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A Story of Light and Shadow

Light and Shadow are always a part of your painting and paying attention to good values of light and shadow can make or break a painting. This weekend I attended a landscape painting workshop with Michael Holter and he brought the importance of shadows home in a new way. Their story telling ability. Shadows in a landscape can tell the viewer the time of day. Long shadows indicating a sun low on the horizon or small pools indicating that the sun is high over head. The warmth or coolness of the light and shadow can help indicate season or time of day morning light tends to be cooler than the long rays of an afternoon sun. Light and shadows can also be used by the artist to set a tone and mood to the painting. All things I know but never stop to think about. But now stopping to think about Michael's presentation I think back to some of my favorite animation art. In Bambi the artists uses bright, soft warm light in cheerful scenes but the light becomes dark and ominous and the shadows long and threatening in the sections about the fire. In Lion King scenes with Scar are darker, shadows longer and in scenes with the hyenas even cooler and darker and shadows are thrown up at an unusual angle. Even if you were seeing the movie for the first time and the volume was all the way down you would know the difference in tone and mood from scene to scene.

Michael was making a point that an artist has the liberty of tweaking the light and shadow to express their feelings and thoughts about the scene they are painting. Just as we can take out a distracting object from a plein air view or move things in a photo reference to get a better composition we can play with the warmth or coolness of the light and the angle of shadows to better tell our story. We can add believable people or objects by paying attention to the angle and length of shadows and making them match the rest of the painting.

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