Sunday, January 25, 2009

Getting Your Lights Lighter than Light

"Looking Toward Mingus Mountain"
5x7, oil

An old TV commercial for a laundry detergent claimed the product could get 'whites whiter than white.' We landscape painters might have a similar goal, getting our lights lighter than light. Ground-up dirt or a synthetic pigment mixed with a little bit of linseed oil is a poor substitute for real sunshine.

We come across many instances where we're trying to show the heat of the sun, the glow of the moon, the silver lining of clouds. Unless you take care to scale all your color mixtures (or pastel selections) to your lightest light, you'll fail. Whenever I want to get a bright effect, I first mix my lightest light. Next, I make test swatches of my darker mixtures and compare them with my lightest light. It also helps to do this on a mid-value palette. Unless I can get the effect I want with these swatches, no amount of fancy brushwork will help.

For this little painting, I tried as closely as possible to reproduce the colors and values of the clouds with the silvered edges, the little bit of blue sky you can see, and the distant bulk of Mingus Mountain. For the foreground, however, I intentionally darkened it a bit to make the sky seem even lighter. (For those of you who have been following my experiments with expanding my palette, a touch of Yellow Ochre is in every mixture.)

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