LUMINOSITY AND CREATING GLOWING COLOR.

TRANSPARENCY OCCURS BETWEEN PAINT PARTICLES.

Many people say that the way to create a “glow” in watercolor is to paint pale glazes of “luminous,” transparent hues so that the white of the paper underneath passes through the paint particles “like light through a stained glass window.” Apparently, however, light passing THROUGH a layer of watercolors is not the way luminosity actually works! That description is just a myth! 

According to several color scientists, chemists, and Bruce MacEvoy (handprint.com), little light actually passes THROUGH the particles. Instead, transparency happens when light reflects off the paper BETWEEN the particles of watercolor paint.

We know that watercolors don’t form a solid paint layer the way acrylic and oil paints do, as discussed in this post: ‘Some Watercolor Pigments Lighten More Than Others When They Dry…,’ (9/7/2022), https://leemuirhaman.com/2022/09/07/some-watercolor-pigments-lighten-more-than-others-when-they-dry/ . Oil and acrylic paints stay on top of the painting surface and dry in a solid paint layer. 

In contrast, watercolors (made up of various sizes of suspended paint particles ) end up “on top of, between, and underneath paper fibers” (Bruce MacEvoy of handprint.com). More of the white paper is therefore revealed as the water evaporates. The most transparent of watercolor paints produce a thinner coating of smaller pigment particles on the paper. These pigments in a smaller particle size seem to hide less of the paper (or other pigment particles) underneath, making the color appear more transparent. Thus, transparency happens BETWEEN these pigment particles and NOT THROUGH them ( see http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/tech16.html) .

ACHIEVING THE GLOW OF LIGHT.

Although transparency and glow may not work the way we once thought, achieving a glow remains a goal for many artists. We want to paint the light! We wish to highlight brightness, glow, radiance, luminosity. But to create a luminous glow, don’t rely on using lots of ‘bright’ colors that may not work together. Bright colors can be intense but also may be dull and opaque, and they may not set each other off to advantage. For example, yellow is a bright color, but if applied too thickly, even a transparent yellow becomes LESS luminous and will no longer be a light value. 

‘Golden River Sunset’ Watercolor Painting.

Instead, although transparency is essential, luminosity comes from choosing colors by their effect on each other; that is, you should choose colors that create a reaction with nearby colors. Remember that paint colors change their apparent brightness, transparency, and hue depending on the context in which they appear. 

To bring about a glow, you will want to create CONTRAST in both VALUE and TEMPERATURE by surrounding a transparent light color with a COMPLEMENTARY dark ( a dark leaning toward the complement of the light color, NOT an unexciting, flat tube black such as Ivory Black, or purchased mixes such as Payne’s Gray or Neutral Tint). Colorful darks can therefore enhance the effect of light in a painting. The function of a dark color is NOT JUST to create value contrast, but to help the light-valued color (whether warm or cool, muted or intense) to glow. (For more information on complementary colors, review ‘The Color Wheel, Color Bias, And Color Mixing In Watercolor’, (7/2/2019), https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/07/02/the-color-wheel-color-bias-and-color-mixing-in-watercolor/ .)

HOW? VALUE CONTRASTS AND COLOR COMPLEMENTS.

What painting methods actually work to create glowing color? First, choose a pure, transparent color, well diluted to a light value. Second, mix your dark surrounding values to be complementary dark colors. If your light value is a pale yellow, you might try to use a version of deep purple or dark purple-gray. 

‘River Flowing Forward’ Watercolor Painting.

ADD COLOR AND TEMPERATURE COMPLEMENTS.

To further exaggerate the glow that is forming, you can adjust your dark by taking into account color temperature. That is, establish a warm-cool relationship between your light and dark by remixing your complementary dark, altering proportions of pigments to move the color to be cooler or warmer. If your light valued yellow is WARM, the best complementary dark to set it off would be a COOL bluish-purple dark. Or for a COOL light valued yellow, contrast it with a WARM, reddish-purple dark. Always judge a color in relation to the colors next to it. A blue, for instance, will feel even cooler next to a warm color.

‘Rocky Maine Shoreline Sunset’ Watercolor Painting.

TRY MID-VALUE CONTRASTS ALONG WITH COLOR AND TEMPERATURE COMPLEMENTS.

At times, a strong dark can overpower your composition. In such a situation, a mid-valued color contrast can also enhance and complement the glow of light values in the painting. Mix the complement of your light color, shifting it into a warm or cool variation, as needed, to create a temperature contrast. But instead of a rich dark, strive for a mid-value mix. If you mute this mid-value mix somewhat by adding a bit of its complement, you will gray the mixture, thus setting off the light-valued color. A cool purple (which you gray slightly with a touch of warm yellow) will cause your warm yellow light to glow even brighter. In the same way, you can gray a warm red-purple with a bit of its cool yellow complement to make a cool yellow light look still brighter.

‘White Primroses’ Watercolor Painting.

OR CREATE AN ILLUSION WITH UNTOUCHED PAPER.

Perhaps you want to leave the untouched white paper as your light value. It’s possible to make this white begin to glow depending on what you choose for a nearby accent. Whatever mid-tone you pick creates a subtle, optical or color illusion as it nudges the white paper into appearing as a complement. There is actually no need to alter the white paper, even though that might be your first tendency. Cool nearby colors will make the unpainted paper seem warm. For example, cool blues create a subtle orange glow, while cool purples move the nearby whites toward a yellowish glow. In this way, you can establish a glowing contrast, instead of merely a simple dark-light contrast.

(Much of the above information on how to create glow through complementary darks and dulled mid-valued colors is presented in  Jeanne Dobie’s Making Color Sing: Practical Lessons on Color And Design.) 

‘Clouds Over Dales’ Watercolor Painting.

IN SUMMARY.

The mechanism producing “glow” may be different from what people say, but you as a painter don’t need to DO anything differently as a consequence of your new understanding of how that mechanism works. You can create the illusion of glow in a watercolor painting in several ways. 

Remember that paint colors change apparent brightness, transparency, or hue depending on the colors that are nearby. Therefore, you can establish luminosity by building color relationships (through value and temperature) between lights and darks (or mid-values). 

Try to use transparent, single-pigment paints to maintain the impression of light. Opaque paints are thicker and duller, and can become lifeless in mixtures, causing you to lose ‘the light.” Also avoid using lots of bright colors hoping that ‘brightness’ (without contrast) will create luminosity.

Learn to use complementary colors to create color and temperature interactions that produce glow. Your goal when mixing luminous color is to combine unequal proportions of the two paints in a mix, so that the final color is either warm or cool and can be used to complement another in value, as well as color and temperature.   

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Wow! Value, Hue, And Intensity!

Every color has three different components. These qualities are value (lightness or darkness), hue (the color name), and intensity (saturation or brightness). Each brushstroke in a watercolor painting is affected by all three aspects of color, although usually the properties are discussed and adjusted separately. By manipulating value, hue, and intensity in a painting, you will be able to create the illusion of space and three dimensions as well as create art filled with feeling.

COLOR VALUE.

I have heard it said that VALUE (a color’s lightness and darkness) is the most important of these three elements of color to get right in a painting. Value helps to create form and to show the direction of light. In order to better see value in a scene, squint your eyes. Squinting allows less light to reach your eyes and will reduce both the color (hue) and detail you see, making it much easier to isolate light and dark values. Even when squinting, you will probably see many values ranging from black through a range of dark to light grays to white. Trying to capture every one of these variations in paint, from dark to light, would be too overwhelming. It is best to simplify; narrow down the number of values you plan to capture, and limit yourself to 3-5 values for ease of painting. For example, limit your choice of values to darkest dark, lightest light, and one or two mid-tones.

One method of achieving the desired value of your color, is to mix the right amount of water with the right amount of paint. If you add more water to a watercolor mixture, you get a lighter value. If you instead add more pigment, you create a thicker, darker mix. The thickness of your color mix relates to its value.

Further, you can create the desired value of a color by first choosing the right pigment for the value you want. Catherine Gill, in Powerful Watercolor Landscapes, pp. 120-121, suggests, “If you want a light value, choose a transparent pigment. For a middle value, choose an opaque. For a dark value, choose a stain.” You still must adjust the amount of water you use. For a light color using a transparent pigment, use more water. For achieving middle value color, make a thicker mixture with an opaque color. An even thicker mixture made with a staining color will produce a dark value.

Values – Beach Shadows Watercolor Painting.

HUE.

HUE is the name used for a color. Red, yellow, and blue are hues. An almost infinite number of hue variations are possible, from yellow-green to turquoise to blue-violet. When we talk about hue, we are NOT referring to light or dark, bright or grayed, or strong or weak. To better understand how hues (colors) relate to each other, learn about the COLOR WHEEL. Each hue has its own specific placement on the color wheel, depending on its similarities and differences to other hues. 

B. MacEvoy Color Wheel. (Download your own copy https://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/cwheel06.pdf)

Hues located close to each other on the color wheel have more similarities; they contain more of the same primary color than hues located farther from each other. Nearby hues are harmonious and analogous. In contrast, those hues located farther away from each other on the color wheel are less closely related. Two hues opposite each other on the color wheel have little in common; they are complements. If mixed together, complements create a neutral, grayed hue, whether gray or brown. When complements are painted side by side in your painting, they contrast strongly and can emphasize each other.

HUE AND TEMPERATURE.

COLOR TEMPERATURE, whether a color is warm or cool, is a characteristic of hue. Every color leans either toward warm or cool. On the color wheel, cool colors are grouped together (blue, green, violet). Warmer hues (red, orange, yellow) are located together on the opposite side of the color wheel. While yellow is generally a warm hue, some yellows are cooler than others. For instance, a Cadmium Lemon pigment is cooler (closer to blue on the color wheel) than warmer (more orange) Cadmium Yellow. Cadmium Red is warmer than Permanent Alizarin. And Sap Green is warmer than Hooker’s Green, which is warmer still than Viridian. Thus, even within a hue, you will find a variety of temperature differences. You can warm a hue by adding yellow and cool one by adding blue. 

A color can also appear warmer or cooler depending on the hues painted nearby. In other words, a color’s appearance is relative. You will want to judge a hue’s temperature in relation to colors next to it. Ultramarine Blue next to Cadmium Lemon will look cooler than the same Ultramarine Blue next to Cadmium Red.

Color temperature changes in a painting affect a picture in several ways. 1.) Color temperature can show the effect of light and shade. Warmer hues ( combined with a lighter value) can indicate the sunnier or brighter side of an object, while cooler hues suggest shadow and less light. Items closer to the sun are generally yellower and warmer than those farther from the sun or light source. Where the surface of a feature changes direction, you can alter color temperature and show its contours. For example, the east side of a barn may be in direct sunlight, but the north side may be in shadow; a contrast in color temperature can capture the three-dimensional quality of the image.

Changing color temperature to illustrate contour. – Barn Watercolor Painting.

The quality of light can also change color temperature. A sunset may transform everything to a rosy hue, whereas a road during a rainstorm may become grayish purple. Observe the light source BEFORE choosing your hues for a painting. You may notice a warm light source (a bright sunset or artificial lighting, which is often warmer than outdoor lighting) where you will need to paint cool shadows. Or the light source may be cool (from a north-facing window, outdoors under the blue sky, or even on an overcast gray day), suggesting the need for warmer shadows. So remember, shadows are NOT always cool.

2.) Color temperature can help you create depth in a painting by taking advantage of the fact that warmer hues tend to advance (pull forward) while cooler colors recede (push back) into the distance. With cool bluish, distant hills appearing farther back than warm foreground fields, you can create space in a painting. (As the distant hills recede, they will also tend to get paler, less intense, and will display less contrast and softer edges.)

3.) Colors (hues) can have a psychological effect on mood. Color contrast can add energy to your painting. Warm colors like red, yellow, and orange tend to arouse emotions such as love, passion, happiness, hunger, and anger. In contrast, cool colors, such as blue, green, and purple are thought to bring calmness, sadness, or indifference. Red sports uniforms have been linked to higher win rates. Blue has been linked to sadness, gray to feeling down, green with jealousy. You can use color temperature to engage your viewers, to get them excited or relaxed. 

Color Temperature Changes. – Red Geranium Watercolor Painting.
Color Temperature Changes. – Cold Winter Barn, Winter Light Watercolor Painting.
Color Temperature Changes. – T’s Fall Road Watercolor Painting.

INTENSITY.

Color intensity is a color’s saturation, purity, or brightness. An intense color is pure, whereas a less intense color is grayed. Intense colors, like Phthalo Blue, Cadmium Red, or Ultramarine Blue, are found on the perimeter of the color wheel. Less saturated colors, such as Indigo, Sepia, or Venetian Red, will fall toward the interior of the color wheel. To lessen the intensity of a bright color, add some of its complement or a close complement (the colors opposite on the color wheel). For instance, to lessen the intensity of Hooker’s Green, you could add a slight amount of Cadmium Scarlet, Cadmium Red, or Permanent Alizarin. Some readily available (but less intense pigments) include Sap Green, Payne’s Gray, Indigo, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber.

Understanding color bias helps you mix high-intensity or low-intensity colors. A warm red pigment contains some yellow – it ‘leans’ toward and is biased toward yellow, whereas a cooler red would have more blue and would lean toward blue, or have a blue bias. A hint to help you create a bright, intense mixed color is to use two colors biased TOWARD each other on the color wheel (e.g., a yellow situated closer to the blues mixed with a blue situated closer to the yellows), thus avoiding the addition of any of the third primary color, red, which would gray the mixture.

The grayer, softer colors provide restful areas within your painting. Less intense, grayed colors can also be used to draw attention to and support a bright color (providing color contrast), allowing the bright to take center stage. Contrast in color intensity near your center of interest can help to emphasize it. On the other hand, too many bright intense colors will compete with each other and can easily overwhelm a picture. A range of intensities in a painting creates more interest and a better painting.

Grays Can Intensify Bright Color. – Viennese Streetcar Watercolor Painting.

SUMMARY.

Use what you have learned here about value, hue, and intensity of color to improve your paintings and to paint strong three-dimensional pictures. Begin by considering value to begin to capture light and shadow. Then, work to create a range of warm and cool hues to establish mood and depth. Build more distance and interest while supporting your center of interest with grayed, less intense color.

Related blog posts you might find helpful include:

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APPENDIX A: TEN COLOR COMPONENT TIPS

1.) Squint your eyes to better distinguish value (light and dark).

2.) Simplify your composition, and reduce the number of your values to 3-5        

     for ease of painting.

3.) To mix a lighter value, add water to a mixture. To create darker values, 

     use less water and more pigment, making a thicker mixture. Mixing 

     color with a transparent paint is the easiest way to create a light value. 

     Opaque paints are ideal for mixing mid-tones, while staining paints 

     work well to mix dark values.

4.) Each hue has its own specific placement on the color wheel, depending 

     on its similarities and differences to other hues. Understand how the

     color wheel makes it easier to mix colors, to use warm and cool colors 

     effectively, to arrange your palette, and to find a color’s complement. 

5.) Every color leans either toward warm or cool. You can warm a hue by

     adding yellow and cool one by adding blue. 

6.) The appearance of colors can vary depending on which colors are 

     nearby. You will want to judge a hue’s qualities in relation to the colors 

     next to it. Understand also that the quality of light can change 

     color temperature, suggesting a possible call for reconsidering the 

     temperature of your chosen pigments for a picture. Warm light 

     suggests the need for cool shadows, while cool light creates warm 

     shadows.

7.) Use value and color temperature to suggest light and shade and to 

     create depth in a painting. 

8.) Understanding color bias helps you mix high-intensity or low-intensity 

     colors. You must take bias into account if you hope to create either a 

     bright or less intense color and hope to avoid a muddy color. A warm

     red contains some yellow – it ‘leans’ toward and is 

     biased toward yellow, whereas a cooler red would have more blue 

     and would ‘lean’ toward blue, or have a blue bias. 

9.) To insure a bright color mix, use two colors biased TOWARD each 

      other on the color wheel (e.g., a yellow situated closer to the blues 

      mixed with a blue situated closer to the yellows), thus avoiding the addition of any 

      of the third primary color, red, which would gray the mixture.

10.) Grays and less intense colors support and set off bright colors. 

       Include them in your work to provide more interest and an improved  

       painting. To dull or gray a color, add some of its complement. Gray 

       can also be mixed by combining all three primary colors (red, yellow, 

       and blue).

From Pretty Good To Better Composition!

Only occasionally, as artists, do we discover a perfectly designed composition we’d like to paint. More often, we find an appealing image that needs some improving and editing to make it more effective. Editing allows an artist to interpret a scene and tell the picture’s story in a stronger, more personal way. All the information may be there in front of us, but we may want to re-organize some of the parts. We might want to combine several reference photos, or totally remove some distracting information. We know we don’t want to just copy a reference, but how would you go about ‘improving’ a composition?

Joe English Hill Photo, Spring.

Here is an image that appealed to me. Let’s evaluate the composition though – it does have some problems. It’s hard to tell what this picture is about, isn’t it? It probably wouldn’t make a very good painting, as is. What attracted me to this scene in the first place? I was drawn to the dramatic cliff (barely visible in the photo) rising steeply behind the vibrant, early spring colors. So, my first decision would have to do with figuring out what I want my center of interest to be, and then deciding how best to emphasize it. 

I decide to make the cliff my center of interest. How could I simplify some of the shapes or eliminate unnecessary detail? There is too much information in this reference photo. I certainly don’t have to include all of the trees from the photo. I will remove some of the smaller trees blocking the view of the cliff to uncover it. I will also eliminate a few trees on the far right, but leave one tree to help frame the cliff. This tree on the right would also function to stop your eye from following the line of the top of the far hill right on out of the picture. While I think the large green gold trees on the left also function as a frame of the cliff, I want to move them more to the left to further open up our view of the cliff. And I want to increase the height of the trees on the left, hoping they appear closer to the viewer and increasing depth in the picture. And finally, I plan to exaggerate the size of the cliff to make it even more prominent in my painting. 

Early Spring Color, Joe English Hill, Another View.

Color will be important to give the picture the feel of the new leaves and grasses of springtime. Spring is a time of fresh growth, when buds and flowers burst forth. Fields and forest floors are becoming free of frost and snow, and bright green shoots begin to appear. I hope to exaggerate the brightness and variety of colors in the final painting by using bright complementary colors. Reds and greens (complements) will be used for newly emerging leaves, and yellow and green gold leaves will complement purple-tinged rocks and purplish shadows. Muted grays and browns are planned to contrast with the bright colors.

I hope to make use of differences in color temperature as well. Cooler colors on the distant hill (and minimal detail) should help it recede, increasing depth in the painting. In contrast, warm yellow greens in the foreground field and trees should advance.

Values (lights/darks) in the reference photo seem to be much too similar. By looking at this black and white version of the reference photo you can see there is very little contrast in values. If there are too many areas of equal light intensity (or a lack of shadows) in a painting, the image will tend to look flat, less interesting, or bland. I will need to create more contrast to make the picture work better! Good value contrast (with light values close by and emphasized by darks) can create the illusion of light, depth, and a center of interest.

Black and White Version of Reference Photo.

After experimenting with several small thumbnail sketches to find a better arrangement of strong lights and darks,  I chose this arrangement. 

Final Thumbnail Sketch.

The lightest values in the painting will be the green gold leaves, road, cliff, some saved light birch tree trunks. Mid-values are planned for the middle distance trees on the opposite side of the road. And the darkest values, which will help to highlight the cliff, will be the top of the hill, dark shadows and tree trunks. 

Below is the finished watercolor painting, and its black and white version, which resulted from the improved composition.

Final Watercolor, Joe English Hill.
Black and White Version of Painting.

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Dusk, Evening, and Moonlight… Oh, My!

Paintings set at nighttime might seem very different from the usual watercolor scenes.  Dusk, evening, or even dawn pictures have a predominance of dark values.  The mood of a nighttime or twilight picture can often be somber, gloomy, quiet, or perhaps even threatening.  There may be fewer details seen than in a well-lit picture.  However, a nighttime painting can also be effective, appealing, and  powerful.  How would you paint a dark evening image?

The amount and quality of light available determines what we visually perceive in any situation.  Under clear, bright conditions, colors are pure, and edges and some details are sharp.  Values are extreme.  Lots of color is visible in shadowed areas.  A painting with lots of light values is called a HIGH KEY picture.  As the light becomes less strong (for example, on a foggy day, during a blizzard, at dusk), the level of detail, the sharpness, and the value contrast are reduced.  Colors become duller and more subtle, creating a LOW KEY picture.  Nevertheless, even in the dark, you want to see some details.  A nighttime painting will have a source of light or two or three, and before you begin to paint, you must decide on those light sources in your picture, as well as on the strength and direction of the light and on what it will illuminate.  Your picture needs some contrast in value (light and dark), especially near the point of interest, to be effective.

IMG_1729.jpg

To produce a painting full of drama and power, you need to create dominance, whether in value, color, or shape.  All you need to do to create VALUE DOMINANCE is to present the light, middle, and dark values in unequal amounts.  A nighttime painting will be a low key picture, which will have dark value dominance.  It will have more dark values than either light or middle tones.  However, your dark picture still will need the contrast of some light and middle tones if it is to pop.  The function of the dark colors is to complement the light tones and help your picture emit a glow.  If you actually use complementary colors for your dark and light colors, you will immediately create a reaction that transforms the light tones into radiant light.  Any warm and cool colors will create color contrast while vibrating against each other.

IMG_0075.jpg

Farmhouse At Dusk, partially finished, illustrating the glow of complements orange and blue.

Darks can be luminous and colorful IF you mix them yourself from pure, translucent pigments.  Using transparent colors allows light to reflect off the paper and up through the color to create a luminous effect.  Opaque colors (such as ivory black Payne’s gray, Davy’s gray, indigo, sepia, neutral tint) do not allow any light to reflect back to the viewer and therefore appear flat and dull.  Instead of using opaque colors, mix your own colorful darks from some of these transparent pigments: permanent alizarin crimson, Winsor (phthalo) blue, Winsor (phthalo) green, and perhaps ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, quinacridone gold, or quinacridone violet.  Always design your darks to heighten your light pattern without overpowering it.  Also, try to include nuances and variations in your darks.  Do not use a dark mixture indiscriminately: large areas of unrelieved darks are not interesting.  Ideally, you will build up your dark areas so that subtle shapes in each layer are there for the viewer to find.  If you mix together all the colors that you plan to use for dark areas and apply this mixture in a single dark layer, the result will lack the transparency and interest of a dark created by GLAZING with separate layers of the same medium dark colors.

Transparency can also be enhanced if you strive for variations by NOT applying all the darks as one value. To add variety and vary the tones or values of your dark colors, paint some areas as ‘half-dark’.  By painting part of the dark area a bit lighter, you create variation and an illusion of depth into what otherwise might be dull and monotonous (that is, of all one tone).  Try to apply your layers of darks one at a time, each in one go, in one layer and as richly as possible.  By mixing your darks with lots of pigment to create a rich color the first time, you can avoid having to add a similar layer (of the same color) over the same area; such an added layer can deaden the dark area and create a pasted-on appearance with hard edges.

Sunset.jpg

Your pattern of dark shapes should ideally interlock or relate to your medium and lighter shapes.  Hopefully, the forms transition into and set each other off rather than float in space separately.  Neither light nor dark is as striking without the close proximity of other.

In summary:  Begin your nighttime paintings by establishing the light sources in your picture, perhaps using masking fluid to save some.  You may create other light areas during the painting process or by scrubbing and lifting later.  Do NOT lose your light values!  Glazing later can also subdue certain areas while allowing other areas to be left brighter.  Choose muted or subdued, NOT bright, colors for your twilight or evening image.

To actually mix a darker and more intense color, use less water.  Don’t repeatedly dip your brush in water when you try to pick up pigment with that brush.  Instead, go from color to color without cleaning (rinsing) your brush in between.  The only way to create the rich, dark colors is with less water!

IMG_0102.jpg

Cityscape In Winter, partially finished, illustrating reflected light and bright halo around lights.

In a low key, dark painting, begin applying paint in a medium or mid-tone dark.  Try to leave a lot of light around light source and subdue the rest of your painting.  (You can use a warm yellow-white for incandescent lights.)  If you want to create a halo of glowing light, start with a circle of clear water over the light, then float a dark wash all around the clear water areas, just touching it.  This dark color will tend to diffuse.  If the dark strays too close to your light source, absorb a little fo the dark color with a clean, damp (not wet) brush used like a sponge.  After this area dries, you can apply a soft wash of warm yellow over the clear halo, leaving the brightest light as the white of the paper.

Don’t forget that light illuminates but also reflects off a subject.  A streetlight may reflect light off buildings, and a brightly lit window may reflect onto the ground outside.  However, these light areas need to be surrounded by darks.  The farther away from the light sources, the darker your colors.  Details almost disappear in the darkness as it increases.

After mid-tones or middle-dark tones dry, you can begin to layer in your next, darker tones.  As you build up to your darkest colors, you create depth, interest, and subdued variation.

Snowy City at Night.jpg

Snowy City at Night complete.

Paint Your Shadows Bold… And Transparent !

Light is often the making or breaking of a painting.  Some subjects seem uninteresting or lifeless until bright lights and the consequent shadows become parts of the scene.  Light not only creates interesting shadows for a painting, but it also produces tonal extremes, lights and darks.  Without dark tones and areas of shade, the light parts of a picture will seem bland and not stand out.  Dark tones are needed to emphasize the lighter ones.  In the same way, without light areas, the darker tones have nothing to contrast with.  The issue is not just how much light you put into a painting, but also how DARK you can make your darks! Very dark areas near very light areas will give your painting the greatest amount of contrast and impact.

out cold large.jpg

 

On a sunny day, the main tones are pushed to extremes.  Areas of BRIGHT light will be bleached out to some degree, and thus you will paint them with pale washes.  The brighter the light, the paler the tone, BUT also the more opportunity to offset light colors with dark.  Sunny areas contain warmer colors like yellow, brown, or red, whereas shaded parts of a scene will be grayer and cooler in tone.  At the same time, when painting a brightly lit section of a picture, do NOT think that a thick layer of brightly colored paint will convey the brilliance or glow you are looking for.  If you apply paint thickly, it can appear opaque because the brightness of the white underlying paper has been covered up.  Therefore, add lots of water to your color before applying it.  The more water you have in your mixture, the more the white of the paper will show through to suggest brightness.

cape elizabeth light.jpg

Because the bright spots in a painting will appear even brighter next to dark areas, SHADOWS and shaded areas ought to be a part of any painting.  A lack of light creates the darker tones within an image while also creating shadows and areas of shade.  An object blocking the light casts a shadow which can fall across a lit part of the scene.  SHADE tends to be simply a larger area of shadow.  The darkest tone in a painting is often the deepest area of shade, where the least amount of light reaches.  As light is reduced, color tends to become darker, grayer, and more muted.

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A shadow across an area of white (for example, snow) will show as a blue, gray, or violet.  However, shadows that are cast across several changes of color (for example, over a field, then a road, then a stone wall) appear to require several CHANGES IN SHADOW COLOR to look realistic.  That is ONE option. To create a shadow color, you could first look at the color as seen in direct light.  In this case, the shadow color must relate to the color it falls across.  If a shadow falls across a green field, its color will be a gray-green.  A shadow cast across a variety of features will change color appropriately, although the shadows MUST remain the same TONE (darkness) throughout (even as the colors change).  Furthermore, shadows cast across a landscape will follow the contours of the land, showing dips and depressions.

If shadows falling across a part of a painting are a darker and cooler version of the base color, how would you paint a cast shadow that crosses a path with grass on both sides (with this method)?  First, you would paint the areas themselves, with the grass painted green and the path perhaps painted a gray-brown.  Paint one area and let it dry before painting the next to avoid blurring.   When the painted grass and path are dry, next create a grayed-green and a grayer gray-brown for shadow colors.  Then paint the shadow in two different stages, one for the grass and the other for the path, with drying in between to avoid bleeding of color.  In theory, the overall TONE of the shadows stays constant throughout, even though the COLORS change according to the features underneath.

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Artist Robert J. O’Brien uses a somewhat different (and simpler) technique. Instead, he suggests creating one TRANSPARENT gray shadow color from indanthrone blue, gamboge, and quinacridone rose. Instead of mixing/using multiple shadow color mixtures (as described above), he uses his one transparent gray to glaze over ANY areas that require a shadow. He paints the areas first with their local color, then, when dry, he paints shadows with the ‘shadow gray’. To vary tone and darken certain shadows, he glazes the same gray over previous layers. (Two, or more, layers are darker than one layer!) Since the gray shadow color is transparent, the base color already on the paper continues to show through the layers and remains visible.

So, to create LUMINOUS shadows, you need to be able to see through the shadow to the color beneath. Using a TRANSPARENT paint color is a must!  Your shadows should NOT be thick and opaque.  The most transparent blues are phthalo blue, indanthrone blue, ultramarine blue; the reds are permanent alizarin, quinacidone rose, permanent rose, or quinacridone red; the yellows are  quinacridone gold, gamboge, burnt sienna, or hansa yellow light.  Most blacks and grays straight out of the tube are NOT transparent, so it is advisable to mix your own shadow colors. Mix your shadow color DARKER than you think you need.  Don’t be afraid to paint the shadows dark!

Sometimes color or light can reflect back into a shadow, especially at the shadow’s edge.  REFLECTED LIGHT may require a lighter or warmer section within a shadow.  Reflected light can be very subtle but can create varied color intensity within the shadow itself (for example, warm light suggested by a touch of yellow in the shadow, or a yellow underlayer).  In other words, areas of shade close to brightly lit parts of a painting might absorb more light; the painter could use more color and less gray here to create a bit more color intensity in the shadow.  

In most cases cast shadows have CRISP edges, which you would paint wet-on-dry (wet paint on dry paper) over a dried wash.  As previously mentioned, nearby objects can reflect light or color into the shadows.  A painter could brush in reflected colors while the shadow color is still wet, for SOFT blending. Other shadows may be SOFT-edged (for example, where fleeting light flashes over a hillside, or in some snow depressions).  Paint these soft-edged shadows wet-into-wet.

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The general process for creating a watercolor with enough contrast to make your picture “pop” involves painting in stages and layers.  Your aim is to paint confidently with a brush full of color and to paint shadow areas right up against the lightest parts of your painting.  Think of it this way:

Stage 1 is the initial drawing and any light toning down of the papers,

Stage 2 is painting in the light washes,

Stage 3 is building up the darker colors and shadow areas,

Stage 4 is adding the darkest marks and details, and

Stage 5 is painting the cast shadows.

Remember that your light colors need BOLD DARKS!