Painting the Daylight | Complementary Colors

by Michael Chesley Johnson

In the October 2009 issue of The Artist’s Magazine, Michael Chesley Johnson shows how to illuminate the daylight.

Adjust for Daylight

This is all well and good for night scenes, but what about daytime scenes? A compressed value scale is still important, but rather than weighting the scale to the dark end, weight it more to the middle. (We rarely see true darks in daytime.) When you start to paint, mix your lightest mixture first and make sure that all your other mixtures sit far enough away on the scale from that light-value mixture to create a real contrast. Any highlights, such as sunlight reflecting off waves or rim lighting, should be treated this way. When painting bright daytime light, I find that having premixed value swatches on my palette to refer to when I mix colors to be especially valuable. As with the night scenes, smart use of complements and near-complements goes a long way toward creating an illusion of brilliance. A color wheel can help you find complement pairs. See Light of Day (below) for a step-by-step demonstration of painting bright daylight.

Light of Day

I abstracted this scene quite a bit to show more clearly the four values. I used violets and greens for the darks; for the lights I used oranges and yellow. Yellow and violet are complements; orange and green are near-complements. All paints are Gamblin Artists Colors.

A value scale weighted toward the middle works best for depicting bright daytime light.

I mixed each of my four values before starting to paint, beginning with the lightest. The light is titanium-zinc white, cadmium yellow light and phthalo blue. The midlight is white, cadmium yellow light and cadmium red light. The middark is phthalo blue, cadmium yellow light and cadmium red light. The dark is ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson and cadmium red light.

For my first paint application, I used the dark mixture (ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson and cadmium red light).

Next, I added the middark mixture (phthalo blue, cadmium yellow light and cadmium red light).

Then came the midlight mixture (white, cadmium yellow light and cadmium red light), followed by the light mixture (titanium-zinc white, cadmium yellow light and phthalo blue).

Click here to find this article and more in the October 2009 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.


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Master the Illusion of Brilliance | Juxtapose Color

Accentuate Bright Light | Compress Your Value Scale


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