Skip to content

Light for the Artist 4

More from “Light for the Artist” by Ted Seth Jacobs:

The Insep­a­ra­bil­ity of Value and Hue. Many painters, such as the sur­re­al­ists, for exam­ple, lighten val­ues only by adding white. They treat the value scale as if it were only a light­en­ing and dark­en­ing of the same hue. This is a seri­ous mis­take for the opti­cal artist. It is an essen­tially “black-and-white” approach. The result is sim­i­lar to a col­ored draw­ing, with local col­ors washed over the value changes, and does not take into account the fact that the light is col­ored. Value and color change together, organ­i­cally. We can­not run up and down the value scale with­out con­stantly vary­ing the hue.

For exam­ple, if the light source has some kind of (unname­able!) yel­low­ish col­oration and the shadow turns cor­re­spond­ingly com­ple­men­tary, as the val­ues darken the yel­low­ness will also drop. We need to incor­po­rate this hue change into each value change. We must see each change as a col­ored value. Oth­er­wise we are essen­tially paint­ing in a mono­chrome. We also must avoid “tint­ing” value changes with the same color. For exam­ple, if the light itself is yel­low­ish, we ought not to put the same inten­sity of yel­low every­where in the light.

Also take care not to give the shadow the same kind of hue as the light. The color of the shadow can be decep­tive. For exam­ple, when the body is under a yel­low­ish light, the reflected light in the shadow may be very warm. How­ever, approach­ing the ter­mi­na­tor, where there is the least influ­ence of reflected light, the shadow may show more of its com­ple­men­tary nature. Some stu­dents notice only the very warm reflected lights and paint all the shadow warm. This makes for a warm-on-warm effect that does not cor­re­spond with opti­cal real­ity. The effect is rather heavy, or hot, and the pic­ture will not have the feel­ing of light speed­ing through it. The hue will be turgid if it is too sim­i­lar in the and the shadow.

Posted in art books, color, painting.

Tagged with , , .

5 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. JeffL says

    I tracked this book down from my inter-library loan sys­tem on your rec­om­men­da­tion, will be going through it over the hol­i­day. What a great resource, look­ing for­ward to dis­cussing it with you. Is TSJ plan­ning to release another book, I thought I may have heard some­thing on that subject?

  2. David says


    If you are inter­ested in real­ist art, I’m sure you’ll find “Light for the Artist” use­ful. I have not heard any­thing about a new book. He is very old, although still paint­ing and teach­ing. I was able to attend a lec­ture he gave last year.

  3. Anonymous says

    I have a ques­tion of how this works in prac­tice (cool and warm shad­ows). ie how does it work? I have a really bad ten­dency to make my shad­ows too hot.

    I have a por­trait of my daugh­ter all sketched out and ready to paint from a photo taken on a warm sunny day. Her face is pink, the reflected light in the shad­ows looks warm red. I know from expe­ri­ence if I paint it the way I think it looks the shad­ows will be way too hot.

    It seems ridicu­lous to me to paint a cool gri­saille — the whole light side will just have to be opaquely painted over. Yet paint­ing a pink under­paint­ing with green shadow bound­aries seems absurd to me (although that is what I’m lean­ing at for the moment). Or would it bet­ter to just try and cap­ture a mid­tone and lean it cool and warm as nec­es­sary for the underpainting?

    Any advice point­ing me in the right direc­tion would be great.

    Your web­site is awe­some by the way — I have learned a ton from it.

  4. David says
    I have a ques­tion of how this works in prac­tice (cool and warm shad­ows). ie how does it work? I have a really bad ten­dency to make my shad­ows too hot.

    I can sug­gest two things. First, it’s a mat­ter of care­ful obser­va­tion. What color is a par­tic­u­lar patch of shadow, and how does that color relate to other col­ors near it? Some shad­ows really are quite warm. For exam­ple, a shadow area that is receiv­ing a lot of reflected light from another part of the body can be quite an intense red under some light­ing con­di­tions. Opti­mally, you would be able to do this from life, because pho­tos can dis­tort color quite a bit.

    Sec­ond, look at how painters have solved this prob­lem in the past. Here’s an exam­ple. Often, when you look at shad­ows on a very well painted fig­ure, they appear to be quite cool in com­par­i­son to the lights. When you look more closely, you may notice that the shad­ows are of a sim­i­lar hue to the lights, but lower in chroma. The shad­ows are actu­ally still “warm,” but painted with darker, less intense col­ors. William Bouguereau was really great at doing that convincingly.

    In terms of a cool under­paint­ing, give it a try and see. There is no need to oblit­er­ate the lights with opaque paint. Instead, you can glaze over them and cre­ate tonal­i­ties with opti­cal mix­ing. With a bit of prac­tice, this can work quite well. Check out the web site of Scott Bart­ner, a por­trait artist. He has a demon­stra­tion of multi-layer paint­ing that is first rate.

  5. Anonymous says

    Thanks David,

    That por­trait demo web­site was really use­ful (and I gen­er­ally abhor demos like that — but that one was quite use­ful with clearly defined steps).

    Haven’t decided how I’ll tackle it just yet — but you gave me some good ideas to point me in the right direction.

    Thanks again..

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.