Saturday, September 24, 2011

Creating a Sense of Light on a Lackluster Day

Someone recently asked how one can create a sense of light when the day lacks brilliance.  When the sun has gone behind the clouds or the fog has rolled in, contrast lessens and edges soften.  You'll find that this more diffuse light will creep into shadows, weakening them. Things can began to look downright gloomy.  When this happens, it's so easy to paint the world as if it's caught in some spectral dimension halfway between the living and the dead.

But don't despair!  The light is there, and you can capture it.

A sense of light is created partly by value contrast.  Strong light and strong darks signify intense illumination.  But a sense of light is also created by temperature contrast.  The Impressionists discovered that even if you have little value contrast - as on a dull  day - temperature contrast can be used to create a sense of light.  You probably already know that warm light creates cool shadows.   This kind of contrast happens on dull days, too.  If the light is cool, the shadows will be warm.  By pushing the difference in temperature, even with little value contrast, you can increase the brilliance of the light.

In the painting below, the cool, pinkish light from the sky intensifies the warm, brown shadows beneath the dock, creating a brilliance that wouldn't be there if I hadn't "pushed" the temperature contrast.  This piece also has strong value contrast, which helps the illusion.

"Waiting" 9x12, oil

By the way, this week was my last Campobello Island workshop for the season.  We'll be on our way to Arizona soon for the Paint Sedona plein air workshops.  And of course, we'll be back on Campobello next summer!  You can find out about both workshops at and


Celeste Bergin said...

man that is a super good painting!

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thank you, Celeste!

B Boylan said...

This is a great post for those of us in the Northwest...aka Portland. Love this one very much Michael!

joan coch said...

molt bo,saludos

Sadeu said...

wonderful this painting ; )