1. Have a good light - I use a book light with two LED's and two stages of brightness. The clip end houses the 2 AAA batteries. Get a light with a balanced light color...not too blue or yellow. New, high output bulbs produce a nice white light.
2. Pre-tone your canvas a dark color. I'm still experimenting with this but find that if I tone my canvas black or some dark mix of an earth tone and ultramarine blue and let that dry it is much easier to start the painting. If you start with a white surface you have to lay down a lot of darks...which will muddy up your lights when you go to put them in. Much of this struggle is eliminated if you begin with a dark, dry surface.
3. Slow down and enjoy the painting. Take time to let your eyes acclimate to the darkness. There is so much subtle variation and there is no hurry since the light sources are fixed (signs, street lights) and you don't have any moving shadows. Basically, depending on the scene, you might have all night so take your time to really see the color and value relationships and work to get those right on your canvas the first time. Having said this, I have been happily painting a scene when all of a sudden the main lit sign in my painting shut off for the night. Oh well, that happens....just pack it up and try again another night.
I painted this scene of a railroad crossing out in the country. It took me about 3 hours and I wrapped it up at about 1:30AM. I parked off the side of the dirt road and painted from inside of the bed of my pickup. One car passed me in three hours...otherwise there was no other light source and no people anywhere around. It was so peaceful and relaxed. I learned a lot by taking my time on this one.
"1AM at the Crossing" © Scott Ruthven
8"x10" | Oil on linen panel