Florida artist Stephen Bach discovered that a seemingly routine part of his painting proved challenging: the depiction of small, twinkling stars in the night sky. After some experimentation, Bach figured out how to portray them convincingly.
“I was painting the train station in Winter Park,” Bach recalls. “I was painting it for the poster of the town’s Paint Out event, and I knew they were going to need a lot of space for type. But there was so much space! I left a vacant area, but I realized it couldn’t be totally vacant. So I put in the stars. I started out dabbing little points of light, and that didn’t work. I was asking myself, ‘Why is this not looking good?’ I realized how soft you have to make them.”
Bach’s night-painting setup
Even with knowledge of the problem, Bach was not off the hook. “I painted the sky back in at least twice trying to get the stars right,” he says. “It was the hardest part of the painting. I painted the stars in on top of the graduated sky, but they looked too abrupt and disconnected from the distance I was trying to portray. After they dried, I put a semi-transparent layer on top of it throughout the sky, leaving a bit of a ghost about the stars. Then lightly highlighted one or two of them. It’s hard to get them that right degree of softness to suggest seeing them through so much atmosphere.”
Bach says, “Sometimes the easiest things are the things that trip me up. You either hit it right the first time or you don’t.”