What is bounced light and how do I introduce it into shadows?

Matted $165  Framed $235
Fall Aspens on Tunnel Road 10×7.5 plein air watercolor

Bounced (or reflected) light is very important in a painting because it adds more realism to the scene. Sunlight hits the ground and whatever colors are there, or in surrounding foliage, for instance, are reflected onto the bark of these beautiful trees. This is a great way to liven up the colors in your shadows. Click on the photo to enlarge it and you can see better the yellows and greens I  have added to the shadows to reflect the ground and the fall foliage into the bark.

Tip of the Day

Glazing is a very good way to add reflected light into your shadows, both in watercolor and oil. In watercolor we glaze over a  color that has dried with diluted paint, such as cadmium yellow or a grayed green you might want to introduce. In oil, it is good to glaze by adding a medium to thin your paint a little.

It is very important to make sure the reflected light you’ve added STAYS in the shadow and doesn’t jump out! Squinting at your shadow is a good way to make sure the values are the same or that the color you added isn’t too bright. Squint at the large aspen in “Fall Aspens on Tunnel Road” to see what I mean.

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Make Every Tree Different

Wild Basin Footbridge email

What makes trees different? In “Wild Basin Footbridge,” my plein air oil painting above, after I used up the obvious three different sizes (large, medium, small), what is left to give each tree its own special personality and make it different from all the other trees?  Notice that the tree on the far left is a bluer gray than the others; the one to the right of it is browner; the main tree (largest) is the “brightest;” the other large tree on the far right has more deep cool colors on its bottom third. I hope you can see some of the subtle differences in this small picture.

Tip of the Day

Besides different sizes, think of other contrasts, such as:

warmer or cooler, lighter or darker, hard edges or more lost (soft) edges, brighter or duller, in light or in shadow, foliage covering or not covering, many branches or few branches, and different colors on the barks of trees – more grays, more browns, more ochres, even adding some gray-purple in the shadows of one of the trees. Just try not to repeat what you do on one tree to the next! VARIETY!

Next blog post, I’ll talk about using reflected (bounced) light on the trunks! Thanks for tuning in.

More About Shapes

Aspen trees lit from the right front - what interesting shapes were added?
  Aspen trees lit from the right front – what interesting shapes were added?

Sometimes we need to add a few things that are missing in a landscape painted plein air (on location, or, in French, “in the open air”). One of the most important things is some shapes to lead the viewer through the painting. Notice in the foreground the dark shape of the grass that begins at the bottom and kind of zig-zags to the left, then to the right and “happens” to end up at the major aspen. That wasn’t there – I added it, and also the small rocks that lead up to the aspen. I completed this little watercolor (approximately 10×7″) last week in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Notice, also, the shapes of the foliage:

Tip of the DayEdgar A. Whitney,                     sometimes called “the father of watercolor,” gave a great definition for a good shape, one which I teach in all my classes:

“A good shape is two different dimensions (longer than it is wide)

placed obliquely on the page (not completely horizontal or vertical)

with interlocking edges.”

The interlocking edges part means that the edge of the shape kind of interacts with the background like pieces of a puzzle – they don’t just boringly meet each other in a lot of hard, straight lines. Notice how the aspen foliage in “First in Line” follows this definition. The masses of foliage are also, for the most part, different sizes. :>)

Hope you’ve enjoyed this post as much as I have enjoyed writing it!


Tip of the day: Aspens need contrast in a painting to stand out!

More contrast behind the main aspen helps make him the star!
More contrast behind the main aspen helps make him the star!

Sometimes your photos of aspens will not have much contrast, so you have to add it by adding some dark shapes behind the aspens. The background of this watercolor didn’t have hardly any darks in the photos I worked from, so I had to add them. Weave the darks through in an interesting and varied pattern. Another idea is to make the background a solid dark with variety in the darks. Even spatter or salt dropped into a wet background will add interest. Another idea is to suggest pine tree trunks and some reds or red-oranges (I like Burnt Sienna) for variety in the dark greens.