Two Advantages Of Using Chiaroscuro Or Tenebrist Lighting In Your Art

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about one of my favourite types of lighting. I am, of course, talking about gloomy, shadowy chiaroscuro lighting. In particular, I’ll be talking about a heavier type of chiaroscuro called “Tenebrism“.

My “version” of this lighting style (which involves making sure that at least 30-50 % of the total area of each picture is covered in black paint) looks a little bit like this:

“The Old Restaurant” By C. A. Brown

“Noir” By C. A. Brown

So, what’s so amazing about this type of lighting and why should you use it? I’ve probably talked about this before, but here are two reasons:

1) Focus, drama and time: By ensuring that at least 30-50% of your painting is shrouded in darkness, you can play with light and shadow a lot more. This alone can make your paintings look really dramatic – especially when you use different colours of light.

In addition to this, you can use the lighting to focus your audience’s attention on one particular areas of the picture, whilst leaving the rest mysteriously covered in shadow. This can come in handy if you don’t have a huge amount of time to make a piece of art.

By focusing the audience’s attention on just one area of the picture, you can use your limited time to add extra detail to this area. This means that you can make “quick” paintings that still seem to be fairly detailed . Like in this digitally-edited painting of mine, where only about half of the total area of the painting actually contains any detail:

“Corner” By C. A. Brown

2) Colours: The thing to remember about brightness in paintings is that it is relative. The brightness of one part of your painting is determined by how bright it is when compared to the brightest and darkest areas of your picture. The difference in brightness matters much more than how light or dark the paint you are using is.

For example, if you want to draw or paint a bright sunrise or sunset, then you should leave the middle of the sun blank and make everything else in the picture darker than it. This makes the sun look extra bright by comparison (since the blank area in the middle of it is the lightest area in the picture). Like this:

Notice how the “sun” is nothing more than a roughly semi-circular white space, surrounded by yellow paint.

Well, this is also true when you are using gloomy tenebristic lighting. Because there’s so much darkness in your painting, all of the colours will appear much brighter and bolder by contrast.

When combined with a complementary colour scheme (or a colour scheme consisting of 2-3 complementary colour pairs), this can give your art a really bold and distinctive look – like in these digitally-edited paintings of mine:

“Window” By C. A. Brown

“Audio Cassette” By C. A. Brown

“The Abandoned Lobby” By C. A. Brown

So, if you want bold and dramatic colours in your art, then using a more tenebristic lighting style can be really useful 🙂 Plus, since it is a lighting style that was popular during the 1980s and 1990s, then it can also be an easy way to give your art more of a stylised “retro” look too.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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