Sparkling Light
For an outdoor view, the light in the scene is paramount.

Sparkling Light

February 10, 2023

One unexpected benefit to being a landscape painter is developing an acute knowledge of weather patterns. For an outdoor view, the light in the scene is paramount. It doesn’t take long to figure out that the best light doesn’t happen every day, or even every three or four days. Sometimes, one has to wait a week, or even a season, for that magic light to come back.

In San Francisco, the best light happens from September to mid-November, when the days are long. Beautiful white light infused with salt mist from the ocean sparkles over San Francisco, creating a golden glow. For a plein air painter, this is the best time to paint in the city. Light-colored Victorians shine in this kind of brilliance. Once the days grow short, and the winter rains come, the light become pale and dim, so that scenes that seemed glorious before, now seem glum.

One scene I chose for the light was a Victorian at 23rd and Noe, in Noe Valley. In the fall, this yellow Victorian had a special sheen around 4pm in the afternoon on a sunny day. From painting this house, I learned that the rains come every four days and last about as long. During that time, I couldn’t paint, because the light didn’t work. I had to wait for the sunny days, and I had to be available at 4pm, or I missed the window. One learns to be selfish about time in these circumstances.

Another place of intriguing weather patterns is Lake Michigan. By fortunate circumstance, I have spent enough summers there now that I have come to know certain kinds of light. Some sunsets are a lurid red, where the tips of the clouds turn fuchsia. On a typical sunny day, there is a hard bright yellow light. One my favorite patterns is the blue-white light that sometimes appears in the early afternoon. This sparkling loveliness comes with biblical-looking sun rays shining in the distance. I have attempted to capture this look in my latest watercolor of Lake Michigan. The contrast between the dark greenery near the lake and the blue in the sky is a pleasure to experience. I hope you enjoy the picture as well.