A while back, I suddenly realised that I didn’t know a huge amount about how to paint realistic fog and I tried to learn how to do it.
So, for today, I thought that I’d talk about the learning process in case it’s useful to you if you’re trying to work out how to draw or paint something new. At the very least, it might help you to avoid some of the mistakes that I made.
This whole thing started when I had a dream one night, where I saw an abandoned fog-covered version of the school that I went to when I was a teenager. Since it looked a bit like something from the old “Silent Hill” games, I wanted to make a painting of it. But, also suddenly realised that I didn’t know how to paint fog.
So, I did what I usually do when I don’t know how to draw or paint something – I looked closely at lots of reference images on Google Images.
From the many pictures of foggy roads and forests that I saw, I was able to work out that fog makes distant things appear to be lighter than things in the foreground. Not only that, it also makes distant things look like nothing more than undetailed blurry silhouettes. The fog itself was also usually a pale grey/ dark white colour too.
So, with this new knowledge, I made a painting based on my dream. However, the only way that I was able to get the fog to look even vaguely realistic was to digitally adjust the highlight/midtone/shadow levels in the image in a certain way after I’d scanned the painting. Not only that, since I’m more used to ink drawing than more traditional painting, I actually drew ink outlines of some of the silhouettes in the distance (which made them look too sharp). Anyway, here’s the painting:
Still, I was interested in learning more about how to paint fog traditionally.
So, realising that I shouldn’t outline the silhouettes in the distance, I decided to make a more traditional painting where I only used a pencil sketch as a guideline. This painting turned out fairly well, although I underestimated how dark a particular brand of black watercolour pencil would look when I used it for light shading.
After this, I was interested in learning how to paint fog-covered streets (mainly since I wanted to make a painting that was set in New Orleans). But, instead of looking at more reference pictures, I just decided to apply the same principles that I’d learnt from painting forests and open areas.
However, when I finished the painting, I (wrongly) thought that the foreground looked too detailed and I initially considered the painting to be something of a failure:
However, when I later looked at reference images of foggy city streets, I realised that I’d pretty much got it right. Unknown to me, fog behaves slightly differently in narrow streets – and it only really makes things in the far distance look hazy and blurry. So, from this, I learnt that if you’re going to use references then you need to be slightly more specific.
After this, I wanted to learn how to paint fog at night. So, I looked at more references and learnt that, at night, fog is pretty much the same colour as any nearby lighting is and that fog is also only really noticeable in the general area around lights too.
For example, if a street is let by streetlights, then the fog will appear to be orange and it will only be noticeable close to the ground and in the area surrounding the streetlight.
So, I tried (and failed) to paint this in two paintings:
In theory, this seemed like an easy thing to paint. But, as I realised in these two paintings, it was also very similar to the technique that I usually use for painting lights at night too. So, these paintings either didn’t look foggy enough or the fog appeared to be very localised and/or badly painted.
In the end, I decided that this was probably somewhat above my current skill level and I decided to try to make another “ordinary” fog painting. Despite a lot of digital editing to this painting, I made a few critical mistakes (mostly due to incorrect colour mixing on the tents in the mid-distance and/or brightness levels):
After this disappointing failure, I decided to take a break from painting fog. But, although I didn’t really learn as much from this experience as I’d hoped, I now at least have a basic understanding of the theory behind painting realistic fog – even though putting it into practice can be something of a game of chance.
What this means is that if one of my future paintings requires me to add fog, then I’ll be a lot less unprepared than I might otherwise have been. So, I guess that this experience hasn’t been a total waste of time.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂