Well, for today, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about using my favourite lighting style in your paintings or drawings. I am, of course, talking about gloomy, shadowy tenebrist lighting.
So, how do you use this amazing style of lighting?
1) Black paint/ink: I’ve mentioned this rule more times than I can remember, but it is always worth repeating. Try to make sure that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of your painting or drawing is covered with solid black paint or ink. Like in this digitally-edited painting of mine:
Not only does this make any lighting or colours you add to your art stand out a lot more by contrast, but it is pretty much essential to creating the type of gloomy, tenebristic look that you want to achieve.
2) Light sources: Although darkness might be the most noticeable feature of a tenebrist painting, the genre is actually all about painting light. It is about playing with light and/or using light to draw the audience’s attention to a certain area of the picture.
Generally speaking, it’s best to only have one major light source in your tenebrist painting (with perhaps a couple of smaller ones in the distant background at most). Whether this light source actually appears in your painting (eg: a computer monitor, a lamp etc..) or whether it is outside of the picture, you need to know where your light source is and to paint your lighting accordingly.
If you don’t know how to do this, then just imagine a 3D model of everything in your painting. The sides of everything that are facing towards the light source should be either the same colour as the light (if the light is red, green, blue, yellow, orange, purple etc..) or they should just be brighter (if the light is white). Conversely, the other side of everything should be darker (and should have shadows behind it).
Another way to think about it is to imagine “rays” of light emerging from your light source. Everything they touch should be brighter. Here’s a diagram to show you what I mean.
3) Realism (doesn’t matter as much as you think): Although it is important to understand the basics of painting realistic lighting, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
If you are faced with a choice between illuminating a part of your picture that you want your audience to see and being ultra-realistic, then go with the former. As long as the lighting looks reasonably right and helps to add visual drama to your picture, then it’s ok to use a bit of artistic licence. For example, here’s a preview of one of my upcoming paintings.
The main light sources in this painting are the ominous green sunset and the light behind the door. Yet, several of the shadows are technically in the wrong place. However, this was done for artistic reasons. For example, the light on the door has a large shadow above it, which is unrealistic but it makes the light stand out more by contrast.
Likewise, the far wall is a lot gloomier at one side than the other – in a way that implies that the light source is in a different place to where it should be. Again, this was done for an artistic reason:
So, yes, it’s ok not to be 100% realistic with your lighting if there’s a valid artistic reason for it. Still, try to make sure that the lighting looks at least vaguely realistic at first glance.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂