How To Create Light with Layers

by Carole Katchen

The following is from the book:
MAKE YOUR WATERCOLORS LOOK PROFESSIONAL, "Linda L. Moyer Shows You How To... Create Light With Layers," North Light Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1995, pp. 73-75.
Linda L. Stevens uses an extensive layering process in painting. She stacks many layers of transparent pigments on top of each other until the desired hue, value and intensity are achieved. "I have found that the depiction of light is better simulated in this indirect way than by directly mixing and applying color in fewer steps," says Stevens.
To create light, she works on the theory that "luminosity can be achieved by contrasting the three properties of color: value, intensity and hue. In sections of a painting that I want to be luminous, I make it lighter, brighter and complementary to the rest of the painting."

Use Three Basic Elements to Enhance the Light

  1. Value. Lightness can be emphasized by putting darker colors around it.
  2. Intensity. Make colors outside the area of interest appear duller by mixing complementary color into them to gray them.
  3. Hue. Surround the focal point with complementary colors, to make the whole area appear more brilliant in color.
Stevens says, "The light is the difference between a subject that works and a subject that doesn't. There's a magic in how light hits an object. Especially in early morning and late afternoon, there is a magical quality in the warmth of the light and the cast shadows."

Establish a Center of Interest

"Most of the time," says Stevens, "my center of interest is the lightest area of the composition. I add subordinate light areas to help move the viewer's eye to the focal point either by the value or the direction of light flowing across that shape. The shapes of light and shadow get even more weight than the shapes of the objects."
Step 1 1. Working on Arches 300-pound rough paper, Stevens lightly draws the image with pencil. Since she develops her colors and values with many layers of mostly primary colors, she begins with the warmest and most opaque--Cadmium Yellow Pale and orange. She places these wherever they will be needed in the finished painting or wherever they will be needed to influence another color (such as yellow green).
Step 2 2. She adds a third warm color,Alizarin Crimson. You can see that the layering is not only developing color. but is also creating a range of values.
Step 3 3 By washing transparent green over the previous colors, Stevens gets a wonderful range of greens in the foliage.
Step 4 4 . Adding layers of blues makes the cooler, darker areas of the background begin to recede.
Step 5

Haiku #21
Linda Stevens Moyer, 25"x 18"
5. The final step is adding a dark, dull blue-green (Winsor Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson and Burnt Sienna) to intensify the darkest values.

Using Light to Create a Mood

Stevens also uses light to create a mood. If she wants the painting to have a light, lyrical look, she keeps all the values close to each other in the light to middle value range. If she wants more drama, she uses greater value contrast. However, she says, "Most of my paintings go from white to almost black. Some people think my paintings are not transparent watercolor because of the extreme value range."
Because of the large size of her paintings, Stevens is unable to work on location, so she uses her camera as her sketchbook. For six paintings of La Jolla Cove, she took four hundred slides. She says it's also important to study the actual location, because slides are not accurate in color. She explains that we can see into the upper ultraviolet range with the eye, but the camera can't; it misses some of the blues.

The Temperature of light

Knowing that the kind of light establishes color temperature as well as value, Stevens sometimes begins by putting a very pale wash over the entire painting to show the temperature of the light. Although the temperature of light is often very subtle, she says you can learn to see it by just continuing to look.
Unlike many artists, Stevens does not believe that if the light is warm, all the shadows are cool and vice versa. She says it depends on what colors are bouncing around in the painting. You can have warm colors reflected in cool shadows and cool colors reflected in warm highlights. And because she sees the shadows as dark areas with many colors reflected in them, she never uses a neutral black. She always uses colors for the darks--to keep them alive.
Water Light #33
Water Light #33
30" x 42"