How to Paint Fog and Mist for Landscape Paintings and other transient effects

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Transient effects can seem somewhat mysterious. Especially when it comes to figuring out how to paint fog and mist! However, like most things, painting fog and mist is figure out-able. This article will illustrate how to approach the transient effects you encounter in nature. This, along with other helpful tips on how to create a realistic painting, will help bring your painting to life.

Subtlety is very important in painting fog and mist

First of all, subtlety is so important when it comes to painting fog and transient effects. The degree of subtlety with which you approach a work can make or break a painting.

When you look out at a landscape on a misty day there is much less distinction between things. A tree will no longer stand out from the rest of the landscape as a veil of fog covers everything.

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For example, look at the painting below by Monet:

Monet, Parliament building

One of the first things you will notice in the painting above is its subtlety. For example, The transition between where the ‘parliament building’ ends and the reflection in the water begins is nearly imperceptible. There is a very soft transition. All of the colors in the painting are very similar and are of a similar tonal range. Learn more about tonal range in this introductory guide to tonal values.

This is exactly how to paint fog and mist – by paying close attention to subtlety. Fog and mist inherently make everything less clear and distinctive. In addition, fog and mist creates less distinctive differences in terms of color and value between different parts. It is just as if a veil came over something and made everything closer together in value and unclear.

Creating Atmospheric Space

Atmospheric space is a technique of rendering depth or distance in a painting by modifying the tone, hue and distinctness of objects. So, in other words everything far off in the distance is less clear – and what is closer to the foreground is more clear. This can be manipulated with color, temperature and edges.

In a painting depicting fog, this is all exaggerated. So, what is far off in the distance is even softer than usual. You can see this at play in the painting below by Turner.

The Thames above Waterloo Bridge, J.M.W. Turner, 1835, Tate Art Museum, London

How to paint fog as shapes

When looking at fog it is easy to think of it as an ethereal visual phenomenon that cannot be solidified into a geometric form on your painting. However, I believe everything has a geometry and can be measured – even fog.

Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer Above the Sea and Fog

Caspar David Friedrich’s painting “Wanderer Above the Sea and Fog” is a great example of how to paint fog and mist. Notice the wanderer looking out at a vast expanse of space which is covered in mist and fog. The piece has a sense of mystery because of its use of fog and mist in the painting and is a quintessential romantic artwork.

Detail, Caspar David Friedrich

In the detail of the fog painting above, I marked out the shapes of different fog ‘spots’ to show how each area has a distinct shape.

Just because fog does not have a solid shape in real life does not mean that we can’t ‘quantify’ it and create a specific shape for it in our fog painting.

How to paint edges in fog and mist

So, once you find specific areas that form geometric shapes – such as what I outlined above in Friedrich’s painting then you must think about the edge. What are edges in painting? Here’s an article I wrote which details all about edges in painting and everything you need to know.

You must create soft transitions in and around the fog areas. This means that the color and tonal transitions must be very subtle. The soft edges around the foggy and misty areas in your painting is what will make it feel like fog more than anything else. So, spend a lot of time mixing subtle color transitions. You can see all the many subtle color, temperature and tonal transitions in the detail below of the same painting. There is great care taken in regards to the subtlety present in the painting of fog and mist here.

Detail, Caspar David Friedrich

Look and practice painting mist and fog

The best things you can do to help yourself understand more about how to paint fog, as well as painting mist. Is to simply go out and paint it from life with your plein air easel. There is no better teacher than nature itself. It might be a little frustrating during your first tries. However, after some time you will learn a lot about small shifts in tone and color and will become much more sensitive to the subtleties present in nature.

Also, you can copy portions of fog paintings that you find compelling. Doing this will help you learn how to handle painting fog and mist when you encounter it yourself!

If you’re looking for what’s next, here’s a look into how to paint a landscape to incorporate with your fog and mist painting adventures. As always if you have any questions or thoughts about how to paint fog and mist, would love to hear from you in the comments below!

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