September Kuromi Art

Equine Art and Animal Portraits

Light Rules

I have a horse painting sketched out.  It is of 3 special horses – Topaz, Holli and Sable (2 have passed on and Sable is a rockin’ barrel racer).  I am doing it in the style of We Three Kings – a famous horse painting that I love:

We Three Kings by Susan Crawford

But I am scared to start painting….  I walk by the sketched-out canvas almost everyday and think about it.  I know how to draw, I can sculpt and paint when the materials are given to me – but to sit in my house by myself and start painting – I don’t know what to do!  What medium do I start with? How do you blend like that? Will I be able to paint over mistakes?

So I have started doing what every modern adult does when they want to learn something (or maybe it is called procrastinating) these days – research it on the net.

One of my favorite artists lives here in Kamloops – he loves acrylics and he likes to share his technical knowledge, this is good for me 🙂  So I read up everything on his website.  But he kept referencing his ‘Light Rules’ article on the Federation of Canadian Artists website, which I couldn’t find.  After an exhaustive search on the Internet I found a cached version hidden in a corner of the ‘web’.  Since it was so hard for me to find, and I found it so useful – I am putting it upon my blog for future reference (yours and mine) – reading it almost gave me the boost I need to get started.  But first I think I have to buy some more paint…

 Light Rules
by David Langevin
 These are the rules for brilliant painting. This is not someone’s ideas or theories – the principles outlined are based on simple scientific facts explaining how we perceive colour. These rules were known and followed by great painters for hundreds of years up until the 20th century, and they apply to all painting mediums: Acrylics, Oils, Water colours, and Tempera paints. Learn them and memorize them until they are automatic and you can paint freely without thinking about them.
To use colours effectively we need to know a few simple things about how the sensation of colour is created and why we see specific hues and their variations. When light hits a surface a number of things can happen to it. It can be bent (refracted), dispersed, diffused, transmitted, absorbed, or reflected. For example, a clear piece of glass will transmit almost all the light that hits it. Because it is transparent the light passes through it. If you want less light to pass through you can tint the glass with a colour or you can make the surface of the glass irregular instead of smooth so that some of the light is dispersed. Think of a coloured tinted glass or etched glass on a bathroom window.
A coloured object is one that will absorb all the colours of the spectrum and reflect back only those that gives it its particular hue. So, blue paint will absorb the yellow and red light rays and reflects back the blue. But there are no pure colour sensations because all colours reflect back some of the other colours in the spectrum to varying degrees. If enough red is reflected with the blue it will look warmer or more purplish. That is why some colours are more cool, or warm or reddish and so on. When you have one colour by itself you are actually seeing a blend of several hues. Every time you mix more than one colour you multiply this effect. Your eyes are processing so many hues that the result is a dull, muted colour effect. Let’s use purple as an example. A purple pigment colour used straight from the tube will reflect the purple hue along with perhaps some blue and a bit of yellow and green. Create a purple colour by mixing a red that also reflects some yellow and blue, and a blue that reflects some green and red, and you have a purple that colour that is sending a lot of information to your eyes. The result is a colour that is remarkably duller than the purple straight from the tube. Add a bit of yellow to warm up the purple and you make it even muddier.
Most painting experiences that end in frustration happen because the artist has broken one or more of these rules. Know also that the effects are compounded if you break more than one in the same painting. Every time you break a rule the luminosity of the image and the intensity of the hue will suffer. Let=s say for example that you paint directly on a hardboard panel or canvas without a white ground (gesso). You use a minimum number of inexpensive paints and mix them to achieve other colours. Then you thin your paints with water, or solvents for oils, and paint over objects with the intention of covering them. This is actually a typical painting procedure for many artists and almost every rule has been broken. It has been said that Arules are made to be broken@ and you will find many good reasons to break the rules to achieve certain effects, so lets start by learning them!

1. Buy the best quality paints and only pure pigment colours.

Premium paints will give you the brightest most intense hues. This is because they use the finest quality, purest form of pigments available. These of course cost more. To provide a less expensive colour manufacturers will use lesser grades and/or add fillers to the pigments. For example, less expensive Cadmium colours use cadmium sulfide mixed with barium sulfate, a filler. The ingredients on the tube will read: A cadmium-barium instead of cadmium sulfide (or sulfo-selenide). You will not necessarily save money when you buy cheaper paints either. Apart from your paintings looking duller, you will have to use much more of the inexpensive paint to achieve a similar intensity of hue or tint. Also, the level of transparency or opacity normally associated with a given colour is compromised with the lesser grades, so the range of effects is limited further. 

Often you will see colours that use the word “hue” after the colour, like Cadmium Red Hue. If you read the label you will find that it is a mixture of two or more less expensive pigments that resemble the hue of the original pigment. Beware too of colours that are not named after a pigment, like Hooker’s Green because they are usually a mixture of two or more pigments. Some companies will mix a couple of pigments and call the colour Red. Thankfully, most manufacturers list the ingredients of the colours on the tube, so get to know the names of the pure pigments – the Pigment Chart will help you learn them. Buying pure pigment colours means buying tubes with only one pigment in them. There is an easier way to make sure you are getting the best colours: buy the most expensive ones!

All of the major brands have comparable products, but each has its own way of making paints and choosing pigments. That means that the same colour from one manufacturer may look very different from another’s; more reddish, cooler, more transparent, and so on. Even the whites! I buy from different companies because I may like the particular qualities of one colour over the same colour from another brand. I also buy the same colour from two or more companies because they are all different enough and I like them all. Browns, because the pigment sources often come from different parts of the world, can be dramatically different from one brand to the next. You guessed it, I have a lot of paints. If there is a colour that I want, I buy it pure, I don’t mix it myself.

2. Paint on a bright white ground.

Even the most opaque of colours are transparent to some degree and unless you pile your paint on very thick, the under painting and ground will show through. The whiter and brighter the ground (gesso), the more it will help to brighten the picture. The light travels through the paint layers, hits the white ground and is reflected back up through the layers of paint to make them more luminous. Many artists like to paint on a coloured or toned ground. This can be done in two ways: mix the colour with the gesso and paint it on, or the better way is to paint on the white gesso then mix the colour with gloss medium and apply it over the dry ground like a transparent varnish colour or glaze. This layer is called an imprimatura and was a favourite method of the Venetian School of painters and Rubens. Using an imprimatura is an effective way to create overall harmony in your composition as well.

3. Use the colours straight from the tube without mixing them.

The great painters of past centuries avoided mixing colours at almost any cost, on the palette and on the canvas. Some of the Impressionists were even fanatical about it. They understood the laws of colour and light and went to extreme lengths to preserve the luminosity of the hues. How their purist attitude became construed with the idea of only using a limited palette of primary colours and mixing them together to create secondaries is a mystery to me. They would have been horrified at the idea of mixing red and green to get brown. So would the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, and just about any other great painter you could name. As much as possible, use pure paints directly from the tube, and buy a colour rather than mixing it. No mixture of blue and red will ever be as bright and vibrant as a pure pigment purple straight from the tube. If you want a light and dark cadmium yellow, buying only the dark and mixing it with white to get the lighter one, or buying the lighter one and adding red or another colour to get the darker yellow will not do the trick. Every time you mix more than one pigment together you create a dull, muddy colour and you effectively subtract light from your painting. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make tints (lighter tones made by mixing a colour with white). There are the different ways you can mix colours to maintain brilliant, vibrant effects in order of preference:

  • The best method: Use paints straight from the tube mixing only with white for tints and place dabs of colour side by side like the Impressionists did, or; overlap pure colour transparent glazes and translucent scumbles.
  • The second best method: Mix colours wet in wet directly on the canvas with a minimum of blending.
  • The worst method: Blend two or more colours thoroughly on the palette before applying them.
In the paintings of great master painters of the past you will usually see a combination of the first two methods, while the third is reserved for specific areas where the luminosity of the colour is not a concern, or where the specific effect sought is deliberately duller.

4. Use Gloss Medium instead of Matte Medium.

Matte medium is the same as gloss medium except that a transparent, colourless pigment has been added to it to diffuse the light and thereby reduce the reflection. The little pigment particles deflect light in all directions creating an effect similar to etched glass that you find in bathrooms. If you use matte medium to mix with your paints then more light will be reflected away from the paint layer and the colours will then be less intense and bright. The addition of the transparent pigment also means that the matte medium will not form as durable a film as the gloss medium. If you want the final picture to appear matte, use gloss medium with your paints to maintain the integrity of the colours, then use a matte medium mixed with some gloss over the finished painting to reduce the reflection on the surface.

Some painters see no need to dilute their paints with gloss medium when doing washes or glazes and use acrylics like watercolour paints, diluting them with water. If you do this you will be removing too much of the binder (acrylic polymer resin) from the paint, leaving it dull and less flexible, so it may even crack and flake. The same applies to oil painters who use only solvents to dilute their colours for washes or glazes. Diluting the paints in this way will also obscure the layers of paint below instead of letting them shine through like they would if a transparent medium were used to mix with the paint. The concentration of pigment is higher in watercolours and acrylics will never have the same intensity when used in this way. Acrylics are designed for use as a body paint like oils. For watery washes, watercolour paints and egg tempera are much better.

5. Keep the underpainting and glazes light.

This is the same as rule no.2 only applied to the layers of paint. Make your underpainting half as dark as you expect the final image to look. When applying glazes, it is better to use less colour and apply more layers if need be to achieve the desired effect. If the area is still too light you can continue to add more layers. You can always subtract light by adding more paint but it is harder to add light. Remember too that acrylic paints look darker when the water evaporates and they dry.

6. Use transparent pigments for glazes and tints.

A transparent blue like Phthalocyanine mixed with gloss medium painted over a dried layer of yellow will create a brighter green than if you used a more opaque blue like Cerulean. Also, if you are making a light tint, use a transparent colour instead of an opaque one. It is like mixing little transparent pieces of coloured glass with the white instead of solid coloured particles. The little transparent particles will transmit some of the light instead of absorbing it all, while still giving the desired colour.

7. Paint around things.

I remember looking at centuries old portraits and seeing the painter’s brush strokes carefully applied around the edge of the face and clothing of the subject. I wondered, Why don’t they just paint in the background, then the figure over top? I was also told in art class that when painting a landscape to paint the sky first, then the distant hills over it, then overlap the trees in the foreground, and so on. Now I know that every layer of paint has a visual effect on the layer above it, just like the ground. Rule no. 7 says only paint under an object with a colour that you want to have under it.

Otherwise, paint around it. Watercolour painters are more accustomed to doing this because of the naturally transparent quality of the paints. As mentioned before, even in oils and acrylics, light will pass through all but the thickest layers of paint. Painting in multiple layers is an exciting method and creates many extraordinary effects. Painters like Rembrandt and Titian were famous for their use of multiple layers of glazes and scumbles and their work reflects that depth and richness. They were very careful about where and how they overlapped colours and your paintings will look much more vibrant if you are too. Besides, painting around things will give you a chance to use those skills you developed when you did paint-by-numbers. This rule is even more important for oil paints because they become more transparent with age. You many have seen old paintings where the artist neglected this rule and the background shows through in different parts of the painting. This phenomena is called ‘Pentimento.’

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This entry was posted on October 6, 2014 by in News and tagged , , , , , , , , .

September Kuromi

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