Sunday, June 28, 2009

More about light in paintings

John Singer Sargent, Miss Dorothy Vickers All images this page from, Americas largest online museum.

I have acquired a new laptop and I am downloading my old pictures from Carbonite and I will install photoshop and be healed . I will soon have the scanner up and working and I will be able to do all sorts of useful things

This little head is a great example of getting light in a painting. Sargent was a master at getting light.The only thing a painter can represent is the effect of light on an object. Even those painters working from an approach based on the explanation of form, still use the science of representing light to make that work. The ability to represent light is essential to representational painting.

Let me point out some things about the Sargent above. As you saw in the post called the bedbug line here.Ta-Da! and another on drawing light and shade here zoog! there is an ordered progression of the light as it travels across a form. Values are the most important tool for presenting light . A black and white picture can still have light, without color or color temperature. The secret to getting light in your paintings is sorting, this is in the light, this is in the shadow.


There is no other place. Its easy to see this "sorting on the columns above. here's a cool move by Sargent:


That's what is going on in that column in the middle of the painting. Sargent has a lot of little "tricks" like this in his work. Every once in a while one will jump out at you. Finesse.

There's another thing going on in the shadows on that column as well. Notice that the turning edge of the shadow (which is the vertical ) is softened. However the shadow that is cast on the column is much harder as there is less reflected light bouncing into it to soften it up.
Sargent has placed his light source high and to the left and it rakes across the church dividing it unequally into the two worlds of light and shade. No value can occur in both the light and the shadow or instantly the illusion is lost. Even though there are several values in the shadow, each of them is darker than anything in the light.

A common mistake is to overstate the reflected light, making in effect a high light in the shadow. Look at the shadow on the right side of Miss Vickers face, see how subtle the reflected light is. If when you use a reflected light you always think of the delicacy of this little girls head, perhaps you won't overstate them. Sometimes an artist will use only a temperature change to represent the reflected lights. There is a school of thought that suggests always turning a form by color temperature rather than value when you can to obtain greater CONSERVATION OF VALUES.

Note that even the lightest stone in the shadow on the facade is as light as the most colored areas of the lights, like the deeper colored part of the wall at 10 o'clock. Just below that point notice how the window and the shadow of the column meld into one. One of the qualities that makes for effective shadows is mystery. That is the tendency for detail and definition of forms to disappear in the shadow.Try to keep the level of detail in your shadows to a minimum.

Part of the difficulty of painting out doors is that the shadows are always moving. It is important to learn to put them down and leave them alone, The best way to do this is to use an optical violet or a gray note to transparently plot your shadows as a way of planning your painting. Once you have them established, leave then alone, don't chase them every time the sun moves.

The other way to deal with the moving shadows is to draw out the painting transparently and when you have a real handle on how the thing is laid out, use the shadows the way they are midway through your painting session.Try to work the rest of the session without altering them too much. Most of the time that is how I work. Here's how my painting session is divided up;

  • The first hour or so I am drawing the forms transparently, looking to find the outlines of things and staying transparent. The moment you touch the white you are locked down. Stay out of the white until....
  • The second hour , this is when you commit yourself, about the end of this period you should have the whole painting down, you will use the way nature looks now for your painting.
  • In the third hour I refine the painting but try not to change the location of the shadows. What was in the shadows won't change that much, even though they grow.The important thing in this method , and this is really important, is to decide how your painting is going to look, rather than just copying what is before you., because that will be constantly changing. So you must observe nature, but develop your own plan for what the painting is going to look like. Doing that also makes it possible to work on the painting a second or third day.


Unknown said...

I was always told that reflected light should disappear (meld into the shadow) upon squinting. I guess this may not be the case for highly reflective metals, etc., but it seems to work well for figures.

When you say that you are drawing transparently, do you mean that you are using thinned paint or drybrush to get the basic values down?

Gregory Becker said...

I think the hardest challenge I face is interpreting what I am seeing. Sometimes, it feels like the scene is speaking Chinese and I lose a great deal in translation.
Trying to keep everything coherant in terms of its overall statement is difficult.
Have you ever gone through that and if so what advice can you give to help overcome it?

Gregory Becker said...

BTW, I dont know if I have ever told you this before but, Thank you.
I appreciate the time and effort that you put into helping artist grow and mature.
I think that the work you do is tremendous and the greatest way that I can thank you is to become the best artist that I can be.
Again Thank you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That should do it. Squint a lot. It ,as you know simplifies everything.
When I say transparent, I mean using no white. Ultramarine,burnt sienna, viridian, a little cad. yellow. But stay out of that white.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think sometimes it is like doing translation. How would I say that in paint?
To keep things coherent I recommend herding sheep.


Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks its great that somebody is out there reading this.