So lets keep chatting about  light….

Sorry I missed last week- sometimes life gets in the way and the website goes down! 

There is the LAW of light (that absolutely can not be broken) and then there are the Rules….5 of them to be exact. And none of this is debatable- its just physics. 

So if one of the Rules or the Law is “broken” in a painting (mainly due to painting from the lies in photographic references) then the image has a major problem.  I see it all of the time.  Artists painting so slavishly over their photo references that they don’t realize that all of that tiny, detailed “realism” that they are trying to create is flawed. And when I see it as a juror for a national show, I am afraid I throw those pieces out.  Call me crazy, but if an artist is portraying detailed realism- especially light falling across subjects- then they had better understand what they are presenting. 

So lets address a Rule-

One of the Rules of light is that light always has a temperature. We may think of light as white,  but that is not actually true. And the reliable thing that goes along with this Rule is that the shadowed side of an object (an area that is not lit) will always tend to be the opposite temperature. There will always be “cool” and “warm” colors on both sides of lit and non- lit objects, but the overall tendancy of each of these areas will be the opposite from each other. (besides, what is “warm” anyway? True red is cool…) 

So if the light source is warm and yellowish, like at a sunset, then the shadows that are cast from objects are cooler. Sounds simple, but guess what?  Those pesky, lying photos will tend to show everything as warm.  Lit areas, shadows, etc.. all the same… nope. I see portraits painted with many warm oranges on the lit and also on the non-lit areas of the face.  And that is a huge problem. 

What if the light source is cool?  Like a fluorescent light bulb, neon, or direct, overhead, noon sun? (yes, mid-day sunny-sun is a cool light- the day may be hot, but noon lighting is cool)  then the shadowed area (or as I like to call it- the VOID- due to the lack of direct light beams) is warm. THe best way to tell a light temperature is to look at the shadows.  what colors are you seeing? 

Look around. You will see it.  And if you can see it then you can paint it and if you can paint it then you have a shot at portraying reality. Photos will trip ya up. The detail from my paintng above has a very warm light source…and a very blue and cool shadowed side. This is deliberate. 

So the best thing to do it to establish the light source in your painting. Whether you see it or not.  Then conscientiously follow the rule.  Exaggerate it if you have to.  We are artists after all, and no one can tell us what to do.  

Because if you want to really feel like an area is lit,  exaggerate the opposite coolness in the shadows…make it yours… and be sure to follow the Rule.

My next online workshop is September 23 and 24th and it will go over everything I know about light.  The Rules. The LAW. I hope you can join me.

The POWER of Pastel Workshop – online

September 23 and 24th



Register with me at

More lessons on light next week…..

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