Module 7 — Mood Light

Lighting pays a huge role in directing the viewer’s attention, but often we just accept whatever we have (esp. if you’re used to copying photos). But we don’t have to! This module is all about using lighting to set the mood. 

Watercolor’s transparency means that we can easily suggest colored light, or a pattern of shadows. We can do this as an underpainting at the very beginning, or add it at the very end, and even use it to rescue or transform a so-so painting into something really exciting! 

Module 7 Thinking Prompt—See the Light

How do you use lighting in your paintings? Do you have certain kinds of lighting you seek out? Early morning or late afternoon? Strong sunlight and shadow patterns? Soft, diffuse light?

Do you use lighting effects as a design element? When in your process do you establish the lighting for a painting: at the beginning? for each part, as you develop that part? towards the end?

Do you ever change the lighting in a scene to set a mood? Use light direction, highlights or shadow patterns as a way to direct the viewer’s gaze? Do you ever invent shadows of unseen object outside the painting for design purposes or to tell a story or hint at something just outside the frame? 

Module 7 Activity Prompt—Light Show

In this activity, take a simple scene and experiment with different lighting conditions. 

Some things to try:

  • tone the paper with a pale glaze of golden color to suggest afternoon light
  • use mostly muted blues, greens or violets to suggest moonlight
  • add some dramatic clouds and muting your colors a bit to suggest an impending storm
  • exaggerate the warm light reflected from a brick wall onto a sidewalk, or the cool green reflected light in a forest
  • inventing patterns of shadow to direct the viewer’s eye and enhance the design of a painting or to create a sense of strong light
  • glaze over a “failed” or boring painting or sketch with an unusual color, just to see what happens

Watercolor is wonderful for this, because its transparency allows you to you suggest the overall color of the light in a scene with either an underpainting or with washes glazed on top. Letting the colors of adjacent objects mingle on the page is a great way to suggest reflected light. 

Your studio notebook can be a great place to collect interesting patterns of light and shadow, and to experiment with changing previous sketches by adding different lighting effects. 

Module 7 Journaling Together Video

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