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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

On the Easel

Happy winter, I’m so happy it’s winter.  The silvery Northwest light is a perfect light to see color in the landscape.  We are seeing deep greens of the evergreens, yellows in the tall grassy fields and subtle oranges, reds and burgundy’s forming in branch tips, bringing a blush and a hint of Spring.  I have been working on small studies for the past several weeks, developing compositional and color studies.  Each painting is about a particular time of day during the year.  I try to capture the kind of light I see in the sky because that sets the key for the painting.  It’s a real challenge to learn about how the light effects change with all the many variables, such as time of day, weather, season, etc.  As I construct a painting I think about a certain place, what the sky looked like, how the big shapes work together and what I want the painting to look like.  The one I like the best is shown here with the underpainting phase and the color study.  This 8×12 study will give me a road map for a larger painting.   I think I’ll make it 16 x 24.  I’ll make posts as I proceed.  I’m excited to proceed!  Lots of planning goes into it from here.  I need to decide on the surface.  Linen? (my typical choice)  Diebond?  Haven’t explored that yet but I”m taking the Natural Pigments workshop, Painting Best Practices,  in Portland, OR next weekend and hopefully I’ll learn a little more about it.  I’ll keep you posted.


creek in field, winter day, grey sky, silver light, evergreen trees, landscape, color study

Patterson Creek, 8 x 12


Lolly’s Treehouse Studio

Treehouse in the snow built by Pete Nelson


Here’s a picture of my Fall City studio in the winter.   I walk out here every day to work, drawing and painting fifteen feet off the ground.  During a windstorm it feels like I’m in a boat that’s moored, rocking and swaying against the dock.  When it’s not breezy it’s only noticeable that I’m in a tree if I’m conscious of how special it is – which is pretty much all of the time.

What I’m struggling with is the light inside.  I designed it after a fire lookout, with wrap around windows.  The light comes inside from three directions, the east, north and west –  and that’s not necessarily good.  For painting, northern light is best, so I’m designing window coverings that help me control the high degree of reflective light going on.   Each window covering is a panel that attaches to the interior of the window pane with a spring-loaded curtain rod.  With rods at the top and the bottom of each panel to hold them in place, I can adjust from the top or the bottom, depending on where I want the light entering.  The question of the week is which fabric to use?  I’d love to find a thick linen-colored fabric that blocks the light but is still aesthetically pleasing.  Another option is using black-out fabric – not great to look and kind of plastic-like, but it does the trick.

By the way, if I haven’t mentioned this, my treehouse was built by Pete Nelson, Treehouse Master (as seen on the second season of “Treehouse Master”, the  TV show on Animal Planet).  Pete built this structure as his first Treehouse Workshop in 2002.   His students came from all over the world to take his class; together, they built the platform, the walls, the roof, etc., all in less than a week!  Look in Pete’s book, “Treehouses of the World”, for “Lolly’s Treehouse”, p. 42.   It’s pretty great to make fine art paintings in a rustic tree house!


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!

Deborah Paris Landscape Atelier

Down here in Clarksville, Texas, studying landscape painting with master tonalist painter, Deborah Paris! What a beautiful part of the country to be in this month as the trees turn green and frogs are croaking (It’s especially sweet to be outside in the sunshine when I hear it’s raining buckets back home in Washington).

Deborah Paris painting at easel

Here’s a picture of Deborah’s underpainting demo. I’ll post some pictures of my work from this week soon.

The B&BThis is the B&B where I’m staying – built in 1880! Lots of history around here.Went on the Ghost Walk last Saturday night. One of the members of the Historical Society took us on a walking tour of town to all the haunted houses! I was freaked out at the last house. People on the tour had ghost apps and their phones went wild! Have you ever heard of a ghost app?

By the way, they have red cardinals down here, which I love, because they’re cousins to the blue jay back home. Love the red! Well, it just so happens that I have acquired a recently deceased cardinal (that hit the house by accident) and I’m trying to figure out a way to bring it home so I can do a painting. Anybody have ideas on how to get this lovely creature home? Taxidermist?


Red Begonias 14″x11″ oil on linen
Just finished a 3-day flower workshop with Michael Klein at the Whidbey Island Fine Art Studio.  We worked in all natural light – no studio lights on the easels, no lights on the flowers except what was coming in from the windows!  It was great fun learning how Michael works – back to front, starting with the background and laying the flowers on top.  Painting flowers feels like plein air painting –  you have to work fast because the flowers will wilt throughout the day.  These begonias were actually potted so I wasn’t too worried about them dying.   However, I must say that leaves DO rotate toward the light throughout the day which makes blocking them in a real challenge.  I love flowers!

Skagit Valley

Graduation Night – Georgetown Atelier! June 30, 2012

What a wonderful evening to share with friends and family!  Special guest speaker, Gary Fagin, founder of Gage Academy, Seattle, WA, spoke about the growth of contemporary realist art in the Pacific Northwest.

Our graduating class consists of six artists, including Brandy Agun, Courtney Estevenin, Susan Spar, Kathy Joe Troyer,  Holly White and myself.  I can’t wait to see how each of us moves forward in art!

Thank you Tenaya Sims, founder and teacher extraordinaire of Georgetown Atelier, for your excellent instruction and guidance.  Now it’s time to fly!

Here I am standing in front of some of my paintings at the party
This is my certificate of graduation!  Yea!!!!!!!!