Light and Atmospheric Perspective in the Florida Landscape, painting by Everglades artist JoAnn Sanborn

This painting was commissioned to go along side another, similar painting as part of the paintings for the new First Third Bank. It took more time than I had hoped, and I had to fight to made it similar to it's companion piece and yet varied enough for interest. I hope both pieces will look terrific in their new location.
Light and Atmospheric progression were very much on my mind, and I thought you might like to learn more about them. In the landscape, if you paint what you see, you may not get what you want! This is because it’s not easy to translate the huge expanse of open land you see onto a small canvas ground. Using techniques involving the progression of light and the properties of the atmosphere can help translate the space and volume of the landscape on a small canvas in a way that reflects reality.

Creating atmospheric space in a painting means to understand how light affects the landscape. When working outside, the light source is always natural light. Light changes as the sun moves through the sky, and the colors you choose to use in your captured moment should also change to reflect this movement.

Objects near the sun, provider of light in the natural landscape, are warmer than those farther away from the sun. The colors used to portray the sky, clouds, and landscape nearest to the sun should be warmer colors than those used to portray the sky, clouds, and landscape furthest away from the sun.

In addition, because there is moisture in the atmosphere which blocks some of the light, the landscape colors cool and gray as they recede into the distance. Objects near to the viewer, in the foreground of the landscape will be sharper and brighter than objects further back in the space of the canvas.

A dark mass in the distance will become softer and lighter than one up close, and become lighter still where it touches the sky. Clouds will be brighter and more defined close to the sun. Most of the reds and yellow disappear from the distant land masses as they recede, leaving the landscape blue and purple in the distance. Details of near flowers or objects soften or are lost in the distant view.

Value is also an important consideration. Areas in sunlight are almost always above middle gray in value, and areas in shadow are almost always below middle gray in value. Values, too, are muted as they recede from the light. Don’t forget the mass values, either, where the upright planes are always darker then the horizontal plane because the light source is the sky.

In south Florida the light is most often very warm, or yellow, but there will be days that are cooler and bluer. Overcast days can be either warm or cool depending on the underlying heat in the sky. Sometimes at sunset or sunrise pink or yellow will pervade the sky and infuse the landscape with colored light. These are magic moments to be enjoyed and celebrated in paint!

Art rules will be rules, meant to be tested and sometimes broken. First you must know them, and make a conscious decision to go your own way. If it’s not working out, returning to the “rules” will often help get your painting back on track! Get out there and observe, again and again, and you will not be disappointed!