Today's post is by Lori Woodward. Lori earned a bachelor's degree in Art Education from the University of Arizona. As a freelance writer for various art publications, she has written more than 60 published articles for American Artist, Watercolor, Workshop, and International Artist Magazines since 1996. Her paintings, along with instructional articles, have been featured in Watercolor Magazine since 2007, and in American Artist's Highlights Issue, Step by Step 2011, with the article: "Moving into Acrylics". Woodward has co-authored the book, "Watercolor Step by Step" a Walter Foster Publication, and authored a chapter for Calvin Goodman's "Art Marketing Handbook for the 21st Century". She has been a member of the Putney Painters since 2004, a small invitational group of painters who are mentored by Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik.
Before I studied with Richard Schmid, I understood how to use color and value in my landscapes, but in a less scientific way than I do now. I knew that shadows are darker than the sunlit objects, and I even knew that the reflected light in the shadows was always darker than anything in the light.
Furthermore, I could match the local color of my objects fairly well, but that's about where my knowledge with color ended. I'm sure some of my instructors, along the line, explained the concept of: Warm Light = Cool Shadows, Cool Light = Warm Shadows, but when Richard explained how the temperature of light and shadow varies depending on the color of the light, my brain's light bulb finally lit up (pun intended).
The Golden Season (Branch Creek) - by Michael Godfrey oil 8x8
Notice in Michael Godfrey's painting above how the foreground rocks and shore in the light are warmer (more orange) than the same objects in the shadow (where they're more blue/gray)
For this post, I'll use the artwork of Micheal Godfrey and Lisa Mitchell to demonstrate this first segment where I'll discuss - warm light, means cool hued shadows. I could paint my own examples, but that would take me too long; I'd never get this post finished, and besides, these artists visually articulate these concepts so well that it doesn't make sense to look any further. Yes, I do have permission from the artists to use their images!
To begin, let's talk about the color of sunlight on a sunny day. Near dawn and dusk, the light is very warm (you knew that, eh?). Without going into talking about how prisms work and a lot of other scientific facts (which my husband would love to discuss), I'll just say that early/late day sunlight is warm because red light waves are longer and can pass through a lot of atmosphere. When the sun is straight overhead, there is a thinner amount of atmosphere, so we see the shorter, bluer waves of light.
Moving On, by Lisa Mitchell Pastel 18x24
In the painting above, the areas of grass in the shadows takes on a bluer hue, while the areas in the warm sunlight show some orange and yellow.
You're probably wondering why in the world I'm making such a simple concept sound so complex... because the color of light is complex. I'll explain why... When light is warm, the shadows are cooler in color - slightly bluer and often grayer. BUT! You can't just paint all the light areas orange and the shadows blue. We still have to take into account the local color of the object. So when a green tree is lit by the setting sun, the part of that green foliage in the shadow is bluer while the green in the late day sunlight has touches of warm yellow and orange in the green. If the grass in the landscape is partly in light and partly in shadow, the part in the light will show orange and warm yellow tones, while the shadow areas show more blue/green.
Take a good look at the images I've provided, and you'll see what I'm describing.
Room To Breathe - by Lisa Mitchell pastel 18x24
In Lisa's painting, the foreground grass in the shadow is blue/green while in the sunlight, this same grass contains warmer yellows and orange.
Likewise, if an autumn tree (rust colored) is lit by the warm morning or evening light, the part in the sunlight is a definite orange/red - a clean clear color, while its shadow counterpart is slightly bluer and grayer, yet still retains the color of autumn foliage.
Shenandoah River Shadows - by Micheal Godfrey 24x36
In Michael's painting above, the season is autumn, and where the warm sunlight passes along the tree foliage, the leaves tend toward orange... which would be expected since their local color is yellow/orange. However, where these same trees are in shadow, the foliage is darker, grayer and slightly bluer... meaning cooler in hue.
In later posts, I'll talk about the color of light and shadow on a sunny mid-day scene and on an overcast/gray day. Now here's something else I learned from Richard. The darkest darks are always "hot"... and although I've tried to observe this in the landscape, it's not apparent to me. One thing I do know: When I paint my darkest areas warm (instead of a dark blue) they look much darker. I'm not talking about using red, but a very warm brown or a bit of alizarin crimson to warm the darkest areas in foliage or at the base of a nearby stand of trees, or even the cracks between rocks. As I said, that'll be explained on a later post.
Please don't hesitate to ask for clarification if any of this seems confusing. I'm happy to share and explain. For those of you who already understand these concepts, I hope you enjoyed looking at the lovely paintings. For others, some of whom may be struggling with painting believable color relationships, I hope this gave you a greater understanding.