CHIAROSCURO - creating depth with light against dark and dark against light.

By forming a sky of scattered clouds a marvellous opportunity presents itself on the ground. The artist can use light to highlight certain areas he and darken others. The artist becomes like the person controlling the lights on a stage production. In the example below I use the bands of light to draw and direct the eye and all is done by utilising the dramatic effects of light against dark and dark against light. Note how the painting seems to cascade backwards.

This is how it is done - detail from the center panel of my tryptic...

Most of the problems in developing a painting concern VALUES - contrasts on the grey scale. Remember hue(color) has nothing to do with value. Forget the color here and try and estimate the grey value. In the foreground the huge red dress is dark against the blue carpet, then the white tablecloth is the highest value against the dress.
Fig 1 The four figures to the right are bathed in sunlight. The two on the left are in semi-shade. The light slants across the table.

I want to highlight the body language of the people involved so I will use high dramatic contrast(chiaroscuro). I will allow deep shadow to creep across behind the right hand four. (Fig 2)To create the reverse effect behind the other two figures I will use the light slanting across the table to create the higher values on the tiles behind. The woman feeding the child and the man in the red coat (dark against light) are the reverse of the four others who are light against dark. I will use a white bonnet for the woman feeding the child as it will help define here head position.

Fig 3 Here then is this secondary layer with the nude added. Notice how I have already set up some dark forms that I will use against the next band of light.

Fig 4&5 I include an artist in this next band of highlights -and since he is painting a picture I can use the picture in two ways. a) high (light blue)value to define the artist's head and dark to define his shoulders. b) I also place the easel against a darker passage for my next line of shadows thereby adding extra depth.

Remember to use the principles explained in the lessons on 'Veils of Atmosphere' and 'Perspective.' I have also used the chiaroscuro to zigzag the viewer's eye away.

Just decide where your bands of light and shade are going to flow and place your forms. Alternatively you can make your drawing of the forms then apply the light - or like me use a little of both and if something doesn't work keep experimenting. Don't change the color just alter the values!

Note: Chiaroscuro is also a powerful visual weapon so don't overuse it - you could end up with climaxes (maximum value differences) all over the canvas - and that won't work.

STUDENT ACTIVITY: Rembrant was thought to use the 'Italian chiaroscuro method' to increase drama in his paintings when he thought it necessary. Nominate the areas on his 'Night Watch' that maximise contrast and explain why, in the design sense, they are where they are. Allow 40min.

GO TO ... proportion and observation
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