Chasing the Golden Hour

Cinematographers call the hour preceding sunset The Golden Hour. The descending sun's light takes on an orange hue; slanted and upright objects, such as trees, mountains and people, are spotlighted by that orange. It's a lovely time, and particularly in autumn and winter, when the dimming light of the sun is depressing as all get out, except during The Golden Hour. Famously, David Watkin tried to schedule as many exteriors as possible of his film Catch-22 during The Golden Hour. Landscapes painted during the dark seasons are often painted during The Golden Hour. Autumn still looks like autumn, but it's brilliant and shimmering.

Two years ago, in late October, I became fascinated with a goose field in Newtown, Ohio during The Golden Hour, and sketched the light effect very rapidly:


One of the things every painter learns sooner or later is that to obtain an effect of bright light, white paint is not a good tool. Bright light does not equal white, which actually is quite cool, but rather it equals intense color — particularly intense warm color. Even the greens seen above are warm, obtained by mixing ultramarine with cadmium yellow medium, rather than cadmium lemon.

This sketch was done over a previous painting, which perhaps explains the rough texture. It took all of fifteen minutes to paint. The little flecks seen at the far edge of the field are geese. It would take me two years to come up with a satisfactory way of indicating those geese in a larger picture.


A couple of days later I returned to the spot with a 20x24" canvas. I did this underpainting. Not sure why I chose this Indian Red for the ground, but pale yellows and oranges are often very good for skies, especially skies one intends to paint in blues later on.

Possibly the Indian Red was chosen as a complimentary color to the greens of grass and foliage, as well as being a pigment capable of producing fairly dark values. But looking back, if it's throbbing compliments I was after, as well as a pigment that could give me darks when necessary, wouldn't Ultramarine have been a good choice, as something to be overpainted in various oranges?

But heck, this was 2015, back when I was very young. I had heard about the need to have one hue pervading and dominating a scene, but I hadn't yet accepted and embraced the notion. Not, at least, to the extent that I could use it in the scoping out of color, and the selection of pigments for underpainting.


Here's a snapshot of the scene taken that day, but the real Golden Hour hadn't quite arrived.


I think scenes such as this one, with a strong light effect, testify as to the folly of looking into its various components, instead of taking jn the whole scene at once. The more I'd look into the sky, the more blue I saw. But the whole scene is essentially orange. Orange, in the parlance of some painters, is the scene's Mother Color. That effect was lost here.


This alteration was made last year about this time. The strong oranges suggest The Golden Hour. The sky's blues had to be tempered with yellow, or that orange domination would be gone. In some ways, this state is superior to the "final" version I completed yesterday.


Here's the final session on the picture from last year. It didn't end on a good note; i looked into the sky again, and lost some of the intense light on upright planes. Thus did the picture look for another year, leaning against the wall. An unfinished picture, particularly one fraught with unsolved problems, hangs like Damocles' sword. It cries for solutions. It cries for understanding which one may not yet have.

And it's a souvenir of earlier times, times when 20x24" was my idea of a full size picture. Today, anything smaller than 20x24" is a miniature to me. I've run out of stretched and mounted canvi, and have to cut up some plywood soon, upon which canvas can be glued. I think I'm going to go after 20x24" and 24x28", a bunch of 'em. Between those and the scores of failed pictures of yore, I've got many square yards upon which I can learn and teach.


This was yesterday's effort. Maybe I'm done. Maybe the scene, and the picture, aren't worth further futzing. I think I got my Golden Hour, at least as well as I did two years ago with a used canvas and fifteen minutes.