One Basic Tip For Taking Dramatic Reference Photos In Bright Weather

Well, it’s been quite a while since I last wrote an art-based article. This is mostly because, due to planning time reasons, most of my paintings over the past few months have been realistic landscapes based on photos (rather than imaginative sci-fi, gothic, 1990s-themed etc.. art). And, well, there’s only so much you can say about this.

Still, during a photo-taking excursion to an area near Portsmouth called Broadmarsh the day before I originally prepared this article, I remembered one of the rules that was an integral part of my art style when I had the time to make more imaginative paintings every day.

The rule is that the total surface area of each painting should consist of at least 30-50% black paint, so that the colours in the rest of the painting look bolder by contrast. It creates an effect that looks a bit like this:

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown [2016/17]

However, one of the problems I’ve had with taking reference photos for my more recent “realistic” paintings is that the digital camera I use is absolutely terrible at night photography – not to mention that most of the chances I get to go out and take photos are during the day.

Needless to say, this makes using this element of my art style a bit more difficult, especially during hot weather. Even so, during the trip to Broadmarsh, I found myself taking quite a few photos that fitted into my ” at least 30-50% of the picture should be shrouded in darkness” rule.

This is a photo I took in Broadmarsh last July. As you can see, the bridge adds some much-needed gloom to the photo.

And here’s another photo from the same trip. This time, some overhanging trees help to provide some much-needed gloom.

So, how did I do this? The first part of taking intriguingly gloomy, contrast-filled reference photos in bright weather is simply to look for shadows. Things like overhanging trees and bridges are especially good for this sort of thing.

Then, once you’ve found some shadows, it’s usually best to stand in them (if possible) and point the camera at something bright. This might seem a little bit counter-intuitive, but some digital cameras have an auto-focus (?) feature of some kind or another – meaning that taking a photo of a gloomy area from within a gloomy area will just result in a slightly boring and muted photo like this:

This is a photo I took of a shadowy path near Broadmarsh last July. But, it just looks muted rather than dramatic due to being a photo of a shadowy area taken from within a shadowy area.

However, if you stand somewhere gloomy and then take a photo of a much brighter area, the camera might correct for this by making the gloomier area seem even darker. Kind of like this:

This is a photo taken on the same path, but because it is a photo of a bright area taken from a shadowy area, the contrast is a lot more noticeable.

Yes, this is a pretty basic technique and I’m not exactly an expert on digital photography, but it certainly seems to work. So, if you want to take dramatic gloomy reference photos during bright weather, remember to stand in a shadowy area and then point the camera at something much brighter.


Sorry for the short and basic article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Two Basic Tips For Using Digital Lighting Effects In “GIMP” (GNU Image Manipulation Program)

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote an art-related article. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about using the digital lighting effects in a free, open-source image editing program called “GIMP” (GNU Image Manipulation Program). This free open-source program is also compatible with pretty much every major operating system too.

For this article, I’ll be using version 2.8.22 of GIMP, since I had to re-download GIMP following some technical problems with my computer. However, the process is pretty much the same for slightly older versions of GIMP and is probably similar or identical for newer versions too.

Anyway, I’ve decided to write about digital lighting effects since I seem to have used them in a few of my more recent paintings, like this one:

“1999” By C. A. Brown

So, here are two tips/tutorials for using the digital lighting effects in GIMP.

In both tutorials, I’ll be adding artificial lighting (and then making it look more realistic) to this old “1980s cyberpunk”-style painting of mine from a few months ago.

1) The basics: First of all, open your image in GIMP and then look in the “filters” menu at the top of the screen. Look for the option called “Light and Shadow” and then select “lighting effects”. Like this:

How to get to the lighting effects menu in GIMP 2.8.22

Once you’ve done this, you’ll end up with a menu that shows your image with a blue dot that represents the new light source. Click and drag the dot until the light source is where you want it to be:

Click and drag the blue dot (in the small picture) until the light source is where you want it to be.

Once you’ve done this, then click the tab at the top of the menu called “Light”. From here you can fine tune the light’s position (by altering the X, Y and Z values), alter the type of light, alter the intensity of the light and also change the colour of the light (by clicking on the bar next to the “color” option, like this):

You can change the colour of the light by clicking on the bar next to the “color” option.

After this, you can also select the “Material” tab and alter the properties of the light in more detail (eg: how bright you want it to be, how much you want it to glow, shine etc..).

Messing around with the “Material” settings in order to give the new light source more of a glow.

Although there are a couple of more advanced options (eg: bump mapping, environment mapping etc..) available, we’ll ignore these. So, click “ok” and your new lighting effect should be applied to your image – like this:

Voila! Atmospheric red lighting 🙂 But, we aren’t finished yet….

2) Making it look more realistic: Although the digital lighting effects in GIMP do a good job at simulating how a new light source affects everything else in the picture, they can only apply these effects to the image in a two-dimensional space (since all images are 2D).

The way that the effect works also means that a lot of your image will be darkened too (to make the new light source look brighter by comparison). So, if you want to make your new lighting look more realistic (eg: 3D), then you are going to have to do this manually.

There are two ways to do this. One is to to have a good grasp of realistic lighting and shading, and to add the required shadows etc… to your art before you apply the effects. But, if you haven’t done this, then there is an easier way to do this. So, let’s get started…

Use the “free select” tool (the icon looks like a loop of rope) to select an area of your picture that is facing towards the light source:

Using the free select tool from the menu, I’ve selected part of the picture (one side of the TV aerial and one side of the crow) that is facing towards the light source.

Once you’ve done this, go into the “colors” menu at the top of the screen and select “Brightness – Contrast”, like this:

The brightness & contrast option.

Once you’ve done this, move the sliders until the area you have selected is lighter than it previously was. Like this:

Notice how the side of the TV aerial facing the light source now looks brighter than it used to.

If you are using coloured light (like the red light in this example), then you can make your picture more realistic by going into the “colors” menu again and selecting the option called ‘Colorize’.

Once you’ve done this, increase the saturation level and then keep moving the “hue” slider until the selected colour is the same colour as the light source. Like this:

Adding some colour to the brighter area, by altering the “hue” and “saturation” settings.

After this, just repeat the process where necessary and your picture will look a little bit more “3D”. Like this:



Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Basic Tips For Making Tenebrist Art

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:

“Spotlight” By C. A. Brown

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.

This is a quick diagram showing rays of light radiating out from a light source. The areas facing towards the light source are brighter, whereas the areas facing away from it are darker.

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.

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 18th October.

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:

The “unrealistic” shadow at the right-hand edge of this wall is there to add depth and to signify that the two walls are not connected.

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 🙂

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 🙂

Three Ways To Make The Lighting In Your Artwork Look More Interesting


As regular readers of this site probably know, one of the things that I’ve been focusing on over the past couple of years is improving the lighting in my digitally-edited paintings. Or, more specifically, learning how to use one particularly cool style of lighting.

This is the kind of lighting that looks like something from a metal concert, the kind of lighting that looks like something from a film noir movie, the kind of lighting that looks like something from an “edgy”mid-late 1990s computer game, the kind of lighting that looks like something from the cyberpunk genre or the kind of lighting that you might see in an old sci-fi horror movie from the 80s or 90s.

In other words, lighting that really stands out. So, how do you create this kind of lighting?

1) It’s all about contrast: One of the principles I learnt when I was teaching myself the basics of how to make black & white monochrome art in 2014/2015 is that a good monochrome picture should consist of 30-50% black ink or black paint. If there isn’t enough, then the entire picture just looks “flat” and the lighter and/or shaded areas of the picture don’t stand out much.

Likewise, in 2016, I learnt that the easiest way to paint bright lights was to leave the centre of the light blank and to go around it with a gradually-darkening layer of whatever colour the light happens to be. Since the area around the centre of the light is slightly darker, it makes the centre of the light look brighter by comparison – like this:

 As you can see, the centre of this monitor is white, whilst the green light from the monitor grows darker as it moves away from the centre of the screen.

As you can see, the centre of this monitor is white, whilst the green light from the monitor grows darker as it moves away from the centre of the screen.

So, why have I mentioned all of this? Well, it’s all to do with contrast. Lighting stands out best when it is constrasted with dark surroundings. After all, a neon sign might look really cool at night – but it would probably look faded and boring if you happened to turn it on during the day.

So, if you use dark or gloomy locations in your art, then the lighting is automatically going to stand out a lot more – like in this old painting of mine from last year that I’ve shown off numerous times before:

"La Chanteuse" By C. A. Brown [2016]

“La Chanteuse” By C. A. Brown [2016]

2) Think logically and physically: I still have a lot to learn when it comes to painting truly realistic lighting. But, by knowing a few very basic principles, I’ve still been able to create dramatic-looking lighting nonetheless. Why? Because I’ve learnt how to think about lighting logically- and so can you.

This is all fairly basic stuff, but it’s important to remember that the lighting in your artwork has to come from somewhere. In other words, your painting should include at least a few obvious light sources (eg: neon signs, computer screens, spotlights, fairy lights etc..) and that these light sources should provide all or most of the light in your picture, just like in real life.

Likewise, you need to learn the basic principles of how light and shadow behave. This is really simple – just start by thinking of the setting of your painting as an actual three-dimensional thing (playing old 3D computer games can help you learn how to think about 2D images in 3D).

Once you’ve done this, then mentally draw straight lines radiating out from each light source – anything that these lines hit should be the same colour as your light (and anything on the opposite side of the things the lines have hit should be in shadow, unless it is being affected by another light).

If the light is brighter, the lines should be longer – if the light is dimmer, they should be shorter. Sound confusing? Here’s a detail from one of my digitally-edited paintings that will appear here in mid-July:

The full painting will appear here on the 16th July.

The full painting will appear here on the 16th July.

Now, here’s a modified version of the picture which shows how I worked out which areas each light source in the foreground of the painting would affect (even though, aside from some very basic shading techniques, I still don’t know how to paint things like faces being affected by light in a realistic way). Each major light source has brighter lines of the same colour radiating away from it and hitting anything nearby:

I've removed the background, lowered the saturation of the rest of the painting and added brighter light trails to the major light sources in the foreground. It isn't perfect, but I hope that this example gives you at least a vague idea of what I'm talking about.

I’ve removed the background, lowered the saturation of the rest of the painting and added brighter light trails to the major light sources in the foreground. It isn’t perfect, but I hope that this example gives you at least a vague idea of what I’m talking about.

The trick is, of course, working out where to put the lights and how many of them to include. Whilst this is something that can only truly be learnt from practice and experimentation, a good way to start is to limit yourself to 1-2 light sources per painting until you get the hang of it.

3) Light colour: You might have noticed that many of the light sources in the example I just showed you are different colours, this is because one of the cool things you can do with lighting is to use it to add a bold colour scheme to your painting.

The easiest way to do this is to use a complementary colour scheme (or two of them ) when deciding what colour the light sources in your painting should be.

To find a complementary colour scheme, just look at a red/yellow/blue colour wheel. Colours that are directly opposite each other on the wheel will complement each other. Likewise, if you draw an equilateral triangle over the wheel, then the three colours at each point of the triangle will compliment each other too.

Of course, you can use slightly different colour schemes than this if you want to create a particular effect (eg: red and blue is perfect for things in the horror/sci-fi horror genre). But, if the lighting in your painting follows at least one complementary colour scheme, then it will instantly add some extra atmosphere to the painting.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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 🙂

Today’s Art (15th April 2015)

Well, for today’s drawing, I thought that I’d practice drawing realistic lighting yet again (using a rather unrealistic glowing ball as the light source) and I’m quite proud of how this drawing turned out 🙂

As usual, this drawing is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Glow" By C. A. Brown

“Glow” By C. A. Brown