Because the eye and the brain are constantly adjusting to the changing hues and values of sunlight and shadows when painting outdoors, it can be difficult to see those changes as they happen to our subject. If one is unaware that the original light has changed, the attempt to make adjustments can result in the lack of a definite color key and muddy paint colors. Monet famously changed canvases hourly as his highly trained eye detected that the light had changed upon his plein air subject.
|The colors and values of the morning light
on the house.
|The colors and values of the afternoon light
on the house.
|The roof color in the
morning (left) and
Shooting a photograph of a solid colored house at different times of the day is a great way to show the phenomenon because, unlike a landscape, the colors of the house are uniform. These photos illustrate the importance of identifying your key colors and values early and getting those spots of color on your canvas right up front. As you can see in the photos, there are not only big differences in the colors and values between the light and shadow areas on the house, but also dramatic differences between the colors and values of the morning light vs. the afternoon light.
We've chosen six identical points in each photo to show how dramatically different the colors would be if you were trying to paint the house at these different times of day. Indeed, that is an exercise in itself–try painting the same subject at different times of day and compare the results. You will not only have a new appreciation for how sunlight works, but you will also have taken a big step toward sharpening your "color sense."
James Gurney (of Dinotopia fame) gave a wonderful example of the different colors on a white building on a sunny day in his blog, Gurney Journey. Visit us at The Artist's Road to see more in-depth articles and interviews, including an interview with James Gurney.
–John and Ann