Saturday, December 1, 2007

Shadows vs. Reflections

“You can’t cast a shadow over deep water,” says an old law of landscape painting. It’s usually true, but only when the water is clear. If the water is murky you can see cast shadows, but their edges are more diffuse than shadows cast over on land because the light transmits throughout the medium of the diffused particles.

What happens when a cast shadow on water crosses a reflection? That’s what I was trying to capture in this 8x10 oil sketch, painted on location of the bridge leading into Toledo, Spain. It was a mind-bending challenge of color mixing.

The simple answer is that the reflection “wins,” as you can see in the closeup. The light colors reflected from the stone piers (1) don’t get any darker where they cross into the shadow. But to the left, I observed the weaker reflections of the sky and the trees (2) became influenced by the deeper colors of the water in the cast shadow.

I used the light, color, and basic composition of this plein-air study as my source for the painting “Ruined Bridge,” in Journey to Chandara. The main change was to add a half-collapsed tower covered with vines and a makeshift house.
By the way, let me express my regards and thanks to all at Rhythm & Hues, Art Center, LA Public Library, DreamWorks, Imageworks, and Sony Pictures Animation. I'm very grateful for your welcome. Meeting all of you fellow artists—and seeing your incredible work has been so inspiring to me that I have been walking on air. And to my readers, please be patient for the blog posts about those visits, because with all the travel it may take quite a while to catch up.


Brine Blank said...

I enjoy all the information that you offer on your blog for free...but have you ever considered publishing a book with such valuable insights as you provide on here? Computers are great and all but they just can't replace having that paper in one's hands.

On a related note, I purchased your latest Dinotopia book and it was a treat to sit down with my oldest daughter (9) and discuss your technique and how the process really shows through on your work. It was nice to see HER bring up things that you did technically. Now we'll have to go through it again to just 'enjoy' the pictures.

James Gurney said...

Hi, Brian

I was so pleased to read about how you and your daughter have studied the artwork together.

It may be possible to imagine one day bringing some of these posts together into the pages of a book, but for now, I'm really enjoying the freedom of this method. It's helping me learn and grow, first by writing out the material, and then by reading the insights of the commentators. So it's win/win for all.

tlchang said...

Also, maybe someday after you finish your current book tour (of which I am tickled you will be in the Seattle area, and at one of my favorite bookstores! yay), might you consider posting about what a 'typical' art day is for you? It looks like you spend a great deal of time drawing and sketching from life - does that happen when you are in the midst of painting a book, for instance? I'm still trying to figure out how to balance it all - paying jobs, personal work, family, *life*... I'd love to hear how you do it.


Unknown said...

I'm with Tara, My Wife and I are always saying " What do other people do?" The information on reflection and shadow is fascinating, I think I've avoided this problem in the same way I avoided drawing hands when I started college.

Unknown said...

james, you are a master. because i think a master is one who not only learns at his best but also can teach with the same intensity. btw, thanks for everything you have been posting. :)