Painting the Four Elements 2: Air and atmosphere

"Wreckers, Coast of Northumberland," oil on canvas, by the English artist J. M. W. Turner. Courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art.Date, circa 1834

“Wreckers, Coast of Northumberland,” oil on canvas, by the English artist J. M. W. Turner. Courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art.
Date, circa 1834

English painter J.M.W. Turner broke new ground with painting atmosphere and sky. in the early 1800’s.

"London, The Houses of Parliment: Stormy Sky. 1904, Claude Monet

“London, The Houses of Parliament: Stormy Sky, 1904, Claude Monet

Monet’s studies of atmosphere, fog, steam and clouds expressed his fascination with the ever-changing element of air around us.

Ed Mell, Towering Clouds, Lake Powell, Lithograph, Medicine Man Gallery, Santa Fe, NM

Ed Mell, Towering Clouds, Lake Powell, Lithograph, Medicine Man Gallery, Santa Fe, NM

Cloud Dance, oil, 30 x 30"_ Ed Mell, Medicine Man Gallery

Cloud Dance, oil, 30 x 30″_ Ed Mell, Medicine Man Gallery

Fast forward to our modern generation of artists. Ed Mell is one of my favorites, represented here in the collection of the Medicine Man Gallery of Santa Fe, NM.  Mell interprets the effects of light on clouds in new ways. Modern artists take more liberties with the values and colors they see, and Mell creates an almost sculptural effect in clouds. I really love these works by Ed Mell!

Dawn at the Pond, Karen Gillis Taylor, oil

Dawn at the Pond, Karen Gillis Taylor, oil, click for larger view.

Painting air and clouds means painting our impressions of what we see. Turner and Monet lived in a Europe of a different kind of weather than our American southwest. Maybe it’s no surprise that we painters from Arizona and Colorado see things a little differently, see color a bit more vividly and want to put that into our palette as we interpret skies and air.

Although I paint most frequently from imagination, who can resist making a painting from a scene like this right out your back door? That’s another way painting becomes personal. The scene is wonderful, a gift for the day. When we lived on the pond in Boulder, I was always watching the skies, especially at dawn. Camera always near to capture the perfect light, so quickly gone. Then came the interpretation later, thick paint this time with a palette knife.

The American southwest calls for color and drama in the skies. If you have never visited here, spend some time when you do. It’s true, the light and color of air is great for painting.

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