Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Premix the color of your light

Sanford Gifford, Kauterskill Clove
Light has color, as a landscape painter you need to identify what that color is (or what color you are going to use) in a painting. Often the light is warm and butter or honey colored ,late on a sunny day. But on a gray day it might be cool or even silvery. There are situations when the landscape is suffused with red light. It is very useful to mix the color that is in your light and have a pile of it on your palette. Most of the colors of objects in the light will be effected by it. You can feed this color into whatever the light is hitting. This is useful for two different reasons. One it saves you having to mix every color in the light from scratch. You can inject a mix of the local or apparent color of the object with your light mixture and get pretty close to its illuminated color. This saves a lot of mixing time on location and clearly communicates what is in the light an what is not. On a sunny day I am going to expect to mix a red and a yellow into a lot of white to make the color of the light. What red and which yellow can be adjusted depending on the look of the day and what you have on your palette.

Above is a painting by Sanford Gifford that is suffused with the color of the light. Her has pretty much used the color of his light to paint everything that takes light from the sky. If it turns towards the sun, it gets the yellow mixture into its' note.


Here is another Sanford Gifford with golden light. One of the things that routinely happens in nature is that the color of the shadow is, or at least contains, the complement of the color of the light. So a golden sunset will call for blue or violet shadows. If you have the color of your lights it is easy to come up with an opposite color to add to your shadows. The complement of the light will form a major part of your shadow note and can be fed into those to establish the shadow color.

When I paint outside I have a pile of paint that is the color of my lights, I use it for underpainting the sky to get light in that, and I use it to more easily and swiftly create the color of things in the light.

I don't really make a shadow color, but I am always aware of what it is. On a sunny day I like to feed cobalt violet into my shadows, so  that functions as a premixed shadow. I also like to throw ultramarine and burnt sienna at my shadows, by varying the mix of the two I can control my color temperature there. Burnt sienna is great for heating up shadows, particularly in their reflected lights. I like to heat up my deepest shadows. the darkest accents work best if they are fiery hot. Often I am installing this because I like the way it looks rather than because I have observed it.

Having a standard color laced into my lights tends to unify a painting. rather than a mosaic of unrelated colors the lights are "coded" through by a constant note. If something out in nature has an interesting color that doesn't conform to this system I am free to disregard my  systematized light. But generally the light does have a color and that influences every surface it hits and determines the shadow color too with its complement.

The Sanford Gifford above was painted using a systematic color for the light. This painting was no doubt done in a studio from a drawing made on location, or a painted sketch. He did not stand out in the field with that canvas matching the colors of a sunset. He invented it and imposed it onto his drawing. Gifford "fixed" a color for his light and used it through out his painting.He got a believable light effect and the painting is suffused with his light color that he has sown into the entire  tableau.

9 comments:

Simone said...

Good method for handling lights. I love the Gifford. I think that painting is in the Met. I've seen it many times. It's also tonalist in that it's shadows are pretty warm, too. How does your system bridge into a tonalist approach?

jimmy craig womble said...

Hey Stape! Been surfing around art sites all these years and just discovered you a week ago! Really enjoying reading your archives. Hope to meet you sometime, if you ever get around the coast of NC, got some great places to paint. Going down to paint in Charleston in a few weeks, will get to see your work in person then. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise! www.jimmycraigwomble.com

Clem Robins said...

my friend, if i had known you five years ago, i would have urged you to make this blog by subscription only. fifty bucks a year or something. it is ridiculously worth it.

Judy P. said...

Sniff, this is such concise and clear direction I have a tear in my eye. I've recently joined a plein air group, and am the dazed, confused one looking out at all that glaring light and green stuff. Thank you for lifting the veil a bit!

willek said...

This is vintage Stape at his best.

DJ said...

Excellent advice. Well done ~

Hudson River said...

Good stuff! Yes, aren't those Gifford paintings lovely. Wonderful color can sometimes be quite simple.He's adept too at getting his details to orchestrate together into a unified feeling. Thanks for posting these images.

Sheila said...

Does this premixed light color have white in it, or is it a color or mixture of colors without white?

Philip Koch said...

Good stuff! Yes, aren't those Gifford paintings lovely. Wonderful color can sometimes be quite simple.He's adept too at getting his details to orchestrate together into a unified feeling. Thanks for posting these images.