Light is the first thing to think about in making a painting. What direction is the light coming from? Sometimes it’s easy to forget the consistency that is necessary to make a believable form. Whether the light is bright or dim, whether you are painting an egg or a face, the shadows will fall darkest on the farthest side of the form. It’s also important to know the temperature of the light. To paraphrase master pastel artist Richard McKinley, “Becoming sensitive to the quality of light takes time and practice.” The eye sees information, the brain interprets it, and over time we build up an internal library of symbols, until we can only “see” our color prejudices. It takes years to undo that and really see that a white house has a color temperature – is it warm or cool white?  What is its value, that is, how light or dark is it in comparison to the shapes near it? (the landscape paintings of Richard McKinley, p 109)

Why did so many artists in history leave the cool, grayer light of the northern European countries for the golden sunny areas of southern France? Cezanne, Monet, Gauguin, Signac, and of course Van Gogh, just to name a few. Why was this light different? The quality of the light is impacted by how far the sun is from you. The further light travels the more atmospheric particles there are between it and the ground it falls upon. Likewise, humidity in the air causes some haziness when you are painting near the sea or other large body of water. I would argue that on a sunny day there is no brighter blue or clearer sky than here in the midwest. As a bonus, the weather is so changeable that we often get billowy white clouds against this deep blue sky. They joyfully steal any scene in my plein air paintings.

One thought on “Light

  1. Did you get my comment?

    Sent from my iPad BETSY ELLIS BOWLES

    Mailing address: 7259 Yellow Wood Tree Place Mechanicsville, VA 23111

    7 Conant Rd (Unit #2) Winchester, MA. 01890

    Cell: (617) 584-6477



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: