Friday, March 30, 2012


Shades of Gray

This is a day to curl up with a good book or a movie, some hot beverage and an old blanket and not move until the sun comes out.
But if you do that you’ll miss an opportunity to capture some of the wonders of nature. Sure everyone loves to see the vivid colors the sun brings out, the lush greens, the hot reds and yellows, all of the tints of orange and the subtle browns and blues plants hide when the light is bad. So why would anyone bundle up, cover the easel or camera with plastic and go out when the wind is howling and the rain is raining and it is just not fit for man nor beast.

Cause that’s the only time you can see the play of gray that the failing light cloaks the world in when the rains come.

Yeah, I know, I hate to get my feet wet and since my stay with the Quack last summer my thermostat is busted and the cold seeps right down into my bones and makes me shake and shiver like a wet kitten and I hate it.

I was never cold. I went my whole, misspent life with my internal cooker set on high. I used to get hate mail from the electric company. In Texas it never got cold enough to use a blanket and I had to get rid of all of my sweaters cause the good folks turned their central heat up way too high for me and wool to coexist.

Not any more and I can tell you, without hesitation why those nice, terribly polite English guys in the PBS costume dramas are always dressing for dinner, it was too cold in Wadsworth Mansion or Brighton Abby of the Colchester Grange to run around in shirt sleeves.

In truth those clever folks came up with the ascot for just such a heating emergency. See we lose a bunch of heat from the head and neck and if you plug the hole where your head pokes through the garment, (I know, I’ve never used that word in a sentence before but it just seemed proper when talking about English dressing between the Wars.), you can keep the central core a lot warmer and a warmer core translates into a warmer you and you can do it without sending off nineteen, ninety-five to the Snuggler folks who will send you a blanket made from recycled wash cloths and fitted with arm holes for which you will have to paid the shipping and handling of $29.95 plus tax.

So instead of making Billy the Barker enough money to buy a new Mercedes you could just get an ascot and wrap it around your neck and be toasty warm. Truth be told a muffler or scarf will do nicely, thank you very much and I do happen to have a few more of those since I took a trip to London back in the nineties and over there they wear scarves a bunch cause the wind and the rain are about as common parts of English weather as they are in Oregon.

So bundle up, ascot, muffler, scarf at your discretion but don’t wear a hoodie cause in Florida that’s a sure way to be mistaken for a prowler and you wouldn’t want to have to run through the rain soaked grass and weeds with some wild-eyed civil defense warden waving his flashlight and yelling. That’s sure to wake the neighbors and you know how easily frightened they can be.

Now where were we? Oh yes, the glories of gray.

In addition to rain and wind we have a lot of water around here and there is nothing which takes to gray better than water. Sure blue is the traditional color for water but you’re going to have to use that for sky anyway so why not make the water gray? Those pewter shadows across the sandbars can make for a very thoughtful and somber picture. Remember Gothic has been around for a long time and where would Jane Eyre be without it or Lord Byron for that matter and Mary Shelley practically invented the wind tossed moor, so don’t think there’s no interest in gray and gloom.

I mean think about this, would we still remember and read Sherlock Holmes if he had chased that afoot game across the streets of San Francisco? Certainly not for the game to be afoot you need a moor and a deer stalker and maybe a meerschaum pipe or a calabash and don’t forget the gray and troubled skies.

What about Bulwer-Lytton? Could there be a worst opening line contest if there had been no “dark and stormy night”? And don’t forget the World’s Greatest Novelist, Snoopy. He always starts with “It was a dark and stormy night…”

So there are plenty of reasons to get a few mood paintings/pictures under your belt.

Now you do have to think about this for a bit or you will wind up on KVAL news. Use your camera even if you are a painter. It is so much easier to roll down the window and take a quick shot form inside the nice, warm, dry car than it is to brave the elements and risk pneumonia and a lightning strike.

Later in the safety of your studio you can paint that scene from the print and still be an authentic artists and dray all at the same time.

Watch out for glare. It may seem odd but there is nothing like the glassy gray surface of troubled waters for sending out horrendous glare and flashback. Try this, take the camera out of Auto mode and use the manual settings. Take the F/stop down a notch or two. (Yes, you can, your camera probably has a button
marked +/- so that you can downshift a stop or two without having to actually know what you are doing.

A coupla stops and you’ll get some great shadows and a lot of amazing color. That’s right all of that gunmetal hides a lot of color once you take a long look at it

If you’re afraid to fiddle too much with your settings try this, the selector wheel on the top of the camera probably has a Nat setting or an Auto with a lightning bolt symbol. That’s for natural light and it lets you shoot like a tourist while taking advantage of the great shades the unsettled weather can bring.

Why am I still talking? Don’t read another word or scan another paragraph. Get out there and take your pictures and then brew up some Blue Mountain and put on your fuzzy slippers. There’s a week more of this and with an hour or two and the camera you won’t get have time to get cabin fever.

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