Thursday, December 5, 2013

Overcast light for a complex subject

Robert F. Blum, The Ameya, 1893, The Metropolitan Museum
Quick tip: When painting a complex scene, especially one with color and pattern, use overcast or indirect light. This choice removes from the scene the complex pattern of cast shadows, and it keeps the color values more in their home ranges.

Indirect light is also very flattering for faces of women and children. Generally the more the planes face upward, the lighter they are.

This painting by Robert Blum (1857-1903) of Cincinnati was based on sketches and studies he did from life in Japan. Thanks to the Met's wonderful web interface and large files, you can get a close look at the painting even if you don't live near New York.

Previous post on Robert Blum


Judy P. said...

I'm painting a similar such circumstance now, thanks for clarifying the overcast effect. In plein air I'm always hearing painters curse the lack of light/shadow effect during sunless days, but it's not necessarily a bad thing.

erc said...

It kind of reminds me of Mian Situ.

Robert J. Simone said...

That's great advice....anyone who has read Richard Schmid's book will notice that he uses that strategy often. Although I don't think he articulates as specifically as you have here. Thanks!

Daroo said...

Wow -that link really lets you travel around the painting. His command of edges and directional brushstrokes is remarkable. Looks like he used the knife to scrape back the distant background. I love the handling of that steamer trunk -- warm on the sides and cool reflection on the top surface.

With his brushwork and the Cincinnati connection, I thought he must have studied with Duveneck or at the Munich academy, but apparently he didn't.

Aaron Vazquez said...

Thanks mr. Gurney for your post. It's humbling every time to have the privilege of learning from you. I'm cheese balling it up here, but that's just how much I appreciate this showing up in my google currents regularly. So relaxing with a nice cup o joe

Eugene Arenhaus said...

I have used this cop out more than once! :)

Though as I got a little more confident with direct light, I found that a good falling shadow pattern often enhances the picture and adds interest to it. A shadow is a logical way to add contrast and vignetting effects without contriving object placements or adding unnecessary objects to the scene.

But it is an additional challenge, true, and so eventually becomes unwieldy as the scene complexity grows.

The trick is to know when it is too complex for a shadow. It can pay off to do some lighting tests to see if the scene can work with a falling shadow even if it seems too difficult. I sometimes do a few quick shading test sketches with different lighting directions, to land on a good shadow pattern for the given scene.