Creating the Look of Sunshine


A Vision of Sunlight: Bedded in Yellow (oil, 36×48) by Bert Liverance.

Bright sunlight shining on a bed of black-eyed Susans proved an irresistible subject for Canadian artist Bert A. Liverance. Rather than showing us the entire bed of flowers, he chose a few to spotlight in his painting Bedded in Yellow. The bright yellow petals and the large size of his painting are riveting in themselves, but Liverance has also created a wonderful illusion of light for us to look at.

Areas to Work On
The illusion of light in this piece works so well because of the contrast of values from the light yellows to the dark rich browns in the petals of the center flower. The contrast of intensity between the bright yellows and the duller browns, coupled with the fact that these colors also have good temperature contrast, helps to give the flowers even more light and pop. But the uppermost petals could use more of these contrasts to keep them as interesting as the rest of the flower. Because of this lack of contrast, my guess is that Liverance used a photo reference for this painting. This in itself is fine, but you always need to be aware of the limits of photographic film so that it doesn?t limit the quality of your paintings. Photographic film tends to cluster the lights and the darks of an image. Therefore, those areas aren?t recorded very accurately. When you?re shooting reference photos, be sure to take several different exposures of the same view (called bracketing) to get the information you need. And if the photos don?t give you the information you need, then you have to make it up or exaggerate it using the subtle clues you do have.

Liverance also needs to work on his composition a bit. The value structure of the brown center of the main flower gives it wonderful dimension, but it also locks it in the center of the painting, preventing any movement. A good composition will help to move the eye of the viewer all around a painting.

Art Principles At Work
Composing for movement. Placing the main flower off-center would make this painting more dynamic. It would also cause the other two flowers to be different sizes and therefore more interesting. Moving one of them down a bit so that they aren?t so even would also create movement (see the diagrams on the previous page). The two back flowers could then be painted using differing levels of contrast and detail to create even more variety and three levels of depth. Don?t worry about making these contrasts too different, the color will keep them unified.

Supporting the focal area. The background should have the least contrast and interest of anything in the painting. A more subtle background will give more support to the details and light patterns of the black-eyed Susans. To do this, I recommend Liverance try a dark, cool background. Green or violet would be good color choices because green would suggest leaves and surrounding foliage, and the violet would make the yellows pop even more. For instance, in my painting Yellow Dancer (below) I used a simple dark green background to emphasize the brightness of the yellow rose.

Using edges wisely. The amount of contrast between lit areas and shadow areas and the quality of the edge between the two show us how intense the light is. There?s a lot of value contrast within the main flower so we believe that it?s in a lot of light. But within each petal the edge between the light and dark areas needs to be softened just a bit to integrate the two areas into one petal. The hardest edges need to be between separate petals of flowers.


A Supporting Cast: In Yellow Dancer (oil, 19×32), I used cadmium yellow pale and French ultramarine. This dark green suggests foliage in the background, as well as directs the viewer?s eye to the flower with its contrasting yellow hues.

Lessons Learned
Liverance has created quite a successful painting in terms of its strong value structure, the convincing form of the flower center, the color quality of the yellows and browns, and the foundation of a good drawing. To make Bedded in Yellow even more interesting, he could improve the illusion of sunlight with more qualities of color such as intensity and temperature, and he could employ asymmetry and a variety of sizes and levels of detail to create interest and movement. Last, he could let the background better support the focal point and control the subtle qualities of edges to enhance the believability of the illusion of light.

The bright sunlight playing on the long yellow petals is indeed a compelling subject to paint. By tweaking these few things in Bedded in Yellow, Liverance could take this painting from eye-grabbing status to one that visually jumps off the wall.

About the Artist
“I find the variety of flowers offers me a wealth of challenging subjects,? says Markham, Ontario-based Bert A. Liverance. ?For years I struggled to make paintings of airplanes, but it wasn?t until I started painting flowers that my abilities began to truly develop.? Liverance worked primarily with oil-based clay sculptures when he was younger, but switched to oils on canvas in college. He names the Impressionists, Colorists, Georgia O?Keeffe and the Canadian Group of Seven as some of his artistic influences.

Karen Frey received her bachelor of fine arts degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts. A signature member of the National Watercolor Society and a member of the Watercolor USA Honor Society, Frey has seen her work take awards in numerous juried competitions and appear in a wide range of exhibitions and publications including Splash V?The Glory of Color (North Light Books). Based in Oakland, California, Frey has been actively involved in private teaching since 1984.

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