Painting in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Midnight, Bear Lake 12.5 x 9.5" Pastel John Hulsey
“You can’t be serious!” the young ranger said to me at the Visitor's Center. “Oh, but I am, most definitely”, I replied. “How can you paint at night? It’s DARK out there!” he persisted. I could clearly see that he was interested by now, and perhaps a little concerned for my welfare. After all, he was right, in a way. RMNP is a BIG place and it gets very empty of people at night, so if I should stumble and fall, rescue is not a sure thing. Plus there are the mountain lions to consider.
“The reason I am going to paint in the Park tonight is the full moon – it will provide all the light I need to get around safely and create a very special painting”, I explained. “The light will be magical, and no one will be around to distract me. It is extremely peaceful. Why don’t you come along?” I offered. “Thanks, but no, I have to get some sleep tonight – these summer days are long enough for us as it is”, he said, finally. With that, he turned away, busy with other park visitors who visit the Park to hike the trails every summer.
I was lucky to be in the “cat-bird’s seat”, having been awarded a two-week artist's residency in a park-owned cabin in one of the most scenic spots in RMNP. The William Allen white cabin sits on a little rise looking west into Moraine Park and the mighty Front Range. There is a large covered porch where one can sit all day and watch the mountain scenery and wildlife go by as the sun works its magic on the snow-capped peaks, finally setting the stage ablaze with color and light as it slowly sets behind them. A little while later, everyone, except the campers and cabin-dwellers, leaves the park for the night. Peace settles into one’s bones as darkness arrives and the campfires flare and then slowly fade in the distant campground. Now is the moment when I go to work, packing up my gear for painting at Bear Lake. I have been timing the waxing moon over the last several days, and I know that I will need to be up there near midnight to get the best position of the full moon over the lake for the painting I have imagined I want to create.
Arriving in the vast, empty parking lot at 11:30, my artist-wife Ann and I grabbed our gear from the car and headed off up the trail which circles the lake. Inky black shadows enveloped us as we headed into the trees, so we switched on the led lamps built-in to our hats in order to find our footing. The lights were just bright enough to light our way, yet not as bright as a flashlight, which would have been blinding to our eyes as we tried to adjust to the dim light around us. Over the years, I have discovered that in order to paint in moonlight, I need some additional light on my work surface and my palette, but not so much that it causes my irises to have to adjust too radically to the changing illumination as I look from landscape to work surface. These new leds are just right, and because they are in the brim of my hat, they move with me. A big improvement over my old lighting gear, which consisted of a book light muffled down with layers of paper towels and rubber bands, clamped on to my easel. In minutes we were set up and working in the brilliant moonlight. What a joy it is to be painting at night in such a beautiful and inspiring place with my best friend beside me! With my portable pastel set I worked quickly, one ear cocked for predators, the rest of my senses focused on the scene before me. Soon, we were done, and it was time for a well-earned rest. Walking back down to the car we talked about how rare these moments are in a life, and how we must plan time to paint at night once again.
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The Artist's Road Store
Filled with inspirational examples by the masters of nightime painting, this little book is sure to fire up your creative energies. Never tried painting at night? We show you how it's done with a step-by-step-oil demo and a tale of night painting in the wilds of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Primer on Night Painting - Nocturnes is a 7 x 7" PDF download with 40 pages of text and images. It includes a gallery of paintings by masters of the nocturne, information to inspire and encourage you in your plein air nocturne painting, an illustrated step-by-step demo and tips for working in pastel and oil. Also available in a softcover edition. Check out the tools and other products that we use in our own art and travels in The Artist's Road Store. We only offer things for sale that we enthusiastically believe in.
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