Saturday, August 26, 2017

Sandra Hildreth: Painting the Eclipse

Whiteface during the Eclipse of 2017I painted the eclipse of August 21, 2017. No, not a solid black background with an orange disk with a bite taken out of it. I went out to a favorite painting location and I painted the effects of the eclipse on the Adirondack landscape!

It was kind of a crazy idea, but I figured a 60% reduction of the amount of light coming from the sun should have some kind of an optical impact on the world around us. I considered several options and then went to the Harrietstown Cemetery hill, on Route 86, where there is an unobstructed view looking east towards Whiteface, Moose and McKenzie Mountains. They are always bathed in light during the afternoon, so I figured the reduction of light would effect the colors and values.

I got there around 11 am, parked my car in such a way that I could open the tailgate and give myself some shade from the heat of the sun, as it was forecast to be in the 80’s. I didn’t have any eclipse glasses but did make myself a little pinhole device to I could maybe see the progress of the eclipse. I set up my easel, mixed up some neutral grey oil paint, and roughly paint-sketched the basic shapes of Whiteface and the lesser hills and mountains that were between us. The foreground was a beautiful meadow of goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace.

Then I waited. Had good cell service so checked the progress of the eclipse on the west coast using my smart phone. Then I decided I might as well paint in a thin layer of the basic colors as I observed them. During the eclipse, as the light dimmed, I could modify the colors – I assumed I would be making them darker. It was kind of humid, so the mountains were pretty hazy – I really was uncertain about how less light would effect them. There were a few puffy white clouds fairly close to the horizon and clear, bright, blue skies.

Fortunately a guy pulled off the road near me, set up a camera on a tripod, and had a super duper welding mask that could be used to look at the sun. He let me take a few looks as the eclipse began.

I used my camera to see what was happening, because I have to admit, it was pretty hard to see anything with my own eyes! But things were changing, very subtly. Before the moon began to move over the sun, I looked through my camera, adjusted the shutter to f.8 at 1/800 of a second and the digital photo looked pretty much like what I was looking at. The hazy blue of the mountains, the color of the sky, the whiteness of the clouds. When the moon was about 1/2 way across, I checked again. Had to slow the shutter down to 1/500 of a second to get an accurate photo. At our 60% peak of the eclipse, the shutter had to be set at 1/250 of a second. So there was definitely less light.

Whiteface during the Eclipse of 2017What effect did the eclipse have visually? Well, this is not a very scientific observation, but rather an artistic one. The sky originally was brighter along the horizon, along the contours of Whiteface Mountain. During the eclipse, it got less bright and grayer. I mixed a little pale orange into my sky blue mixture to try to duplicate that effect. The puffy white clouds had mostly disappeared in reality, but I’d already painted some in and liked how they looked, compositionally, so noticed that those that were left got pinker and there was much less contrast between them and the sky color. The hazy blue of Whiteface, well, I think it became slightly more purple, which would make sense. If the clouds got pinker, that same pink would impact the hazy blue and make it a hazy purplish-blue! The middle ground between me and Whiteface also got a little grayer – less contrast again. I didn’t really see any change in the field of wildflowers in the foreground, so I left that area alone.

Will my photos, at the different shutter speeds, verify my artist observations? I don’t really know – I couldn’t really tell looking at them in the camera and haven’t downloaded them to the computer yet. My final observation is that when the eclipse was at it’s peak in our area, at about 2:39 pm, that it sort of made the view look like it might look at 7-7:30 pm, when there is less light on the mountains as the sun sinks lower in the western sky. And maybe 60% coverage of the sun by the moon doesn’t really reduce the amount of light hitting earth by 60%, as anybody else who was outside on the afternoon of August 21, 2017 might verify. I will look forward to the full eclipse that the Adirondacks is supposed to experience in 2024.

“Whiteface during the Eclipse” can be seen in the Adirondack Artists Guild Gallery, 52 Main St., Saranac Lake, along with other new works, during the my featured artist exhibit there for the month of September.

Painting: Whiteface during the Eclipse of 2017, oil, 16×12.

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Sandra Hildreth, who writes regularly about Adirondack arts and culture, grew up in rural Wisconsin and is a retired high school art teacher. She lives in Saranac Lake where she was spends much of her time hiking, paddling, skiing, and painting. Today, Sandy can often be found outdoors Plein air painting - working directly from nature, and is an exhibiting member of the Adirondack Artists' Guild in Saranac Lake. She is also active in Saranac Lake ArtWorks. Sandy’s work can be seen on her website

3 Responses

  1. Betty Bird says:

    Loved your observations on the effects of the changing light of the eclipse on colors. Thanks for passing them along.

  2. Thanks! I’ll be looking forward to the 2024 eclipse that will be total up here in the Adirondacks. Someone who was in Oregon reported that it loooked like there was a sunset all along the entire 360 degree horizon.

  3. Mary Thill says:

    Interesting and beautiful. This vista was protected last fall by a generous local family and the Adirondack Land Trust.