Painting a smoke-filled landscape

I had all week off work, so spent it with a group of long-time friends at Alta Lake, in the Sierras. Unfortunately, the fires continue across the state, including two near the lake. The smoke was particularly heavy in the mornings, which is when I painted this.

To make the most of it, painting a smoke-filled landscape provides ideal conditions for practicing aerial perspective, the ability to represent distance in the 2-dimensional world of the canvas. Basically, that effect is achieved by graying out color, making in more blue, and brining values closer together. The bend in this lake is only about 200 yards, but it looks much further due to the heavy smoke. I also warmed the sky a bit to play off the blues, give the feeling of distant fire, and to have an area of warmth to balance the lower right ground, which was in full sun.

Smoke on Alta Lake – Oil on Linen – 8×10″

Want to see more paintings done during wildfires? Check out Camille Przewodek’s website in the “new” section (scroll to bottom). If you have some, add comments with links to your own images.

9 thoughts on “Painting a smoke-filled landscape”

  1. Nice one, Ed! Glad to see you were able to “make lemonade out of lemons.” Thanks for the link to Camille’s site and her fire paintings. What a terrible thing all these fires are! Someone should do a small book: “California Plein Air Artists and the Fires of 2008.”

  2. I’ve been horrified watching the news on these fires. At least you got an interesting painting out of it. Wishing you some of our cool cloudy western Oregon weather.

    Beautiful work.

  3. Ed,
    I was at Lake Tahoe around the same time. Mornings were relatively clear, but the afternoon winds blew in smoke from the fires, and at times you could not see the other side of the lake! I painted some, and went soaring out of Truckee. From 11000 feet you could almost see a wall of smoke blowing in over the lake! A few snapshots are on my blog, http://www.donaldneff.com/blog/ although they don’t show the worst of the smoke.

  4. Very Cool.

    I read once that after the volcano Krakatoa went off in 1883, the dust made for some amazing sunsets worldwide. In London an artist named William Ascroft did an extensive series of watercolors of them – couldn’t find many online, but you can see a few if you do a search on his name

  5. like this painting

    your greys have been good for a time now, ed

    the story gives importance to the painting

    but wouldn’t smke equally blot out the brushmarks? the textures? i kinda think of the smoke as flat & smooth?

    btw, turner’s watercolours & oil od the burning of the houses of parliament “put more fire into it” was his advice

  6. @Adam: yes, one way to enhance the fog effect further would have been to flatten the brush strokes. My approach was to use brush strokes to show some detail within flat forms, so my strokes followed the tree limbs, for example. Just a personal choice. I also like to distinguish my work through brushwork, so perhaps that came into play too.

    Thanks for your considered comment!

  7. I love the atmosphere in this one Ed! You are right, I really feel the other side of the lake is a lot more distant than you described in your post. Great choice in sky color too, any other color might not have worked as well. Beautiful!

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