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The Seduction of Light


As artists we love light…its constantly moving and changing qualities. We love its elusive nature, so difficult to capture as it has already changed the moment it is observed.

When painting in natural light, whether outside or by a window, the light changes continuously so that what you observed in the beginning is not the same by the time you finish. When painting a portrait in natural light the patterns of light will shift forcing the artist to decide when to make it indelible.

Light describes form. The way light falls on an object tells our brain much about it….whether an object is soft and furry, shiny metallic, textured or smooth.

An interesting aspect of light is its temperature. Before sunrise light has a strong blue color: 10,000 K. The cooler the light the higher the Kelvin number.

The morning light changes to warm red just as the sun rises and shadows begin to appear.

The temperature becomes more neutral toward midday which is why many artists take a siesta during this time. Overcast days bring cooler light with fewer shadows and softer colors.

At sunset light is warmer and redder with Kelvin temperatures in the 2000-2500K range.
At twilight we come full circle as the Kelvin temperature returns to 10,000K and the light is again very blue.

The best indoor light to paint in is light from a north window as it is cool and steady and does not change as fast as light from other directions. A painting that looks good in north light will look good under any light source.

One mistake many artists, even experienced artists make is to give too much attention to highlights and reflected light. A little goes a long way here and highlights are rarely really white. Reflected light which we see on the edges of shadowed areas is intriguing but it can be distracting and ruin the illusion of 3 dimensions when over-emphasized. Nothing on the shadow side of a face should be lighter than the darkest tone on the light side to preserve the illusion of form.

As artists we are magicians creating form on a flat surface. Often we cannot paint exactly what we see but we must paint what it takes to make the form look dimensional. That can mean subtle changes in color temperature rather than value. If the light is cool the form will look warmer as it turns away from the cool light source and so on.

Something wonderful I learned from Marvin Mattelson is that there is often more color in the shadows than in the light. Sunlight bleaches out color while shadows can be rich, vibrant, and deep. Never paint shadows black.

One of the great things about being an artist is that you can enjoy watching light no matter where you are. Natural light is best but even artificial light is interesting.

Go out there and observe. It is all about the Light!

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What is Real?


People born in and beyond the 20th century grew up with photographic images as their point of reference for how they look to others. Most of us seldom question the way the camera presents our image.

Many people believe they are unattractive because they do not photograph well and they believe that they look the way the camera records their image. In reality cameras and lenses do not see the same way the human eye does. We rarely look to others like our photos because glass camera lenses distort our images in all kinds of ways. Cameras cannot record the vast degrees of values and colors present in the real world. Lenses do not present depth of field the way the human eye does. Our eyes focus on what catches our attention such as someone’s beautiful eyes and the rest falls out of focus. Photographs exaggerate shadows and flatten features which may or may not be flattering.

So if you think you look like your photograph you may be surprised to see the way an artist paints you is very different. The artist has the freedom to emphasize and delete, to enhance, correct, invent, and select. The lens the artist uses is her thoughts, emotions, and intuition. If I could select only one lens for myself…that would be my choice. I am always amazed at what I see through my own lens.

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Patron of the Month

Al Delorey

Since last Spring I have been giving away a portrait every month. The way it works is that our favorite restaurant in the whole wide world is Jimmy T’s New York Deli in Hernando, Florida. Jimmy makes the best homemade soup you can find. He also has a very loyal customer base. Many of his customers eat there every day of the week except Sunday when he is closed.

I gave Jimmy a decorated box and a couple hundred business cards and people who would like to win a free portrait put their name and number in the box. Once a month Jimmy pulls out a name and the lucky person comes to my studio to sit for their portrait. When finished the portrait hangs in Jimmy T’s Restaurant for a month.

I bought a nice gold plaque to go underneath with the words “Jimmy’s Patron of the Month” engraved. There are no strings attached. The portrait is free and I give away an inexpensive acrylic frame or they have the option of buying a better frame from me at my cost.

This has been a wonderful way to get my work into the community and I know that eventually it will pay off. Plus, I have the wonderful experience of models coming to my studio where I can paint them in wonderful north light. My studio, by the way, used to be my dining room. It never received much use as a dining room but it is the most perfect studio I could imagine

So here is February’s “Jimmy’s Patron of the Month,” a wonderful guy named Al.

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A Community of Artists

Since January of 2009 I have had the good fortune to belong to a wonderful group of artists who meet every Friday to paint from the live model.

The props are simple: a chair for the model to sit in, a lamp to provide light and shadow, and tables and chairs for the artists to gather round the model. Our models receive a small fee for sitting and they are all ages and come from all walks of life. We paint for 3 twenty minute sessions with a 10 minute session at the end and with generous breaks in between. During the breaks we look at each other’s work and share what is happening in our lives. At the end we finish with a critique of the paintings/drawings in which we share our perceptions and insights about how to make our work more effective.

Although there is no official teacher, it is the best learning experience I have ever had. In the group are brand new artists and those who have had years of experience. There are no put downs…only encouragement and honest but kind suggestions. Although I have taken workshops from many awesome artists, the Portrait Group of the Citrus Art Center has been my best teacher. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to my fellow artists of the Portrait Group of Citrus County, Florida.

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ClarenceToday is the Feast of the Epiphany or the Day of the 3 Wise Men and marks the official end of the Christmas season for those who observe such things. It is the time when the world returns to normal after weeks of festivities and celebration. The days are getting a little longer. It is time to get back to whatever it is we do. For me that means painting. I am looking forward to painting again. It will be fun to discover what has been incubating while I have been away from the easel. Watch for new paintings coming soon!

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New Year’s Resolutions….

New Year’s Resolutions
2014 will be here in a few days. There is so much that grabs our attention these days. I want to make sure to find time to paint every week and to draw every day….at least almost every day. It is time well spent.

Gradually we learn to see more accurately and it seems to help us in every aspect of our lives…not just in art.

We each have so many layers of filters we have accumulated and thoughts about how things really are but when we look closely we see something very different.

Happy New Year Everyone!