Thursday, June 13, 2013

Painting the Invisible

My previous article focused on the idea that accurate lighting entices viewers into pieces of art, but how do you paint light when your subject only exists in the imagination?

Here's that cover again:

Poor Slips has really been under the microscope lately, hasn't he? Anywho, I wanted to revise this cover and add a better sense of lighting and depth to the piece. Anytime you feel stuck or in need of improvement you should seek out the advice of the old masters. So who better than Caravaggio to teach us a bit about light?

The Calling of Saint Matthew, 1600 A.D.

Notice the intense single light source coming from the right hand side? That was the style of the day. Painting at the time favored a single light source because the light in the painting was a symbol for God and there could only be one god. Caravaggio also knew that a single light source lends a sense of drama to the piece as well as a clear way to move the viewers eye's through the work. It also firmly plants the painting in reality. 

So how do we apply this to a giant imaginary chameleon? Well, we start by deciding where the light source should come from.

 That little purple thing is supposed to represent a spotlight. In reality it would be a little bit off of the surface of the canvas to the upper left of the picture, but I put it there for the purpose of illustrating the point. The shape of the cone indicates the spread of the light while the arrow indicates the direction. Everything outside of those two extended cone lines will fall in shadow while things closer to the center line arrow will show the brightest highlights.

Light is a funny thing. We tend to think of highlights as bright and vibrant but the closer to "bright" a color becomes the more it loses its saturation. Conversely, the more shadowed a color, the more it tends to saturate. Shadows tend to be "cool" colors, they have more blue in them. While mid-tones and highlights are "warm" tending to have more red or yellow in them. The combination of all of these different values is what creates depth in an illustration and gives it a sense of realism.

Once you have decided on your lighting, molding the form of something that doesn't exist comes from your knowledge of painting things that do exist. I know that Slips' eyes are big and round, so shading them like you would shade an orange works. His nose is bulbous and his cheeks rise up over his mouth, so those points get highlights. Notice how deep this image is compared to the earlier version. I'm a little sad to lose some of the bright bubbliness of the first image, but I think that the movement  drama, and clarity that the new version has outweighs that loss. 

Art is never finished and an artist is never done learning. Thank you for joining me along the way!

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