One of my mentors in the art world recently made a statement that no matter what we paint we’re always painting the light. It took me a bit to figure out what that really meant. I believe he meant that no matter what we paint we are always painting that subject in a particular light condition.
I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately, especially in the light of a comment I have heard 2 very well known artists make recently. They both said that if they go out either to paint or to take photographs and there is not bright sun they pack everything up and go home and wait for a day when there is sun. I understand the allure of sunshine. It gives wonderful shadows that are so important to many paintings. The sun also brings out the brightest and purest colours so naturally paintings depicting sunlight are very popular with clients and art lovers.
However, sunshine is only one form of ‘light’ and overcast days, foggy days, night times are all just other forms of light. They are not the absence of light. These other light conditions also have a charm and drama all of their own.
I have chosen some paintings that illustrate other light conditions.
Misty Morning In Shelbourne was done one misty morning in Shelbourne, Ontario. It was a lovely foggy morning and my wife and I sat in the car for 90 minutes while we each recored our own version of the subject. This painting obviously is subdued in colour and values but it still has a charm and is very evocative of that particular morning.
I have just started doing night scenes and I have fallen under their spell. The rich blackness of the night sky sets off all the lights even more dramatically. Mississagua City Hall was done on location just before Christmas 2013. The city hall building is surrounded by office buildings and condos and I liked the way the Chinese White impressionistically captures a sense of all those lighted windows in the background.
Early Morning At The Beaver Pond was one of a series of paintings I did when I took Sharon Williams 24 week watercolour class a few years ago. I used this same subject matter for a couple of practices on using complementary colours. I used Thalo Blue and Cad Scarlett to do a cool version and a warm version. After doing them I wondered what that pond would look like in the very early morning. So this was strictly a mind exercise but I found it extremely enjoyable. The early morning light reduces both contrast and colour saturation but the sense of story is, to my mind, almost increased. There is a strong sense of mystery.
Late Night At The Liquor Store is still a particular favourite of mine. A large part of my connection with it is that I painted it plein air one night at about 10:30 in the parking lot of a large supermarket. I set up under one of their large parking lot lights. I was intrigued by the light pouring out of the store and the hope that seemed to emanate from it. A dangerous hope to be sure but a great painting experience and I get drawn in to the story every time I look at it.
Finally a very recent painting. This is one of my favourite scenes at the moment from 9th Ave in Inglewood looking to the Bow Building and the downtown office towers. It was an overcast day with some light striking the one yellowish building in the centre. Because there was no strong sun light where I was situated and therefore no strong shadows I was better able to notice the yellowish slushy snow and wetness on the road. I played that yellow up and exaggerated a lot of the other colour. I think it created a very attractive and effective painting.
I’ve been thinking about this issue of painting light a lot lately and what I’m suggesting is that if you are in love with the effects of sunshine (and who isn’t) that you might also enjoy trying out other light conditions. There is a tremendous amount to be gained from studying and experimenting in these other areas. Even if the paintings fall outside the realm of mass appeal the benefits gained from stretching out into new areas will be well worth it. And sometimes the story and evocative nature of these paintings may out shine some works that feature bright sun shine.