Let there be light

About ten years ago, I began my journey to see if I could unearth the secrets to effective landscape painting. I started by taking a few workshop courses in my home town. Drawing and Painting and monday night charcoal drawing. This was marginally satisfying.  But it was mostly about the procter and less about the students.

When I discovered the work of Arthur Wesley Dow, the pieces of the puzzle finally began to fall in place.  Before Dow, I was merely copying the visual images that I saw before me. I was a painter of photographs.

I was trying to piant what I saw instead of painting what I felt.   Don’t get me wrong, some of the pieces were pretty good. In fact I sold a few of the better ones.  Even then I wasn’t satisfied.  I knew I was making some break throughs, But I didn’t really know how to duplicate the process.  In fact I didn’t know there was a process.

Arthur Wesley Dow

Arthur Wesley Dow stated a simple method for getting into your painting.

Basically he had four steps:

  • Make a simple drawing in line
  • Decide where the lights will go
  • Cover the rest of the canvas in a mid-tone.
  • Then add the darks

There is much more to Dow than these simple four steps.  Each step speaks to the whole synthetic process of composition, which I will attempt to summarize under the page entitled A.W. Dow.

So, if there are shadows in your painting, which there probably are, the tone of those shadows can first be stated with the thin under painting. The toned ground as a mid tone can be the first statement of shadow.

Next, when your decide where the lights will go, your can pull out the lights from the toned ground or your could add light paint. Initially, your are better off pulling off the ground. Essentially the rest of the canvas is still in shadow, which is the tone on the ground [canvas]. The tone is a degree of the final gamut of dark values. Tree shadows, core shadows, very light shadows from a thin tree, etc.

Then this tone is enhanced to begin adding the various depths of shadow around the areas where the light will reside. For instance, if there will be shadows on a roadway, The light is ADDED on top of the under shadow mass. In a field where there is a large shadow mass created by light from behind a large stand of trees, better to have the shadow cover the entire field be in the shadow tone. Later your can add the light field tone on top of the shadow under tone and carve out the shadow shape so to speak, instead of adding the shadow later. This makes sense because shadow comes before light [light over dark/ thick light tones over thin darker [shadow] tones]. The other day I painted some clouds by doing them from the gray side first.

SHADOW is the element that holds the whole painting together not the lights. We get fooled by all the light, but it is the shadow that is the structural element of the whole painting. Light over shadow gives much of the depth to the painting.

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