Zagreb Nocturnes

Since the days are so short here in Zagreb (and I’m losing my mornings to language classes), I’ve been trying my hand at plein air nocturnes lately.

The Bar at Zvijezda (2011). 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

The Bar at Zvijezda (2011). 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Last winter I tried one nocturne of the small bar around the corner from my house. The idea was to sketch the composition in pencil and then begin the lay-in on site. However, for the bulk of the work I had the painting elsewhere and, in the evenings, I would stop and try to memorized the view and then paint later from memory. It was like sight-sizing from a block away. The idea was based on the quote by Degas about memory drawing:

“If I were to open an academy I would have a five-story building. The model would pose on the ground floor with the first-year students. The most advanced students would work on the fifth floor.”

This year I’m more prepared. These new clip-on LED lights work very well, and have a much cooler light than the ones you could buy, years ago, when I last tried plein air landscape painting at night. The brand I’m using is Mighty Bright from Santa Barbara, CA and I have the two pronged ones they make for orchestra conductors. (Edit: As Jerry Campbell commented, these lights can be slightly blue. I also found myself compensating to knock down the oranges. Pushing the light right up to the canvas warms it up a bit, but if anyone one has a suggestion for a more neutral plein-air-at-night lighting solution, I’d love to hear it).

My set-up for nocturnes.

My set-up for nocturnes.

A second set of lights would be great as I don’t get enough light consistently across the panels and have to move the light to where I’m working.

Painting in the snow at night can be really cold. I wrote a post last winter on keeping warm, which you can read here.

Cathedral Nocturne #1. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

Zagreb Cathedral Nocturne #1. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

Cathedral Nocturne #2. 30 x 20, oil on panel (unfinished).

Zagreb Cathedral Nocturne #2. 30 x 20, oil on panel (unfinished).

The Central Train Station at Night, Zagreb. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

The Central Train Station at Night. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

More to come. In the meantime, here are a couple more from the heavy snows we’ve had this month in Zagreb.

Winter, Britanski Trg.

Winter, Britanski Trg. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Mirogoj in the Snow.

Mirogoj in the Snow. 30 x 40 cm, oil on panel.

Hrvatsko Narodno Kazalište

Steps of the HNK. 30 x 20 cn, oil on panel.

Ulica A.G. Matoša, Zagreb

Ulica A.G. Matoša. 28 x 18 cm, oil on panel.


  1. Kudos to you for not only painting at night but also in the snow. I could never handle that. Love all these-Mirogoj is my favorite. Bitter cold here in Maine right now. Thinking of those warm Tuscany landscapes which are more appealing at the moment.

  2. Hi Marc, great stuff! I am also a lover of painting at night, as you say the days are not long enough at this time of year. On the subject of painting from memory I had an amusing experience at a workshop I ran last year. I found that the students had very superficial memory indeed and could not remember even the simplest relationships/proportions in their paintings. I resorted to a game that I used to play with my sister as a child, of putting twenty objects on a tray, covered with a towel, and each player would have thirty seconds with the cloth removed to remember the objects on the tray. We used to call it Kim’s game or Pelmonism. Some of the students could only recall five or six items. When I played with my sister we could always get all twenty and used to break the tie by having to describe the objects, ie a “playing card” had to be five of spades, a “ring” had to be a ruby and diamond cluster etc. Now without realising it my sister and I were remembering the whole picture and the relationships of all the objects to each other whereas the students were trying to learn the names of the objects.
    BTW these were all university students.
    As an exercise I then painted a small demo with my back to the subject only looking every two or three minutes at the scene. This turned out to be a good way to explain how the block in of the big shapes in the right relationships laid the foundation for a sound structure into which the smaller elements could be placed as the painting progressed.
    The students realised what I was getting at and their visual memory then improved quite fast. It just illustrated how observing in the right way is so crucial to painting and explains why some people struggle with what you and I might regard as basics.
    On another note are you going to Ireland this year? I know you said you had a busy season ahead but I just wondered.

    Best wishes


  3. Marc,
    I enjoy painting nocturnes and have found a bicycle light that works very well for me.
    It is made by Petzl, and is mounted to an elastic headband so the light follows your head movement. I use also the Mighty Brite orchestra pit light, but it’s a bit bluish.

  4. Thanks for the comments and compliments everyone, and thanks for the story Michael. Darren Rousar is a good source for memory drawing information: (I will be in Ireland again this year).

    @Jerry, you’re right – the Mighty Brites are slightly blue, I should edit the post. I find getting the light closer to the panel warms it up a bit, but using a second bicycle light would probably work better. Which Petzl is it?

  5. I’ve used an LED head lamp which I got from a local hardware store. Has three white LED’s and one red one. Works ok but I don’t think there white balanced lol. Nice nocturnes, love the colors and depth.

    I’m super amazed you work from an area no bigger than the fist to mix your paint. I used to have a small pochade box that had about 3×5 area to mix paint with perimeter for locating your colors. Now I use something around 11×14. Nice paintings Marc.

  6. People have suggested headlamps to me before, but I thought that whenever I looked at a scene it will illuminate it, thus ruining the whole point of a nocturne….?

    The mighty brite double is nice because you get one for your palette as well, a problem I had with clip on reading lights, which don’t usually provide enough illumination.

  7. Wow , Marc how inspiring ! Juicy, thick pain and great brush strokes , bold colores and at the same time subtle shades and tones …Just yummy 🙂 ..Can I ask why is the hole in your poshade box?:)

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