Light and shadows


O’Neill Butte 10 a.m.


O’Neill Butte 7 p.m.

I thought you might enjoy taking a look at a scene from two different times.  Painting is all about light, both direct, shadows, and light bouncing around within the shadows.  O’Neill Butte is a prominent structure on the Supai layer that has resisted erosion a little more than the surrounding area.  When painting O’Neill Butte in the morning, the shadows disappear quickly as the sun climbs.  Painters need to “lock in” the shadows upon getting started.  In the evening, it’s quite another story as the Butte remains in light until the sun finally sets.  

Shadows-they’re not just dark-there’s a lot going on within shadows.  Take a look at the morning photo.  Do you see how the shadow is lighter at the bottom of the Butte?  Although it could be due to a paler layer of Supai, it is more likely that the light from the slopes in front of the butte are reflecting light onto the lower layers.  Vertical planes reflect more light toward the bottom and fade into bluer shadows toward the top as a rule.  Even within a shadowed area, there can be a sky reflection.  Handled carefully and conservatively, a painter can place a streak of blue right on the edge where a shadowed horizontal plane turns vertical.  Finally, a word on edges.  The “cast" edge of a shadow is almost always a solid, uninterrupted line.  It can waver depending on the surface upon which it is cast as you see in the upper photo.  However, the “formed” edge as seen on the upper edge of O’Neill Butte is often soft, irregular, or intermittent, with spots of light residing within a shadowed area.  It is all this attention to detail that can make a painting much more beautiful and realistic.  Pay attention to shadows as you go about your day and see if you agree.  © Dawn Sutherland  2017