How to paint fog and mist

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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 mist and fog 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

First of all, subtlety is so important when it comes to painting 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. oil painting tutorial. oil painting for beginners. How to paint transient effects. step by step demonstration. Oil painting tutorial
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.

J.M.W. Turner, How to paint mist and fog. All about painting mist and fog and smoke and other transient effects. Oil painting tutorial. Learn how to paint. painting for beginners. Oil painting tutorial
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, how to paint mist and fog, Learn how to paint transient effects. How to oil paint mist and fog. Oil painting tutorial. Oil painting for beginners
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.

Caspar David Friedrich, how to paint mist and fog, Learn how to paint transient effects. How to oil paint mist and fog. Oil painting tutorial. Oil painting for beginners
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.

Caspar David Friedrich, how to paint mist and fog, Learn how to paint transient effects. How to oil paint mist and fog. Oil painting tutorial. Oil painting for beginners
Detail, Caspar David Friedrich

Look and Practice…

The best thing you can do to help yourself understand more about how to paint fog 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!

Elisabeth Larson Koehler creator of art studio life

Hi! I am Elisabeth

Art Studio Life exists for you to be able to stay inspired, learn, and improve your skills.

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      6 thoughts on “How to paint fog and mist”

      1. This is great I I’m 77 yrs old always wanted to paint, started doing a little bit a few years back, then I lost my husband an younger daughter, got depressed and stopped painting, now my oldest is pushing me to start painting again, so that is what I am going to do.

        1. Elisabeth Larson Koehler

          Dear Margarita – I am so sorry for your loss, I cannot imagine having to go through that. Sending you my deepest condolences. Though I am happy to hear that you are going to start painting again! Glad that your oldest is pushing you toward it. Painting adds so much richness to life – I hope it will do just that for you! Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need any painting help or have any painting questions.

          Elisabeth

        2. So glad your picking up that brush up again 👍🎨🙏I believe it will give you strength and the power to heal and hope it paints happiness into your life. My painting and yoga practice makes me smile and appreciate every special day we live on this earth. 🎨🙏😊❤️

        3. Margarita Garate: So Sorry for your loss, I’m 58 and Have heart trouble, I can’t get out like I used to and I took up painting as well, it helps pass the time and I really enjoy It, my only problem is remembering what I have learnt lol, I think Painting truly helps us express our emotions to the canvas in a small way that’s is beneficial to our soul. Joyce

      2. I really enjoy your articles… the How to Paint Clouds was so well done, actually explaining the color combinations and why you choose them.
        I would find the same sort of artilcles detailing greens found in trees and grass in a plein air setting extremely helpful. I know there are many different light and shadow circumstances but it does seem to be a common issue for most of us.

        1. Elisabeth Larson Koehler

          Thank you so much for your kind words about my articles – very happy to hear you enjoy! As well, thank you for the suggestion – have been wanting to do an article about greens found in trees and grass. Plan to get one up on the website in the not too distant future 🙂

          Elisabeth

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