Celebrating Light and Dark
In celebration of the Fourth of July, one of the first things that comes to mind for many of us — besides hot dogs, hamburgers and all that red, white and blue — are fireworks lighting up the dark sky. The explosion of color against darkness creates an almost entrancing effect and draws in your eye. This contrast of light and dark can carry the same effect in art.
It is a powerful way to bring attention to your focal point. The viewer’s eye will follow this contrast, helping to draw his or her eye into your art in a similar way fireworks keep us looking up at the sky.
Below are six watercolor paintings that beautifully capture this contrast, featured in Splash 18, which has the theme of “Value: Celebrating Light and Dark.” It is clear to see why this theme is celebrating these values. Let these works inspire you to incorporate more contrast in your own art. Enjoy!
In the Rain by Rainbow Tse
Interesting, but also challenging, I often paint nightscapes because they bring out the light best. The contrast and vibrance come by very dark patches against areas of light.
The key to mesmerizing nightscapes is correct tonal value. When you concentrate on the lights and darks, you will begin to see the night taking shape.
— Rainbow Tse
Into the Light by Mark E. Mehaffey
Into the Light was based on a reference photo shot quickly into the light pouring through this large building’s front entrance. I heightened the contrast around the central figure and simplified all other details.
— Mark E. Mehaffey
Splash by Peter K. Lau
I used the largest brush I could find and started wetting at the top of the watercolor paper before I applied India ink, watercolor and, lastly, iridescent acrylic. The whole process is fast and loose. It is a study of light and dark value in its simplest form.
My understanding of value came from my darkroom days when I employed the Zone System for my black-and-white prints.
— Peter K. Lau
Last Light at Marco by Sandra L. Strohschein
Here the sunset itself is the focal point. In order to keep the light the focal point, I overpainted strong dark backlit shapes. The ratio of water in these warm and cool pigments is greatly decreased, resulting in darker value strength.
— Sandra L. Strohschein
Setting Sun by Anne McCartney
This piece lent itself to high-value contrast as its story is the fading light of the reflected setting sun amidst the dark waters and hills. The palette is fairly limited, so the values make it sing.
Don’t be afraid to go to the dark side; without the darks, it’s hard to see the light.
— Anne McCartney
The Moscow Nocturne No. 3 by Chien Chung-Wei
This subject makes use of backlighting, sunset and a night scene — a trifecta of expressive subject matter. These lighting effects are not very hard to produce (using masking fluid) but they are very eye-catching. The intense lights not only provide strong contrast but also awaken people’s realistic spatial memory.
I concentrated these bright lights, mostly streetlights and headlights, in the focal area. It is important not to paint too many details.
Nighttime in the City
The city lights at night create a strong contrast of light and dark. Check out the preview below from Paul Jackon’s Watercolor Workshop: Nighttime in the City for tips on using masking fluid, creating texture and how to draw your eye to the focal point when painting.
Like what you see? The full-length video workshop walks you through how to paint a rain-slicked cityscape at night, step-by-step in watercolor. You can start streaming here.