Lighting in painting

In the art of painting we decide what quality of light we look for. Sharp and brilliant or more diffused is one consideration. The color of the light itself, i.e. warm or cool and the direction where the light comes from will dictate the way we paint the form.

To paint light we must focus our attention on light itself. This means that we will not be painting the objects before us so much as we will be painting light and the way it falls on these objects or brings them into our vision. A painter once said: ‘A head is something you choose for the light to fall upon.’ Contrast determines the quality of light itself, sharp or soft or anything in between. In dim light conditions the separation may only be one or two value steps. In strong light in may be separated by three or four value steps.

For me, a painting with subtle, diffused light is very powerful. More so than one with extreme light and high contrast. It is also much harder to do!

One problem we have as painters is that our brightest light (the white) is never as bright as nature’s. All we can do is stay true to the relationships from lightest to darkest and paint them in that order, even if the value cannot match nature perfectly.

If we paint light correctly, it will make the form work out itself. We think about the light, halftones, and shadows. We make sure we have the correct sequence of value relationships (lightest to darkest) and getting the color within these values. That’s it. Now that sounds easy but, of course, is a lifetime endeavor right there.

Light and its effects provide the best means of bringing unity and consistency to a subject. The light will effect everything in the subject the same way. Everything will take it’s relative place in the whole scheme and all values and colors will be brought together into a single effect. This is unity that creates beauty!

By using color and value right, we can create a powerful and elegant painting even with mundane subject matter!

Thanks to all of you who followed my blog in 2015. I wish every one of you a successful and prosperous new year! Here’s to 2016!! Let’s pray for a more peaceful world.

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6 thoughts on “Lighting in painting

  1. aHorseForElinor

    A question,
    When you set out to do a paining inside, in studio, of an outdoor subject, do you decide “the mood” of the painting, or does it evolve it self? I often peek at your paintings, and they all evoke their own sort of individual mood to me. Reading your other posts on painting outdoor (Plein air, not sure?), I know that you seem to want to depict it “as is” and not tinker too much with everything. But what about when taking it inside and changing light etc? I guess my question is, do you decide the feel of the painting, or does it decide on its own?

    1. frankeber Post author

      That’s a good one! I believe in capturing the mood that’s there when painting plein air, because you could argue why paint there if you ‘invent’ a completely different mood/ scene! But what if I don’t like the mood? I do make changes and sometimes go for a different feel. I was once painting in foggy weather early in the morning and a passersby said to me: too bad you weren’t here two days ago, it was amazingly clear and you could see 50 miles. I didn’t tell him this, but that’s exactly what I don’t want! So, in other words I would avoid painting on a day where you can see 50 miles.

      A famous painter once said that a good artist paints a scene ‘the way it should look’ and not the way it is. There’s a great deal of truth to that! If the atmosphere and mood is not there, I either wait for another day or make it up. Making it up is tricky business though! I believe that can only go so far. I don’t know if that answers your question, but yes, sometimes I do decide the feel of the painting. Ideally, I’d like to encounter the feel that I am looking for, or at least close to it…

      1. aHorseForElinor

        Yes, that answers it!
        Each painting has its own short off life, and I was really curious of the process – if it was the painter that could “steer” it, (or would want to) or if it evolves on its own.
        Then, we can also wonder, does the viewer feel the same thing the painter intended 😉

      2. frankeber Post author

        Thanks. You asked a very good question. I am impressed because you’re not even a painter. Mostly I get really lame questions, i.e. what colors are you using or the like…I am happy you enjoy my blog and it’s wonderful to follow yours!

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