Beware of changing your light source when you are in the middle of a painting


this is a detail from oil painting I did a while back called “Who goes there now?”

by Robert Conway

Now being a self-taught acrylic painter means that you have had to learn a few things the hard way, and I am no exception. In my early days, I on more than one occasion had to change my light source or move to my operation to different location while I was in the middle of working on a piece and every time this turned out to be a total disaster. I would find that all of a sudden the painting I was working on that previously I had thought was going to lift me up to such lofty heights had suddenly turned into some mediocre piece of crap. Now how could that be! Was I just delusional the whole time I was working on it and then one day I wake up and suddenly I perceive everything differently? With my delusions of grandeur snuffed out, I began to question everything about myself, how could I convince myself into thinking that I was on some quest to create some great work of art when in reality my output was just some run of the mill layers of paint on a canvas? Have I changed? am I normal now or was I before?

Here is the series of events that would always follow suit:

• First I would curse my old self for being so short sighted.

• Then I would go into damage control mode, like an artistic version of CPR, I would end up repainting the whole composition on top of the old one at a fast and frantic pace.

• When this did not work I would then end up destroying the artwork and then throw the painting in the garbage.

• This of course would lead me to the conclusion that I just could not paint at all and I would not take work on any more art for very long periods of time.

Sometimes years, sometimes decades.

The answer to my problem of course was that I did not take into consideration was the change of my light source (which I had never gave a second thought to) would dramatically effect the way I was seeing my painting. Different light sources cast different qualities of light, fluorescent light can run on the greenish side, incandescent bulbs cast more of a yellow light which flatters the hotter hues, but is not so great with the cool ones, halogen is more of a white light which can rob your work of intensity and natural light changes during the hours of the day. These different types of lighting are going to alter the playing field of your acrylic painting in some way with what you are working on, the impact fullness and the intensity of your original composition is going to change and probably not in your favor. Not only are you going to see the variation in the colors you choose, you are going to see a difference in your lights and shadows and that is the whole ball game as far as I am concerned, that is your foundation. Right now I am using a combination of incandescent and halogen lighting while I am painting which I am somewhat happy with, but I am still experimenting, still taking suggestions, at least now I have the good sense not to change my horses in mid stream, If I am going to make any lighting changes now, I am going to wait until I start a new painting.

March 8, 2014


16 thoughts on “Beware of changing your light source when you are in the middle of a painting

  1. I switched all my lights to fluorescent “daylight” bulbs in my studio and bought two standing lights to make sure I had enough light. That helped a LOT to be able to finish the last touches of my plein air work indoors and see the right colors. It helps with taking pics of your work too.

    • that sounds great. I am going to have to check out these fluorescent “daylight” bulbs, I am always searching for the best light source. thanks for the tip, must me fun doing plein air, maybe someday I’ll try it, thanks for visiting. Oh thanks for that tip on taking pictures of my work, that is a subject where my skills are ridiculously bad. 🙂

  2. I have fluorescent daylight bulbs in my studio, too, but I don’t like them for some reason. I use incandescent daylight bulbs. They give a slight pinkish warm tone that I find just right for winter painting. The other fluorescents are too “cold” for my taste, but I should also say that my floor is painted a darkish grey color so I am trying to offset that.

  3. When painting/drawing outside, the light-source changes itself, which can be interesting, the weather has left its mark on my watercolours and one memorable day a giraffe found my sketchbook, irresistable. Yummy!

  4. Hi Bob, I now do most of my work digitally. I miss not painting , one of these days will start again. you are so right about the lighting. I use to have the worst problem with the lighting. I did the same as you..tried everything even when I went outside..shadows, couldn’t see ..reflections..
    I hope you lighting works for you now..
    Have a wonderful week

  5. Gorgeous work, great effects and light. Yes, I agree, if the light changes it can make it harder! Working fast, taking artistic license, and stopping now and then to check where you’re going with your light, help but it can be disconcerting. I sometimes make collages of my own drawings. It is always a little annoying to find I have to fix up the side an object was shaded on, if the other things in it were shaded on the other side!

    • yep, the shading on the other side, good point, that sounds like a major hurdle. for me a changing light source is going to lead to a total meltdown, I don’t think I would be fun to be around on a plein-air outing.

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