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Adventure Series 3

Five Types of Light

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Scott describes the five kinds of light found in a painting and illustrates with a variety of his own paintings.

9min 24sec

There are five types of light:

  • Light
  • Shadow
  • Mid tone
  • Accent
  • Reflected

You want to be painting in one of the 5 types of light. You should be able to define this for each painting. For example, am I painting in light? in accent? in shadow? reflected light? For every passage, try to label the type of light you are painting.

Identifying what is in light and what is in shadow is a great beginning point and most often the easiest distinction to make.

Mid tones usually occur in both light and shadow. Typically a mid tone exists in transitional areas.

Accents occur for both lights and darks. Dark accents are the darkest values in your painting and they typically exist at the core of a shadow area. Similarly light accents are the lightest values in your painting and they typically exist where the sun is making its most direct contact with a shape in light.

Reflected light comes from the sky and what is surrounding an object.

To understand this concept it is important to study other painters and see how they have done it. A photo does not always capture things such as reflected light and often times cannot be relied upon for color and value information. For instance (with a photograph), if your exposure is good in a shadow, your light will be wiped out and it will be hard to understand the relationship between the two (light and shadow). Therefore it is important to study other painters of the past and go out and study on location to observe.

Find 5 landscape paintings from John Singer Sargent (in books or on the internet).

Identify shapes in:

  • Light
  • Shadow
  • Mid tone
  • Accent
  • Reflected

Ideally, make a copy of the images you have selected, paste them in your Journal and make notes showing the identification of shapes in each type of light.

Identify what is in light. Identify what is in shadow. Locate the accents, reflected light, and mid tones.

For example, watch "The Hermit" video (in the Building Your Library category) and notice the amount of reflected light throughout the whole painting.

Go outside and look into the shadow of a rock under a tree. Describe the colors you are seeing in the shadows; write these into your journal.

Now, take two photos of the same area:

  1. the relationship of light vs. shadow
  2. a close-up of the shadow.

Describe in your Writing Journal:

  • What do you see with your eye that the camera isn't seeing?

If you don't learn to define this part, you won't believe in it. Learning to really look, observe, and use words to define the colors that you see will help you to believe what your eyes sees vs. what a camera sees.

  • Writing Journal
  • Pencil
  • Camera
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