Today, I'd like to talk a little about what you are actually SEEING when you look at light and shadow in a scene, and how you need to THINK as you paint.
Light is created by the sun. If the sun is obscured, the light is still there.....but is obviously less bright! (ok, I can hear you - duh - does she think I am stupid?)
But what you need to be aware of is that it is not only less bright....it is also a COOLER light. Think of the light as a paintbrush, not just illuminating what it falls on, but painting it too. And the warm light from direct sunlight will warm everything it touches. Cooler light from an overcast sky will "paint" the scene with quite different colours.
I have recently critiqued the work of a painter who took his photo very literally. The lights in the photo looked white...even on a dark tree trunk...so he used white! But this means he was just copying the photo without thinking about what might be happening in real life.
Using pure white did not give any feeling of warmth. Even a white wall, washed with sunlight, will be more golden-white than pure white.
So -you need to become aware of the colour of the light. We may not be able to physically "see" light, but when it lands on something, it colours that something in a particular way.
Sunlight is warm.
Electric lamplight is warm.
Candlelight is warm.
BUT NOT ALL LIGHT IS WARM.
Fluorescent light breaks the rule...........it is a cool light. and
Obscured sun - overcast days - will provide cooler light, so a green apple on a windowsill on an overcast day will actually change colour if the sun suddenly comes out and hits it! And that white wall can be painted with white on an overcast day!
If you are working from a photo, and the camera has not taken all of this into account, you have to use your brain, as well as your eyes.
Another little rule of thumb (where did that expression originate, I wonder) is WARM LIGHT = COOL SHADOWS, and COOL LIGHT = WARMER SHADOWS.
Shadows are LACK OF LIGHT. They are rarely black, as they might appear in a photo. They have soft edges. And observation with your own eyes is vitally important. Your eyes are FAR more powerful than a camera's lens, and they see more colour.
There are theories about the colour of shadows...you may read that a shadow colour will always contain the "complementary colour" of the object that casts the shadow. Theories like this are worth considering....but there are so many things that can affect the colour of a shadow, that often, the theory doesn't fit. Close observation and consideration of what is happening in the scene is the only way to be sure you get your shadows right. You must use your brain, and your creativity. You are a painter, not a camera, so there is no excuse for black or yuk grey shadows. Or uniformly purple shadows. You need to be careful to ensure that your shadows "work" for the painting - you may need to modify slightly to make them look right.
The important things to remember are these:
- SHADOWS ARE TRANSPARENT AND WILL BE INFLUENCED BY THE SURFACE ON WHICH THEY ARE FALLING, (study the floor of the picture above) and sometimes, surrounding colours may affect the shadow too. Just ask yourself, when you are painting a scene, "how does this patch of colour compare to that one?" and keep comparing time and again as you work.
- Shadows are seldom flat areas of colour, they will have variation within them - look out for these, so that your shadow areas are not too monotonous. however, beware of over-exaggeration of colour, particularly purples.
- Also, an interesting thing to observe is that the farther a cast shadow has to travel, the softer or rounder its shape will become. Also, it will become gradually lighter at its distant edges.
- Shadows have soft edges. this is important.
Enjoy the light, and celebrate the shadows!