Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Advantage of Light

"Emergence of Spring", 12x16", oil on canvas

Last week, a friend commented that the area we were painting would be quite "spectacular later in the season when there is some color". Her comment surprised me as, I must say, for weeks, I've been quite happy painting at this and other nearby locations and never considered them to be anything but colorful. Later, looking at the small study I did that day between 11 AM and just after the noon hour it was brought home to me that the light was probably the reason for her comment.

Today, from a hillside, I painted "Emergence of Spring" (above) of the marsh below, filled with last year's grasses and dormant bushes and trees. This was a similar environment to last week's site. Was the landscape devoid of rich color? Not at all, as this painting testifies. However, there was a difference between the two painting sessions. Instead of the mid-day light we had last week, I painted "Emergence of Spring" today between 4:00 and 6 PM when the sun is low on the horizon and casting a golden glow on all it touches.

As anyone knows who paints outdoors from life mid-day light tends to flatten shapes and wash out color. As a seasoned plein air painter, I've developed two options that work for me when forced to work the so called, "noon day shift". First, to help eliminate that flat washed out look I face into the sun, as much as possible, to create a sense of back lighting and form, or if that's not possible, I'll very slightly heighten visible colors to create more temperature contrast. While not ideal, these options help an otherwise lack luster middle-of-the-day lighting situation.

Artists who, for what ever reason, elect not to paint the early morning or late afternoon light do themselves a serious injustice. If just once, they would work early or late they would be amazed at the difference the light makes in their work. They would never want to paint mid-day again.

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