Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Frontal Lighting

Next time you’re at a figure sketch group, set up your easel right next to the spotlight. From that position, the light will be streaming right over your shoulder, shining almost directly at the model. Below is a 20-minute oil study with the light just off my left shoulder.

Usually no one in the sketch group wants that spot anyway because the form has practially no shadow side. Most people prefer to draw or paint from locations where the light strikes the form sideways, reasoning that they can get the form to turn better with more of a shadow side.

But they are missing something wonderful! Frontal lighting does tend to flatten form, but it gives power to the two-dimensional design instead. It gives your whole picture a striking postery impact. It's a good lighting to choose if you want to emphasize color or pattern—to feature a fashion or costume, for instance (below from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara).

And it’s one of the few times when outlines actually appear in real life. The outline is really the thin fringe of shadow that appears at the very edge of the form (kind of the opposite of edge lighting). The line bears close study. It varies in weight in proportion to the width of the plane that is turning away.

So, in the example above, the wide forehead plane yields a broad outline, while smaller planes of the lips and chin result in a thinner shadow/outline.

Tomorrow: Windblown Cape


Anonymous said...

milt kobayashi uses this all the time. I really like his compositions, which he focuses on the larger 2 dimensional shapes before hand and works from polaroids.

Hubert de Lartigue said...

Dear James, Thank you so much for these brillant lessons. I never miss one. This is very generous from you. You are a master.

Patrick Dizon said...

I never thought about the shadow acting as the outline! Interesting.

Anonymous said...

Hello James,

This comment/question is a bit off topic. So I hope you don't mind.

Who is you favorite artist? What has been your biggest thrill as an artist? Such as was it meeting your favorite artist or showing your work in a certain museum.

I don't mean to be nosey. I've just been curious about these questions. And I couldn't pass up the opportunity to ask you directly.

Keep up the great blog!

Tim K.

James Gurney said...

Tim K:
I must admit that I cycle through a long list of favorite artists, one replacing the next every week or so. For the last few days I've been looking again at Winsor McCay with complete admiration.

A big thrill was meeting Tom Lovell, an imagemaker who keeps rewarding further study. Other faves--Norman Rockwell, Ilya Repin, Ivan Shishkin, Mucha, Poortvliet, and Velasquez. But there are a million others--don't get me started!

Thanks, Pennington and Patrick for your comments, and Mr. de Lartigue: I love of your gorgeous painting of the lips on your blog. Thanks for sharing the step-by-step.

mark stavar said...

Mr. Gurney,

A question that has been on my mind for some time, and is highlighted by the final image in this post: can one learn to see colour?

Even in skin tones here there are all manner of colours and shades. Do you see all that, or does one simply become adept at synthesis/approximation of it?

i can't help but feel colour-blind sometimes.

interested in your thoughts (and anyone elses).

Love your stuff, but more so your artistic generosity.


James Gurney said...

Yours is an interesting question, but a tough one for me to answer since I'm not a real teacher, and haven't worked directly with many students. But let me give it a shot anyway.

Assuming someone is starting with normal color vision, I think one can develop through practice and learning the ability to respond as an artist to the colors in nature or to generate color from the imagination. Most of it is a matter of awareness, which comes from understanding.

There is also an element of systematic procedure in color--putting pink in the cheeks, for example, that I do as a matter of course, sometimes even when I don't actually see it in the model, and especially if I'm working very fast against a clock, as in the case of the posted image.

Also, speaking again outside my expertise, I believe there's a variety of different kinds and degrees of color blindness, red/green being the most common. But I have artist friends who tell me they have been diagnosed with fairly severe color blindness and still they create great work.

All that said, color is probably the most subjective, intuitive and mysterious of all aspects of picturemaking, and I've found it challenging to try to objectify my own sense of it.

christy said...

i'm one of those artists you speak of who has always avoided direct light thinking it'll be too difficult to pull off the 3-D form. i'm going to give this a try next chance i get!