Oh, For the Love of Light! – Oil Painting Issues.

Oil on canvas, 16×20 in. Work in progress. Blocking-in stage. Working out the tonal layers of the neck and body.

Summers here on the east coast of America tend to be a stormy affair. This equates to poor light levels in what is already a dingy apartment, which means that on days like today, I don’t get much painting done. The interior lights are not adequate to paint by, and so, I have this continuing dilemma whereby I am at the mercy of the weather gods to provide me with the painting light that I need.
The thing that you learn by trial and error with oil paints is that, having consistent light levels is an important part of the painting’s execution. Not just because you need bright, diffused light in order to see what you’re doing, but because the paint pigment changes in colour by considerable amounts according to the amount and type of light shining through it. Oil paint is highly structured. It has body through which light refracts, and so, a painting that you do by daylight will drastically change in appearance come evening light, not to mention the added texture of the canvas and the chosen ground colour that contribute to the surface texture from which light will reflect through the overlaying oil paint. I have run into problems with this over and over. I’ll paint something by evening and like the colours, but by the next day, it will look completely different and I’ll have to make adjustments. In order to compensate for this dramatic shift in appearance, I just don’t paint in the evenings anymore. It’s a pain, because I lose a lot of painting time on account of the available light. The solution?

Oil on canvas, 16×20 inc. Work in progress. Blocking-in stage.

Move house. Get a better light source for evening painting that emits blue light. I guess.

I’m sure the masters of old had the same issues. It’s frustrating. Could you imagine painting by candlelight? Mind you, painting by lamplight isn’t really much better. It makes subtle nuances with certain shades really hard to see. Blue in particular, loses its vibrancy in yellow light, and so it’s all too easy to misjudge the correct shade when mixing on the palate.

What I really need is a workshop with skylights and white walls, with spotlights in the ceiling, like I had in my house before I came to the USA. But then, that was a purpose built artist’s studio/workshop. I would love to have that again. I can dream.

I’ve begun working on my next oil portrait. My eldest son is the subject this time. He’s sitting patiently on my tabletop easel waiting for the light to change once this rain storm passes. Might be a while…

Oil on canvas, 16×20 in. Work in progress. Blocking-in stage. Working on the tonal values of the face and trying to create structure.

Lots to do yet!


Published by Maria a.k.a. Bess/Ishaiya

I am an artist, writer, photographer and social commentator. Mum, wife, Synaesthete, linguist, cook, ex-musician and philosopher. Not necessarily in that order.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: