As I watch the long rays of sunlight create a brilliant stripe across the floor, I am reminded of the variety the four seasons provide. If you have ever lived in a home with large southern facing windows, you know well the power of winter light.
It affects our mood and certainly the painter’s palette.
I admit, I thrive in summer and warm weather. However, this winter I am making a conscious effort to embrace the season! We know the short days often lead to depression, and all cultures have sought ways to create winter light and festivity - be it a bon fire or Christmas Tree!
Determined to get back into the studio, this week I to paint from pastel plein air sketches I made in December at JTNP’s Black Rock Campground, near my home. Photography is a wonderful aid, but it does not record color as the human eye sees it.
How does our perception of color and attitude change with the seasons?
I know winter affects my art! Winter light is distinctly different! Images appear brighter in a clear, cold light – and shadows loom northward. Colors are also crisper. Animals and humans react differently during the winter. Seventh grade science and new studies tell us how winter light and colors are different:
1) I reviewed elementary science to verify that shadows are indeed longer in the winter. The summer sun is high in the sky striking the ground almost at a right angle, and shadows are short. However, during the winter the sun is low in the southern sky, striking the earth at an angle producing long shadows. http://www.classzone.com/vpg_ebooks/ml_sci_gr8/accessibility/ml_sci_gr8/page_386.pd
Last winter I visited Zion and had fun painting the tall peaks of upper Kolob Canyons in the snow!
2) Recent studies have also found that we perceive color differently in the winter. Researchers from the University of York (UK) recently discovered that our vision automatically adjusts to the seasons, especially regarding a color known as unique yellow. Humans identify four unique hues – blue, green, yellow and red. However, across cultures, everyone agrees on a similar wavelength to define pure yellow.
67 volunteers were recruited to test unique yellow in winter and summer. Each participant entered a darkened room and recorded when they saw “pure” yellow on a colorimeter. York winters are distinctly gray while summers are flooded with green. Researchers discovered that participants’ perception of pure yellow shifted with the seasons. In summer, their definition of yellow shifted toward shorter wavelengths, or a more greenish yellow. In winter, yellow perception shifted toward longer wavelengths, or a reddish yellow. https://www.livescience.com/51863-seasons-change-color-perception.html
I found this color perception experiment particularly interesting – it explains why we enjoy different colors during different seasons. It’s not just following trends or fashion-we physically and psychologically crave different colors!
3) Some animals which are brownish gray during the rest of the year turn white in winter: several species of hares—including the Arctic hare; three species of weasels; subspecies of caribou; lemmings; all three species of ptarmigans—a genus of birds related to grouse, chickens, and pheasants; artic foxes and Siberian hamsters all drop their drab brown for a winter white! https://www.britannica.com/list/7-animals-that-turn-white-in-winter
This week, I am also devising lessons on color mixing. Much of what I do is instinctive: blending a cool violet with orange to achieve a grayer tone for the distance, greens with ochres and even cool violet blues to achieve natural hues. In fact, once my palette is loaded with shades that I have toiled over all afternoon in the studio – I have fun just painting small experimental works - often in a few minutes.
So – as we watch those long rays of light at 3 in the afternoon disappear into winter darkness, how do we elevate our mood during the cold months of winter?
Below: Black Rock Campground Dec-2017- pastel, two oil paintings displaying winter light- Jasmin, 11x14 and Sunlit Kitty, 11 x 14 (both sold).
Note: The last 15 months have challenged us! This month I encourage you to learn from the isolation and I wish you a cautious, but joyous June reopening!
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