Creative Jumpstart: Direction of Light Changes the Scene

This will seem daunting at first but there is no time like now to begin to think about the direction of light as something you, yes you, can manipulate to create a different painting while using the same shapes.  I know we did this once before but I think it is a very important skill to own.  I have been playing with the direction of light since I began to paint and might I say my first attempts were total disasters.  I realized though that there were many times I was either looking at a subject that was not showing its’ best character for the purposes of my painting or I was sadly looking at something that I liked the shapes but wanted to create a different composition.  Give this a try and really stick with it you will find that it gets easier every time out.  One tip is to find a really great subject and go out with your camera 5 times during the day and shoot a picture of the scene exactly from the same position and look at the difference in the way the shadows are falling.  Or just put a simple still life on the table and move the light around.  Also try sketching the shadow patterns before you begin to paint, it is very hard to interpret light if the shadows are random and poorly placed.  Shadows don’t have to be perfect they just can’t be wrong, or more directly they can’t come from two directions in the same painting.

First find a really easy subject one that you can draw quickly and can repeat at least four times.  I have chosen my typical shack, dock and rocks scene, one would think that this type of theme is everywhere for since I use it so often for my subject.  In the first one put the light high in the sky and to the right, remember notice that the shadows are really light and the have lots of warmth in them.  I am using primarily raw sienna, burnt sienna, and cobalt blue.  Stay positive you can do this the goal is the light not the painting. 

In the second one I have moved the light over to the left and used the same basic colors I only applied them in a slightly darker value.  It is amazing how the subject has a totally different feeling.  Notice how I have cut around the poles of the dock with the form shadow of the shack. 

In the third painting, I have really darkened the shadows and have created a very late in the day feeling. I find this one to be the hardest to make a painting from since the colors are so dark, it is hard to keep the shapes interesting.  I am still using the same colors but am using a lots less water. 

In the last version  I have put the light right over top of the building with light mid-valued form shadows facing me, this feels like mid morning and creates a more subtle light pattern and a more tranquil scene.  I know this is a lot to throw at you but give it a try the rewards are enormous.  You will slowly become free from the slavery of copying photographs, and begin to take ownership of the subject matter.  Start with something really easy like several rocks, a couple of figures, or a rowboat and move up to complicated street scenes or floral patterns.  Lastly remember the goal of jumpstarts is to get you painting, to find short blocks of painting time everyday and to lose the negativity that comes with getting started.  Just do it now.


Add a comment...

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

  • PatJune 24, 2012 - 4:11 pm

    You keep devising really good challenges for us to improve our painting–thanks Steve! This one might be interesting to try during your workshop in Maine.ReplyCancel

  • MercedesMarch 1, 2014 - 3:54 pm

    I like this goal you intend to us. It seems hard but fun. ThankReplyCancel