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Creating a Light Effect

I have been drawing and painting in black and white for the past several weeks, practicing how to create different light effects.  What is a light effect, you ask?  According to our friend, Andrew Loomis, illustrator extraordinaire, “everything has its own or ‘local value,’ which can be brightened or darkened by light or the lack of it.  The painter is interested only in the effect that light has on the local value, and not in the local value itself.”  Confused yet?  Let’s explain it in terms of landscape values.  If we look outside and see a couple of trees, one in light and the other in shadow, ask yourself, how light is the tree in light as compared with the tree in shadow?  A dark tree in bright light might appear very light, or a light colored tree in shadow might appear very dark.  The objects in the landscape might be light, dark or somewhere in between according to the conditions of the moment or “influence” of light, shadow or reflected light.  Another term for light effect is the “key”  of a painting.  Keying a painting means you are deciding where on the value scale you want your painting to be.  If you’re painting a nocturne, obviously your values will slide to the darker end of the scale. If you’re trying to channel Sorolla and paint a beach scene in full sunlight you’re going to choose values on the lighter end of the scale. Get it?

In this exercise I decided to make a low key painting (dark values) out of a drawing by William Trost Richards.  Here is his drawing:

drawing of field, two trees, pond, background trees

drawing by William Trost Richards

The first thing I did was copy the drawing, changing it from a sunny day to an evening light effect.  I had to darken the values to the lower end of the scale, especially the ground plane!  Knowing my values would be pretty dark I used a grey toned paper to start with instead of white.  That way I wouldn’t have to work as hard trying to darken the white paper down!  On a scale of 0-10, with 0 being black and 10 being white, the lightest value in this drawing is a 7.5 (in the sky).  The value of the gray paper is 5, right in the middle, so I darkened the trees and ground with charcoal and lightened the sky with white chalk.  Here is the drawing:

charcoal drawing of trees, field, pond

Lo Key light effect after William Trost Richards, charcoal and white chalk on grey toned paper


Finally, after I was satisfied with the dark values in place, and the lightness of the sky adjusted, I painted the scene on a 12 x 16 panel.  All the work to change the “light effect” or “key” was done already in the drawing.  It makes a huge difference in the prep for a painting to do a detailed drawing with values mapped out.  Once it looks how you want it to look the painting part is easy! – lol  Here is the painting:

painting of trees, pond, evening, field

Low Key Light Effect – Copy after William Trost Richards, oil on linen on panel

This exercise was part of a class I took called, Values in the Landscape.  A Huge thank you to my landscape teacher, Deborah Paris, for teaching me how to do this!!!!!

Painting Best Practices workshop

I recently attended the “Painting Best Practices” workshop in Portland, OR, taught by George O’Hanlon of Natural Pigments. The buzzword for the course was “longevity.”  Build your painting to last!  George is on a mission to help artists learn more about painting materials and their preparation so that the life of their picture is long and it lasts through the centuries.

Many paintings today are failing after only one, five and ten years.  Pictures are cracking and flaking off from a number of causes, including chemical, biological and mechanical failures.  We learned how to build a painting system that works:  how to choose a sound support – one that handles transport, has low response to changes in humidity and temperature and is chemically stable and visually acceptable.  Topics included: Laying the ground (adhesives, grounds, best practices for preparing wood panels, metal panels, copper panels, canvas, etc), Paint film and how it degrades from different painting techniques, Painting mediums and reasons for using different types of mediums…solvents, varnishes.  He even spoke about Studio Safety.  There is no such thing as Nontoxic.  Protect yourself every day and take precaution against exposure.

Since the workshop I have resolved to radically reduce my use of odorless mineral spirits.  For the past two weeks I have been washing my brushes in vegetable oil.  What? you say?  Yes, it works.  It takes a little longer, and I wash them afterwards with a bit of artist soap and water, but my brushes have never been happier.  They spring into action without any little hairs splaying about.  Safer for me and better for the brushes.

The workshop covered so much more than I have mentioned here.  If you get a chance to take it I would highly recommend it.  You can find out more information on some of the technical issues discussed in this course on Mathew Inness’ blog post,

Here’s a (graisille) master copy of an Isaac Levitan painting, “In the Woods in Winter”.  My squeaky clean brushes did all the work!

winter, snow wolf, trees, landscape

Copy After Isaac Levitan by Lolly Shera

Drawing trees

I’m taking an online class with Deborah Paris on drawing and painting trees.  We’re learning about how a tree trunks tapers as it grows, starting out really big at the base and narrowing in girth as it reaches into the sky.  Here are a few samples of my studies this week.

First, a copy of a drawing by JD Harding, from the book, On Drawing Trees In Nature, A Classic Victorian Manual, published in 1846.

This is a copy of a drawing after John. F. Kensett

And finally, a drawing from life, a big old oak in Jackson Square, New Orleans.  This was fun to draw because I sat basically underneath this huge tree while a jazz band played in the square.  People walking by, tarot card readers, artists displaying their works.  Lots going on in NO!

Moving studio to Fall City, WA! Out in the country!

Back from Texas, waiting for my paint supplies to arrive.  I shipped a box Fed Ex home from Clarksville – it should arrive tomorrow.  There are four paintings from that workshop that I plan to continue working on.  Deborah Paris taught a painting technique inspired by painters from the Renaissance which consists of applying thin glazes of oil paint, building up the layers and creating a luminosity like nothing I’ve seen before.  As I work my way through the painting process I’m learning how to plan ahead which areas will be transparent and which will be opaque.  Very challenging and it’s a lot of fun! I’ll post some of that work soon.  I’m still working it.

The real reason I’m writing is to announce that I will be moving back to my studio in Fall City, WA beginning May 1st.  On my property is a wonderful, small, intimate space in the trees.  I work in a treehouse studio.  It is designed after a fire lookout like the ones we have on mountaintops in the Cascades.  There are windows on all sides, so being in the trees it’s nice to have all the natural light.  I’m super excited to get moved and get working.

Here is a master copy I did of a drawing by Ashur B. Durand:

Master copy of George Inness

This is a master copy of George Inness.  I really liked the orange sky.

Georgetown Atelier Works

Skull Study, Oil on linen, 13.75″x15″

  Release, Oil on linen, 39″x24″
 Ragazza Paese, Oil on linen, 28″x20″
 Copy After Rembrandt-Self Portrait at the Age of 63, Oil on linen, 20″x16″
 The Poet, Oil on linen, 24″x19″
 Cast Study, Graphite, 21″x13″
 La Madre, Charcoal and white chalk on toned paper, 24″x17.5″
 Portrait of Zach, Charcoal and white chalk on toned paper, 24″x18″
 Veronica, Charcoal and white chalk on toned paper, 12″x18″
 Portrait of Rachel, Oil on linen, 20″x16″
 Hoagie, Charcoal and white chalk on toned paper, 24″x18″
 Portrait of Jenna, Oil on linen, 24″x18″
Slim Chance, Oil on linen, 24″x 24″