Saturday, September 1, 2012

Painting the blue moon - plein air pastel painting

Blue Moon Reflection - 12x16"
black Strathmore
© S.Johnson
I have been wanting to paint a moonrise for a while now, and yesterday's blue moon was the perfect opportunity.  I've actually never painted a sunset on location, either, so I guess it's a "two-fer".

Moon + reflections = even neater, so I drove out to Pastorias SWA to paint.  An internet search told me that moonrise in Denver would be at 7:26 PM, so I arrived around 6:30 to the west side of the lake where I've never painted before.  Not knowing exactly where the moon would come up (its azimuth), I didn't worry, and just went with the best composition, and just plugged it into my chosen location when I had it and the reflection as a reference.

I used to think it would be difficult to paint sunsets because the light changes so rapidly.  Actually, I had no problem capturing the colors, even on this larger size paper.  The issue was having to change them while waiting for the moon to actually appear above the horizon!

I got 90% of it done on location, but had to completely re-do the moon in my studio because I didn't have any colors bright enough in my box.  Actually, it's almost an indescribable color, especially when it first comes up over the horizon - it's almost a neon orange-yellow.

Actually, the best time to paint and photograph the moon, unless you are going for a full nocturne painting, is the day before it is full; it looks full, but rises earlier when it is still light out.  If I can plan ahead, I'll try that next time.

Did you know?  A "blue moon" refers to a second full moon in the same month.  It's rare; there won't be another until 2015.  On Sept 29, the next full moon, will be a "harvest moon", which refers to the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox.


  1. THAT is all kinds of awesome Sonya!

  2. Thanks Sarah! It was really fun to paint something different like this :).

  3. I love the painting and the concept. Truly beautiful, Sonya. Well done!

  4. much planning to be on location at the precise time. There's a Plein Air paint-out here this next weekend along with the garden tour.

  5. Hi Liz - thanks. Certainly one of the benefits of painting on location is that it forces you to prioritize and work quickly and efficiently.

    One of these days, I'd love to do the plein air event in Bisbee! Need to brush up on my building-painting skills, though :)!

  6. Very inspiring! I got a good set of photos of our blue moon with my iPhone and will probably make a pastel - not as promptly as you, though!

    Our "harvest moon" was this last one, as the neighbors are well into harvesting the wheat. Big timer of year for us.

  7. Glad for that, Casey! I will look forward to seeing "The Colorist" take of the full moon - it will surely be inspiring for me as well.

    You know, I really need to make a trip up to your area to paint. I love the idea of painting wheat fields, especially when they are golden brown and the summer greens are gone. Sounds delightful.

  8. Love this one, Sonya. So evocative! I don't know if you have crickets where you are, but I hear crickets when I look at this piece. And maybe I feel a light cool breeze...

  9. Hi Gabrielle - thanks so much! I enjoyed the process, definitely something I want to do again. We do have crickets, and there were probably some going as I painted. It's an expected, and comforting ambient sound at dusk, for sure.


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