Four Reasons Why Tenebrism Is One Of The Coolest Types Of Art ( Both To Make And To Look At)

2017 Artwork Tenebrism is awesome!

Well, I’ve just learnt a new artistic term – “Tenebrism“. Although I’d planned to write an article about chiaroscuro art today, the type of art that I was going to be talking about was actually tenebrist art. So, it’s great to learn the exact word for it!

It is, in fact, one of my favourite types of art – both to make and to look at. It looks a little bit like this painting of mine from last year (and, yes, I know I messed up the lighting slightly in this one):

"La Chanteuse" By C. A. Brown

“La Chanteuse” By C. A. Brown

As you can see, it’s a type of art where the prominent parts of the picture look like they’re emerging from darkness. It’s a type of art which looks like it was painted on black paper or black canvas (even though it probably wasn’t, for a number of practical reasons).

Here are just four of the many reasons why it’s such an awesome genre of art:

1) Lighting and colour: Because tenebrist art relies on a high level of contrast between light and shadow, the lighting matters significantly more in this type of art than it does in any other type of art.

Not only is making tenebrist art a great way to practice painting realistic lighting (and shadows), but it also means that you can do all sorts of cool things with the colours in each painting.

For example, if you know a bit about colour theory, then you can give your painting a really bold and atmospheric colour scheme by making the colour of the light compliment the colours of whatever is being lit by it.

For example, if your painting features orange lighting, then you could show the people in the painting wearing dark blue clothing. You could also make some of the foreground objects blue too. Since blue and orange are complimentary colours (eg: they’re opposite each other on a traditional colour wheel), they look really great when placed next to each other.

Here’s an example of blue background and orange lighting in a slightly tenebrist gothic horror painting of mine from last year.

"The Ruined Hall" By C. A. Brown

“The Ruined Hall” By C. A. Brown

2) Timelessness: Because of it’s gothic minimalism, tenebrist art looks surprisingly timeless. Even when you see highly realistic 17th century paintings that use tenebrism, they still almost look a bit like modern movie posters or scenes from a graphic novel.

This type of art has a certain timeless sense of drama to it that is equally at home in melodramatic 17th century paintings, glamourous 1940s film noir, horror movies throughout the ages, retro-futuristic 1980s cyberpunk, classic heavy metal album covers, pictures of metal/goth/punk/rock concerts etc… Basically, if there’s a “cool” genre, then tenebrism will work well with it.

For example, even an old UK government photo from the 1940s (with expired crown copyright) can look like something from a modern comic book, when drawn and painted in a more tenebrist style:

"Vintage Photo Glow" By C. A. Brown

“Vintage Photo Glow” By C. A. Brown

3) Detail, time and focus: Because all or most of the picture is enveloped in shadows, the artist gets to control where the emphasis is placed in a tenebrist painting.

Basically, if something is lit up, then the audience are instinctively going to look at it. So, tenebrist art has a level of focus to it that many other types of art don’t quite have.

Not only that, because most of the picture is taken up with shadows, tenebrist art can actually be considerably quicker to make than other types of art. Since you only have to focus on adding detail to the foreground, this means that you can spend slightly less time making a painting (since you only have to focus on half of it).

So, it’s great for those times when you’re in a rush and/or are feeling slightly uninspired.

For example, here’s a painting that I made last year when I was feeling uninspired. Although this painting features slightly more background detail than many of my “uninspired” paintings do, you can probably see that only about a third of the painting actually contains any artistic detail:

"Blue Palms" By C. A. Brown

“Blue Palms” By C. A. Brown

4) Imagination: Because most of a tenebrist painting is shrouded in darkness, a lot of the detail is left to the audience’s imagination.

As such, this gives the artist more room for visual storytelling and it gives the audience more room to be inspired by the painting (since they’ll have to use their imaginations more when looking at it).

Since tenebrist art will sometimes hint at the background through visual suggestion (eg: a few brightly-lit lines in the background could show that a window is covered by a set of blinds), it can seem significantly more detailed than it actually is for the simple reason that the audience’s imaginations will “fill in the gaps”.

For example, this painting only shows a corner of the room but, from the posters etc.. you can probably guess what the rest of the room looks like.

"1990s Corner" By C. A. Brown

“1990s Corner” By C. A. Brown


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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