Cheri Christensen: Mood Lighting

The mood of a painting is determined by the ratio of shadow to light. For example, a brightly lit scene conveys energy and wonder, while one with a more pronounced shadow grouping produces an introspective feel. Finally, close values at the dark end of the value scale produce a somber effect.

A Late Evening for Pig (oil, 5×7)

Color is the most important component for helping me capture the mood I?m after. Colors guide me in building form, provide clues to the direction and temperature of the light and tell me how to respond emotionally. I then use texture to create the feel of the form, whether I?m painting warm wool or translucent feathers. Producing texture can be as simple as a heavy brushstroke or a gob of paint placed with a knife. For example, I use a brush when I need a softer, more subtle look. In such cases, I often produce textures by lightly dragging a brush loaded with paint over my working surface and allowing the underlayers to peek through the layer I?m adding. Conversely, a palette knife is a great tool for conveying energy and movement.

I paint the shadow shapes first, then begin on the shapes of the light. Again, I think of colors instead of objects and constantly compare the relationships. As I work, I step back from the painting often, squinting to check the big shapes against each other. When I’m satisfied that these shapes are right, I begin selectively modeling the form.

“I don’t know how people survive without art. When you’re an artist, you’re always interested in something, and each interest leads to another interest. And it’s a thrill to know that your work is in good collections, as mine is?that brings happiness, too,” says Mary Todd Beam from her studio in the mountains of Tennessee. A frequent juror and a popular workshop instructor, Beam is a Dolphin Fellow of the American Watercolor Society, as well as a member of the National Watercolor Society, the Ohio Watercolor Society, and the Society of Layerists in Multimedia. Her book, Celebrating Your Creative Self (to be published by North Light Books), will be available in the spring of 2001.

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