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Light And Shade

The Art Of Painting - Light And Shade - 3, a brief series of articles on the art of painting and drawing
There is a lesson in what Sir W. S. Gilbert, the playwright, says : " Where every one is somebody, then no one's anybody." To the uninitiated it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the predominating light from others that are to all appearance equal to it in brilliancy ; but there is one unfailing method by which the relation of all the light and shaded surfaces can be so distinguished, and that is, by nearly closing the eyes when examining the model or subjects under observation. If, for instance, two light passages appear equal, the lids must be brought closer and closer together until one of these passages is almost lost to view. This will readily settle the claim of the lighter passage to distinction. The same method is applicable in arriving at a similar decision with regard to the relation of shadows, all intervening tones, and the general tonal aspect of the whole figure—in fact, of everything within range of the eye.
Once this method has been thoroughly grasped, there will be little more to learn about the theory of light and shade and tone values.
There are, however, some matters to be considered in connection with the rendering of these tone values in painting or tone drawing ; for instance, where there is a light too brilliant to be rendered by pigment or clean white paper.
A bright sky, to say nothing of the sun itself, presents to us such a problem.
If, with our eyes half closed, we compare this sky with the earth, trees, and so on, we should reduce the earth to a tonality that would deprive it of all sense of the light that is playing over its surface. Here a compromise must be effected, the kind of compromise depending entirely on the temperament or the taste of the artist. He would not care to sacrifice the light on his landscape by way of conceding to his sky its approximate brilliancy On the other hand, he may not see his landscape independent of its relation to the source of its lighting, as is so often done by those who are ignorant of the value of tone relations to their art. He must therefore settle the degree of lighting in his sky and of the tone of his ground which is imposed by the limitations of his materials.
Although as a general principle the value of tone relations must never be overlooked, we must be careful not to become pedantic about them.
There are some painters who, in painting a woman with brilliant diamonds about her, reduce the flesh tones and all others in endeavouring to give due value to the brilliancy of the jewels. In such a case the taste of the painter must decide the quality and the extent of the necessary compromise ; but where the predominating light passage is obtainable without strain, be guided by it absolutely—the quality of your surfaces demands it : for example, the high light on a white porcelain vase reduces by contrast what would be a white surface without that shining light to a low-toned one. The quality of the glaze is thus seen in nature, and thus rendered in painting or drawing.

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