color and light

A funny thing happened while I was painting this, I relearned an old lesson. Again. I was standing under an overhang with the building to my back, middle of the day, looking down this nettle lined row. Without realizing it the deep shadow of the building influenced the way I saw the colors I painted. When I viewed it in full daylight the colors were bright and airy and a different palette from my usual. I learned this little lesson once before while painting in the studio, but in reverse. There, going after a night scene, I poured on the bright lights so that I could really see into the nuances of the dark colors that I was painting to get the feel of a night scene. The problem was that once I took those intense lights off the work, the color went dark. Weird. Viewing a painting in a light different from the light in which it was painted means that the paint will read differently. This is why we plein air painters generally paint in shadow or under an umbrella, so that when the painting is hung in a house and receiving only 60 watts of light from the ceiling fixture 15 feet away, it won't turn to mud. I also got this lesson in the form of big cheese at a Kinkade gallery years back. I walked in, just out of curiosity, to see what they had on the walls and what the prices were. It was sort of like watching  youtube videos of a tsunami hitting a small village, difficult to see but impossible to turn away. The gallery people were selling an older couple on a painting of a cozy little cottage, nestled in the trees against the evening light. The painting was moved to a viewing room where there was a dimmer switch and they could turn the overhead lights down slowly and say, "See how the lights in the cottage seem to come on when it gets dark?" Cool. But just a trick of the eye. The middle stuff all gets darker but the lights are still visible. I think it worked.

Moral of the story; if you want a painting that is light and airy, paint it in the shadows. If you want something darker, try it in full light, just be prepared for the colors to die when you get it home. Another fun thing to experience is to try painting under a yellow light (like a bug light) just to see what it does to your perception of the color. This is why the light you paint under in the studio is so important. Make sure it is daylight balanced or better yet, actual daylight, north light is what the big dogs paint by, always consistent and never direct.