I love Photoshop as a tool to help me visualize better, alter my compositions, play with different ways to fix a failed work, resolve paintings digitally so I can then go and do the real thing. I don’t use it all the time, in fact, I mostly do it when I am bored and at the computer… it feels like I’m being productive. It doesn’t replace making sketches and studies, just augments the tool belt. I have this nocturne that I did a few years ago, it’s a favorite of mine but it’s still not right and I’ve reworked it 3 times. I’ve been wondering what if I had started it differently. Now that I’ve added glazing, both transparent and semi-opaque to my roster of painting techniques, I got to wondering if there wasn’t a way to take an image painted during the day and glaze it down to make it a nocturne. Because, you know why it’s hard to paint a good nocturne on site? It’s dark, that’s why, and it’s real hard to find your paints let alone mix the right colors.
Glazing is a time honored technique. Maxfield Parrish, for example, worked only in glazes of primary pigment (first blue, then red, then yellow) because he felt it made the painting richer and promoted transmitted light not reflective. Like light going through stained glass rather than bouncing off a colored wall. So I went through my archive and picked an older painting with a moon in it, a fuzzy little thing that sold long ago. Fuzzy because of an incident with spraying varnish before the painting was dry. Another story. Glazing in photoshop is so easy and so undoable. I open up the painting, go to Layer > New fill layer > Solid color then pick a color. The trick is the mode button. In normal mode the fill layer is opaque, in Multiply mode, it’s transparent. Like a glaze. Once that’s done I used the eraser tool to, in effect, wipe out the areas of blue where I didn’t want it. Just like in real glazing. Done with that, I repeated the process using different colors of red and yellow again wiping out where it’s not needed. It was awesome.
What I got was a great simulated nocturne. Is it perfect? No. You lose all the subtle shifts of color by glazing like this but it’s a great start for reference should I decide to give it a whack. Now, all this being said, there are several other ways to do a nocturne. 1) Find a neutral night light source you can paint under. 2) Bring your own light sources, like book lights. 3) Do either sketches or value studies at night and make notes as to what the colors are. 4) Take an existing day time painting and glaze it down, then rework. 5) Just make it up from daytime reference and see where it goes.
I love learning new tricks, I’m now going to turn every painting I’ve ever done into a nocturne.