staggering work about the night sky. Named Flight Into Egypt, this was painted by Adam Elsheimer as oil on copper. The painting captures the biblical event where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are seeking refuge from the possible persecution of Herod.
The painting in itself is a classic but the stroke of genius by the painter is how he balanced the values of light and darkness. He made it lit to make it visible but then darkens it to show a night as real as he could. The other elements of the painting such as trees and landscape are even darker than the sky. The moon is out and it is shining through the skies. The rendition is excellent in terms of the authenticity of the scene and the balanced use of color.
The figures in the painting are painted in light so that viewers can see easily. Another great stroke is how the stars in the dark region of the sky, away from the moon, are also visible – just like on a real night! In the backdrop of a darker landscape, this is painting at its finest.
Pro Tip: Aside from admiring this timeless classic, you can learn about how to balance out dark values and light values to create a lasting effect. This way, when you are painting a night sky of your own, you would have a clear layout of the light and dark values and their interplay.
The Meteor Of 1860
In the year 1860, two meteors were seen in the Hudson River area where a painter captured the scene in its painting called The Meteor of 1860. It was painted by Fredric Edwin Church!
He was a landscape painter so we can assume he had already ample experience in balancing values in a typical landscape painting. The event of meteors grazing through the skies in a novel procession was something that was not ignored at the time. Famous American poet Walt Whitman even mentioned the celestial procession in one of his poems. But here, we will discuss how the Church captured the phenomenon.
When meteors cross the sky from a lower height, they can illuminate the sky and even create an illusion of day on a night. This is exactly what is captured in the painting. The night sky is bright and illuminated because of the passing meteors, thanks to muted colors and perfect value balancing.
There is no competition about the focusing point of the painting. It is because the meteor is the most illuminated part of the painting and the rest of the elements going dark with the expanding shadows. The whole painting is done with saturated colors, with muted areas to bring out the desired effect. This makes the meteor “unmissable” while in the middle of toed down colors.
There are two main things to keep in mind while you are working on your night sky:
• It is so much about balancing light and dark values but it is not limited to that. A balanced approach helps you in dividing the focus between different elements like making the stars shine in the darker areas.
• The more subtle thing about the night sky is to balance saturated and muted colors. As an artist, your focus is to lead the viewers to the vastness and darkness of the sky and invite them to probe into the details. This means removing bright sections from the landscape or other parts that are not part of the sky.
Before we talk about the masterpiece by Vincent Van Gogh, let us talk about the one that inspired him for his own creation!
The “original” starry night was painted by a French painter, named Jean Francois Millet. He painted the night sky when he moved to Barbizon. It was an artist colony in the south of Paris with many masters of the craft. If we speculate as to when had Van Gogh seen this painting, it would be from 1873 to 1875. There is no doubt about the inspiration because Van Gogh was very vocal about his admiration for Millet.
For the best part, this painting is one of the few by Millet that was exclusively a landscape!
There is no denying that this piece is not like a night that you can see. It is more about what you can feel! With its deep and visible atmospheric quality, Millet made many soft edges in this painting. This helps in making the trees and elements from the landscapes look distant and farther. Still, in a classic fashion, he used the values in a way that the stars in the night sky are illuminated.
If you are looking for the strokes of genius, one apparent one is in the gradient that he had made from the horizon of light colors and making it saturated as he went up. The color and tonal value shifts as you go up. This technique has made the sky glow with changing shades and colors.
There are many takeaways from this painting by Millet. Here are some of the practical ones that you can apply in your paintings:
• When painting a night sky, make sure you nail the transition of color from light to dark. In this way, the sky will be light around the edges of the horizon, almost white, and then saturates as you go up. Once you are at the zenith, it is the most saturated. The gradient will help you catch glimpses from the viewers.
• For the star part, you need to give every star or at least stars in different regions a consistent tone with respect to light exposure. Also, the visibility and size of the stars also differ according to the scale of the artist. For the stars that are closer, white color is the choice. But for the distant and almost fading stars, use muted white color to get the desired effect.
Clerks Studying Astronomy & Geometry
This is another example of a night sky by an unknown painter. The depiction of the night sky in this painting is not a natural one because the focus point is the clerks studying astronomy and geometry using their instruments. According to some historians, this could be painted by a number of unknown artists and not just one!
In a classical renaissance fashion, this painting is less about what is depicted in it and more about what the depicted stands for. The main aim of the painter was to bring out the symbolism and not the naturalistic effects of showing a perfect night sky.
For instance, the stars in this painting have more illustrative qualities rather than the subtleties of a naturalistic effect. This painting, in a sense, is the antithesis of what Millet painted in his Starry Night with no dedicated value to the light or dark values.
Nonetheless, it is another manifestation of art through images that are not what they look but what they represent. In the time when this painting was created, it was a new beginning. The science and arts as we know them are in infancy and on their way to change the world altogether!
Tips & Techniques To Paint Night Sky
Painting a night sky is more about perspective and what you want to show on the surface. It is about what is beneath the medium and vibrant colors. Before we could think about moving to paint our own night sky, it was important to learn a thing or two from the masters before treading on our path.
If you are one of those artists who do not like to be ‘influenced’ by what has already been done, this could still help you. It is because, in order to do something new, you need to know what has been done already so that you may not stumble on it as you go!
For those who need to learn how to paint a naturalistic night sky on a medium, here are some of the practical tips and tricks:
Sketch It Out
In the case of painting a medium permanently, you should sketch out all the details before taking up the brush.
When you sketch out all the major details while going for a night sky, it will help you in getting things done more efficiently and you can learn to do better because you will review your work at the same time. There are many online videos and tutorials that will help you with how to detail a painting before painting it.
On technical grounds, sketching beforehand helps in determining where to make your horizon line and how to go around the landscape and its elements. This is an important distinction that you need to make in order to find the balance between dark and light values. Not to mention that it will help you in putting all the things in the given space!
Pro Tip: Remember, it is not about sketching all the details but rather getting a general idea about how all the elements of the painting will interact in space.
Add Color To The Sketch
If you were itching for the painting paint, this is it!
Start slow and from the sky. To make things easier, try to make the top part of the sky as dark as possible and then go light as you descend from the sky to the horizon. As stated earlier, the shade of the night sky should be the most saturated at the top of the sky and the palest around the horizon line.
One of the reasons behind doing this is to make the sky appear closer to the viewer or the admirer. While doing this, you make the horizon appear farther from the viewer than it should be.
For the landscape or just the land area, you can work very well with muted colors. This, again, will help you in getting the right attention to the night sky. The landscape works complementary to the sky in order to make it appear a bit more pronounced.
Colors For The Night Sky
If you were waiting for the tricky part to come, this is it!
Now, you need to color the sky as it will appear in the painting in its final form. In the list below, we will give you some insights about mixing the color to get the desired effect at its best:
As stated earlier, the upper-most part of the sky needs to be as saturated and dark as possible. So, for that, you can go for ultramarine blue mixed with cadmium orange. For those who are new to this trade, they will find it a bit astonishing. The fact is, this is how colors play and interact with each other. By mixing cadmium orange with the ultramarine blue, the former will mute the latter a little bit so that it will not be as bright at the end. You can also mix a little burnt umber to tone it down.
Coloring The Rest Of The Canvas
The painting is about the night sky and it should be as bold and eye-catching as possible. It does not mean leaving out details in the landscape area. So, before, you return to the night sky for some more painting and polishing, it is best to paint the rest of the landscape in accordance with the premise we have set earlier.
Color in the landscape area is also about making a sense of space with colors. Remember to paint the land area near the horizon lighter than the rest of the sky. It is because the lighter it appears, the more distant it would seem in the painting.
Keep in mind that as you go down in the landscape, you make it darker from its upper part. Painting a night sky is much about assigning values to the tones, shades, and colors. In this perspective, the horizon line of the painting will be the lightest. But as you go up or down from there, you will make the color louder or pronounced or saturated to make the night sky look realistic and natural.
So, the land area at the bottom of the painting will be the most saturated to make it look closer to the viewer.
If you are wondering about the colors for the landscape area, here our take on this:
To make the landscape as natural as possible, you should go for the yellow ochre and dioxazine purple. You can throw some white in the mix when you are targeting the lighter areas. If you are going for warmer or slightly reddish areas, alizarin crimson is the best candidate for your painting.
As mentioned earlier, the bottom part of your canvas is the second most saturated point in your painting. It will be at the very front. For the desired effect and color, you can go for some ultramarine blue and burnt umber in the already mixture of yellow ochre and dioxazine purple. This way, your night sky will come out of the canvas and be as realistic as possible.
Back To The Night Sky
When you are done with the landscape and its elements, it is time to go to the night sky and add some more color on both extreme ends. Reinforce the sky with more saturated colors at the top and the paler ones at the level of the horizon.
For a novelty as your signature, you can add elements where they are clearly seen and adds more character to the overall feel of the canvas. One example of this could be the addition of a large and bright star in the middle of the night sky!
This is an excellent idea for authenticity and a signature of your own. It will stand out from the rest for the reason that the surrounding sky is darker. This contrast will get the neatness and effect that will make the painting stand out from the crowd.
Get To The Stars
Stars is a minor yet important part of the night sky. If done right, they can easily mask other imperfections in the painting without taking too much time and other resources.
The start should be to avoid dropping white points over the surface. Like in the previous section, some stars are bright and big and others are just meager and occasionally flicker. So, it is of vital importance to assign the size and shape to the stars so that they can complement the rest of the night sky.
The color scheme for the stars is straightforward. You will use muted white color with a hint of the mixture of ultramarine blue and cadmium yellow. For the darker stars, this mixture is perfect. But for the bigger and brighter stars, you should tone the white a little less.
For the biggest and brightest star, use pure white in some areas to make it stand out!
Make sure you are attentive to the tonal value of colors in both saturated and light areas which are at the uppermost part of the night sky and the horizon line respectively.
One of the most important aspects of painting a night sky is about assigning tonal and shade values to the different parts of the sky and the landscape. If you are able to pull a fairly dark sky with bright stars of varying sizes, you are on the right track and can easily finish the rest. For the uninitiated, it is very difficult for the obvious reasons that you cannot observe your painting while it is still a work in progress.
The best way to tackle this dilemma is to observe night skies in real life closely and take mental notes and clear snapshots. Also, you can take help and inspiration from the works of masters to create one of your own masterpieces!