Who is Afraid of the Dark?


Often when I go out to paint in the great outdoors, I chase light and color. My focus often without really thinking about it, is the sun! I rotate around the sun I suppose. In the past I wouldn’t budge out the door to go paint unless there is sunlight. The fact that my favorite lighting is when there are clouds and sun barely peeking through. I am sure that there is a term for this kind of lighting and if you can enlighten me, please do. I think it is the special glow that makes the colors go “pop”! Now with that being said, I still ventured out only if the day is sunny. Even though I like the lighting found in part cloudy days, I won’t venture out because I like the assurance of a clear, sunny day.

All habits now and then need to be broken. Like most people, I have a difficult time venturing away from what is safe, secure or what I have deemed”tried and blue”. I have been pushing myself in areas that I know keeps me safe and stagnant. In general, I like to explore new ideas, new locations and new attitudes but when it comes to art, I find this stops short. You may ask why? Like most artists, their paintings are tied to the self esteem, am I good at painting? Do people like my paintings? The list goes on and on. For myself, venturing out is hard because I am stepping away from what I feel confident in. For the past two years maybe more, I have been trying to give my static attitude and approach a big heave ho.

Last October of 2015, I ended up once again on the North Yuba to paint. I often find that finding the right time for a particular spot on the river is often difficult because some places the sun hits the river at 8 am, sometimes not till 10 am! I decided that by 8:30 am  I would be set up by the time the sun was just hitting my scene. I was wrong! I was off at least over an hour or so. It was dark, no sun and I was thinking that by the time I was completely set up, I would have sun. No. Then a lightbulb went off in my head (sometimes it happens!) and I would start painting all my darks and shapes and by the time the sun hits my scene, I would be ready! What a novel idea!


This photo doesn’t show how dark it actually was but you get the idea, no sun directly shining on the mountains or trees in the background. I was able to lay in all the darks and the shapes and got a wonderful start on the painting. Before long there was light!


I love this new technique because when I proceeded to put my lights in I didn’t have to rush because my painting was already 75-80% finished by the time I focused on the lights. Since then I have used this technique at least 5 times and it has worked except a few times where the sun beached out the colors and the subtleties of the scene were lost. Now I prefer starting my painting in the “dark” rather than when the sun is shining brightly. I am beginning to understand why I chase light and color. It is exciting and beautiful and I use it as a catalyst for creativity. I have learned that it takes a quiet, observant eye to properly discern colors that are obscure in the dark of a scene.

Learning is never a done deal in the world of art and creativity, be willing to be shaken loose from a safe and seemingly secure artist stance. I now challenge you to do something this week that will put you in an area of discomfort. Remember that discomfort is just a feeling, it doesn’t mean that failure is just around the corner. Don’t be afraid of the dark and don’t be afraid of not knowing where you are  going! It is an adventure!

Here is my painting on the easel and then lastly, my painting up close. I finished up my painting in the studio and it turned out beautiful.



This painting is on PastelMat paper and I used various hard and soft pastels. The location is approximately 2-3 miles north of Goodyears Bar in Sierra Co. in California.


11 thoughts on “Who is Afraid of the Dark?

      1. Thanks for the explanation Margaret and delighted that this was painted plein air. You know such a impressionistic painting’s worked when it connects with people without any need of an explanation – great stuff!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Now I just learned something by your comment! thank you so much! Plein air is my passion though for me pastel is easier and less stress and I need to get out there more with my watercolors. I think I will challenge myself this year by doing just that. 🙂


  2. Pingback: Watercolor Mayhem – Yuba Gold

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