Low Darks and High Lights

posted in: Painting | 5

We are accustomed to seeing natural light fall from above. We experience shadow as a phenomena that generally resides in areas beneath the light. This is our automatic expectation for the location of light and shadow.  Often artists rely on this expectation of ours to help them build a deeper space. In this watercolor of Turner’s ( example 1) notice the blue shadowed area at the bottom of the painting and the lighter area closer to the horizon.  As Turner introduces the light from above  he makes it obscure the linear clarity of the Venetian horizon.  In example 2, a contemporary example by Max Dunlop we see some of the same principles.  The  darker bottom of the picture fades away as we ascend into a pale and obscuring light as we raise our eyes to the horizon.  With these  examples in mind I modified  the information in a shoreline photo of mine. In example 3 you see my first step. I pinned a photo next to my painting surface to show you  my rearrangement.  I raised the  level of the grasses allowing the foreground to consume more of the picture’s surface. This moved the background further into space.  I reduced the number of pools of reflected water  to only one area by eliminating those in the front.  I also reduced the number of  water shapes breaking in from the left .  I let the shallow water recede through successively thinner stages. In example 4 you see my blue indication marks for where I raised the sea grass foreground . Notice the painting migrates from darker foreground to a much lighter background. In example 5  you see the image before I introduced the complementary lighter blue color  and,  I have yet to completely sequence the horizontal  bands of water which will  melt into with the distant band of water. In example 6 , the image after  the light blue complements have been introduced to water and distance.

example 1. J.M.W. Turner watercolor April13,22,turner,la riva degli schiavoni, wc

example 2. Max Dunlop oil on aluminum april13,22, city street, Max Dunlop, oil on aluminum, approx 48x30

example 3. Step one, shoreline oil with photo april13,22, step one, shoreline, oil on anodized aluminum24x24

example 4. Step two, with blue diagram of changes april13,22, step two, shoreline

example 5. Step three, before blue lights and distance april13,22, step three, before blue

example 6. Step four, after blue distance april13,22, step four, shoreline, david dunlop24x24

Next I will show you more  subtle effects of a barely darker foreground  as gives  the feeling of foreground  vs. distance with a more abstract subject, water.  John Singer Sargent  uses a darker shadow to cross part of the foreground in example 7. The reflected water shifts to a pastel blue as it recedes in the distance .  The middle ground  has  a  greater range of color but , the greatest highlights are found in the area above the water’s surface as in the white rocks.  In my final two examples 8 and 9 I  delicately suggest a darker foreground color  and I place more bright contrast in the middle just as Sargent did. Then, like Sargent I let the acuity of edges diminish and a pale pastel  colors blue, green, and  reduced yellow  pervade most of the distance. In example 8  I stagger a series of progressively smaller concentric circles to also direct  your attention into the distance. This is a similar solution to example #6 above except that the circles are not as flattened or attenuated as in #6. In example 9  you can find   serpentine meandering reflections breaking through often in orange and red. The serpentine design form is  used more covertly  in #8 and #9  than in the earlier example 6.

Example 7. John Singer Sargent april13,22, john singer sargent, stream, oil

Example 8. Water Circles, oil april13,22, water circle 2, david dunlop 24x24

Example 9. Water Circles 2, oil april13,22, water circle 1, david dunlop, 24x24

5 Responses

  1. Cynthia

    I would love to see you demonstrate the water circles technique. It would be interesting to see you lay out the colors prior to making the circles. Did Sargent use a wash for the pastel blue that makes the water recede and the darker shadow in the foreground?

  2. Kay Halcrow

    Great post — this really touched on a problem I wrestle with in landscape painting. Beautiful examples!

  3. Lorraine

    Great demo and examples. In my Tuesday w/c class we are learning and understanding shadows and reflections.

  4. Fredric Neuwirth

    Examples: 3, 4, 5 & 6
    This was very instructive to see how you used an image, modified the design to create a better overall painting.. The diagram in example 4 are very helpful in understanding the design and your thinking. Excellent!

  5. William Child

    Wonderful episode! Love the Turner, but maybe the Max Dunlop and your examples of the marsh lands even more (did I just dis Turner?) , the final of yours as expected, the best, absolutely GREAT! I could look at that forever without tiring of it! Water is so difficult but possible with your examples!

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