Monday, 7 February 2011

I Can’t Judge Lights and Darks in my Painting

A painting featuring high tonal contrasts and an array of delicate shades between may confound the artist who is unsure of how to make each tonal value sit together in a convincing still life or landscape. Instead shadows resemble black holes in the canvas, colourful objects lack form, and pale objects simply look insipid. The result is a painting that lacks atmosphere. How can the artist produce a painting that has a strong sense of light and dark and therefore mood?

Troubleshooting Lights and Darks in Painting

How to Paint Tones
Rachel Shirley
Rendering tones in a painting will be made difficult if the artist fails to make sensitive observations of how light actually behaves in real life. Presumptions about tones may undermine any attempt at a painting that has an authentic sense of light. In this respect, the following approaches need addressing:

Assuming objects of a particular local colour are always darker or paler than another. For instance, yellow objects are paler than blue ones, and violet objects are darker than orange ones.

Making generalised assumptions about shadows being black or dark grey, or illustrating them as being the darkest area of the painting; and in similar fashion, assuming an object that catches the light is always the palest area.

Viewing highlights and shadows as definite areas of light and dark without thought for the tones between. The result is a painting that seems to comprise of cut-out shapes that lack delicate shades or diverse divisions between light and dark.

Painting Tips for Shading

A painting featuring bright colours will often get in the way of how light or dark the objects actually are, and could mislead the artist of the objects’ tonal value. The following simple tips may make the task of rendering shades more effectively.

Apply a thin under-glaze of a neutral colour onto the painting surface first. This will kill the overpowering white of the canvas, which could give the artist a misleading impression of how light or dark colours actually are when applied.

Half-close the eyes to reduce colour values. Standing back from the painting has the effect of scaling down the image and the subject matter into smaller areas of light and dark that can more easily be processed and therefore recorded onto canvas.

Painting Exercise in Colour and Tone

The following painting exercise will further raise visual awareness of tones which can be utilized when painting.

Obtain objects of simple shapes, such as cuboids, spheroids and cylinders. These can easily be found in everyday objects such as matchboxes, cereal boxes, golf balls and biscuit tins. Paint them white. Place onto a white sheet and arrange in a location of good light source. This might be near a window or lamp.

Lightly sketch the objects onto a mid-toned ground. Grey, cream or pale blue would be suitable. Half close the eyes and simplify the arrangement into four basic areas: highlights, light, mid-tones and darks. Begin with the mid-tones areas first, working towards light and dark. View light and shade as abstract forms. Work lightly at first and remember to keep viewing the painting from afar to ensure accuracy.

Once these basic areas have been laid onto canvas, work into the detail by applying highlights and adding definition to the darks. In some cases, shadows will vary in shade, some of which will be paler than others. Outlines too, will vary; some divisions being well-defined, others blurred.

How to Paint Tones in Increments

Resurce for Artists
Rachel Shirley
A further aid can be used and which may help the artist record tonal increments more accurately. Cut a strip of paper or card. Divide into equal squares and fill each square with a particular tonal value, beginning with the palest. This tonal strip can be placed in the background of the setting to assist the artist with comparing one tone with another.

Painting Shades Made Simple

Judging colour values form only part of the painting process. Recording tones accurately will give the painting atmosphere and suggest form. Half closing the eyes will help cut out the interference of colour. Viewing the painting from afar will enable the artist to view areas of light and dark as manageable abstract forms on a smaller scale. But rendering objects in black and white will help raise awareness of tones without the interference of colour. This skill can be carried forward into general painting practice.

Links on Painting Lights and Darks

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