Let there be light!

In other words, set the right tone!

The subject of all my paintings is really light, rather than wildlife, dance, the sea, children, gardens etc. Without light there would just be a black sheet of paper! Light reveals all the forms and colours and helps create atmosphere.

Make light the subject of  your paintings too. Here are some tips:

  1. Always indicate the direction the  light is shining from, (draw an arrow on the corner of your drawing board or the tape holding down your paper.) Keep this in mind when painting form shadows and cast shadows.

2) If the sun is directly behind a row of trees or stones or people, the shadows will radiate out from the sun.

3) It will help you so much with producing a better painting if you do a quick thumbnail sketch to map out the main tones ( and composition) before you start on the actual painting. Just a little sketch the size of a big matchbox, maybe 3″ x 2″ ( 7cm x 5cm.)

 Indicate the white areas, the lightest tones, the medium tones and the darkest tones. At this size you can easily redesign and improve on your composition, saving yourself a lot of work when you actually begin painting. Especially useful if you are combining two photos, or redesigning your composition.

4) Use light and patterns of light and shade to draw attention to the focal point of your painting. Cloud patterns, ridges of lavender etc can all lead the eye to the focal point.

Use contrast to draw the eye to the focal point of your painting too – the strongest lights and/or darks need to be here.

5) If in doubt, print your reference photo in black and white only, as a grayscale – this will reveal the true tonal pattern you need to emulate in your painting.

6) In conclusion, TONE is infinitely more important than colour, subject or treatment for the creation of a good painting and a satisfying composition. 

Practice those tone scales in pencil, watercolour, acrylics etc so that you can achieve the right tone easily. 

So get the tones right – Don’t paint the whole painting too dark – leave light and white areas so that you can create freshness and good contrast.

Once you are painting in colour, keep those tones correct! It’s the secret to a successful painting or sketch! Let there be light!

Altea sun
Horse, horses, Camargue, France, equine

Published by jancalderwood

I am an artist and art teacher working in beautiful North Northumberland. See the Meet the Artist page on this website

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