Why am I Painting This?… to learn about lights and shadows using still life. This will be a huge help in realism for the focal subject in ANY painting!
On Richard Robinson’s “The Complete Artist” site, he has a workshop to lights and shadows in a still life. While I missed the date to join in this, it’s still worth studying his workshop “challenges” and learning by observation. Rather than repeat the descriptions, I encourage you to follow the link above and read it for yourself.
The first challenge is to do a notan study separating the “light family” from the “dark family” (as described). It is hard to understand why the backdrop is in the shadow family and the base in the light family, but I think it may be because the subject casts a shadow on the base? Notan is great for looking at composition as well. There should be a balance between light and shadow in every painting that follows the “rule of thirds” or other composition tools. I don’t know all the secrets of composition, but after doing the notan, if something looks “off”, then it’s easy to readjust the subject at this stage or maybe turn the canvas to do a landscape view instead of portrait.
The second challenge is to do a value study and see the pepper in only shades of grey. This will help as a second step to see the lights relative to the darks after choosing the composition with notan. It defines the edges of the subject and how they relate to the rest of the surroundings as well as in the subject itself. It’s also great for telling what “value” one color has against another. For example, if a green subject seems to have a similar value to a blue background, by squinting your eye one may look darker than the other.
The third challenge is to do the pepper in colors (as you read in the challenges — link above). I did an orange, green, and yellow pepper trying to paint each in about 10 minutes. The result was disaster.
This was definitely frustrating, but I realized an important thing which I bet most beginning painters, like myself, don’t realize: it’s hard to see color correctly! I looked back over the green pepper and now I could see that my mental color wheel wasn’t understanding how I could match the color. Maybe I’m not seeing the values of color? I made a quick color-value gradient tool (below) with the pure blue, red and yellow mixed with white or black to try and help evaluate this comparing the actual colors I’m seeing with the gradients. If this doesn’t help me, then I know I need help with the hues, or different blends of pure color.
(1/27- update) Well, the color chart did squat. Honestly, I think a simple grey card would do everything for getting values. I also found that if I take a digital picture, the pixels reveal the “real” colors to shoot for. It’ll be a good lesson for getting started. Live and learn.