Category Archive: Luminosity

Lights in the Sky, Lights from the Land: Fire

November 17, 2020

Watercolour and gouache on burgundy pastel paper

Fire is natural light. We can cause fire to happen but it is a natural phenomenon and unpredictable in its shape and form which is as flickering and fluid as water. There are some similarities with the way fire and water behave visually; the explosive bursts of fire from natural causes or rockets exploding in the sky are not so different from fountains spraying water as pressure is released by a valve; fire can also pour down volcanic mountains. A difference is that we see water because it reflects light but fire is the light source. Visually it is the difference between the sun and the moon. In our thought processes when we depict fire we depict power and potential danger, even when this is in the form of a humble candle.

Burning off the Stubble
Watercolour; flames masked and rest worked wet in wet

Perhaps the disconnect between the power of fire which we harness domestically and its destructive nature, whether natural or harnessed for war is why we find the flickering flame so exciting.

Twin Vulcanism

That’s the philosophy bit done! Now for a look at the candle;


The “halo” is not necessarily the sphere as seen in so many Christmas greetings cards. Note the blue at the base of the flame and bands of orange and yellow. Look at the soft glow of the top of the candle itself and tiny subdued highlights in the molten wax. The wick is barely discernible against the dark background here.

Lastly note how the reddish halo gradually merges with the dark ground; colours from dark orange to deep red before becoming indistinguishable from the red/black darks.

If you wish to make a candle study you may like to light a candle, taking sensible safety precautions and observe the colours you see. Your colours and tones may be very different from those in the photograph above so observation is the key to developing a realistic painting.

In 1982 to 1983 Gerhardt Richter made some very beautiful and photo-realistic oil paintings of candles, closely observed against different backgrounds. These look deceptively simple but are carefully painted with huge skill in handling the paint where gradual transitions from light to dark occur. References to these can be found on this week’s Pinterest board at:

Alongside works by;

Georges de la Tour: more candles and candle light; look at how faces reflect the candle light in his works

Joseph Wright of Derby: volcanic eruptions and a fire burning a cottage down at night

And Bonfires by the contemporary artist Brent Cotton.

This should supply you with plenty of ideas for next week’s painting. I would like to see work either from your imagination or a fire situation you have experienced; from an erupting volcano to a child’s birthday celebration or Christmas candle.

Looking forward to seeing

Your paintings;

Pastel by Heather
Pastel by Heather
Fire: after Brent Cotton
Pastel by Shane
A Fire in the Forest: inspired by Brent Cotton
Pastel by Barbara
Candle in Cupped Hands by Jane
Pastel pencil on pastel paper
Christmas Candles by Ann
Candle by Ann
Charcoal and coloured pencil
Bonfire Night
Watercolour by Sarah
Bonfire from Imagination: Watercolour
Painted with brush and finger by Sarah
Candle in a Glass
Watercolour and pastel by Sarah
Candle and Reflection
Watercolour by Maricarmen
Toasting Marshmallows at Night
Watercolour by Maricarmen
Dwali Light
Pastel by John
Remembering the Fire at Windsor
pastel by Shirley
In Case the Power Fails
Watercolour by Shirley
Bonfire on the Beach
Watercolour by Liz
Pastel by Liz
Silver Cow
Pastel by Jan
Acrylic by Malcolm
Candle: see how a closer crop evokes a different response
Acrylic by Malcolm

Lights in the Sky, Lights from the Land: Harbour and River Lights

November 10, 2020

Little Yellow Boat
Pastel on blue paper

This week we are moving toward the coast, rivers and canals for inspiration and your challenge will be to produce paintings including a light source and its reflection in water.  The reflection will not only be affected by the position of the light source to its reflection but also the prevailing light conditions; mist or the darkness of night and whether the water is calm, rippling or rough.

Little Yellow Boat with Lights
Pastel on blue paper
This has been developed from the first picture and has a completely different atmosphere.

Look at photos of rivers and the sea where any light is reflected and look at how reflections are interrupted and sometimes scattered by waves.

Apart from the vertical positioning of any reflection take special care that each reflection is directly below the light source being reflected. This is seen very clearly both in works by Whistler and Andrew Gifford. better still take a walk along the Thames in the early evening.

The medium is very much your choice and as last week you may work from your imagination or from a reference, preferably of a place you know.   James McNiell Whistler is famed for his series of “nocturne” paintings of the Thames. The darkest of these are full of drama and the most subtle have that beauty of early morning stillness. Examples of Whistler’s nocturnes alongside works by Andrew Gifford and the Canadian artist David Haughton can be seen on this week’s Pinterest board at:

Also included are some imaginative works by Charles Philippe Jacquet. The artist’s rather surreal compositions combine his ideas with an almost believable reality.  In reviewing some of your own photographs you may be inspired to adapt them to an imaginative approach or to paint a more representational painting.  If your reference is complicated, consider making a study of part of it and experiment with little sketches before homing in on a final composition. 

Leaving Funchal: Photo

Lastly I couldn’t resist including this photo of a cruise ship leaving Funchal; the antithesis of the little yellow boat that carries commuters and tourists alike from Leeds Dock.

If you have very little in the way of references for lights reflected in water at night or evening from boats or buildings on the shore, make a sketch or photo of one of the bridges or part of the Thames shoreline at dusk. Maidenhead Bridge has plenty of lights. Alternatively, if you would like to try a more surreal approach why not choose a building you know and perch it with fully lit windows on a rock in the middle of a lake and imagine your own private lighthouse!

Your paintings:

Sydney Harbour Bridge
Pastel on black paper by Barbara
Christchurch Bridge, Reading
Acrylic by Malcolm
After Ravillious
Watercolour by Shane
Watercolour by Sarah
Gaios Harbour, Paxos at Night
Watercolour by Sarah
Moon over Kings Lynn
Pastel by Jane
Bull Seal and Harbour Lights, Shetlands
Pastel by Jane
Light in Rough Seas
Watercolour and Pastel by Heather
Imagined Light
Pastel on terracotta paper by Shirley
Hong Kong
Pastel on dark paper by Shirley
Guilin, China
Pastel by John
Early Evening in Venice Harbour
Watercolour by Maricarmen
Lighthouse at Dusk by Maricarmen
New York 1
Watercolour by Ann
New York 2
Watercolour by Ann
Night Yacht
Pastel by Liz
Moon over Tenby Harbour
Watercolour, highlighted with pastel by Liz
Chatham Shipyard
Pastel on dark blue paper by Jan
Chatham Shipyard
Pastel on grey paper by Jan
Marlow Church Reflections
Pastel on blue grey paper by Jan

Lights in the Sky; Lights from the Land; Street and City

November 3, 2020

Bradford: photo

This week we’ll consider street lights and other urban lights.  The principles are exactly the same as last week; huge tonal differences between the light source and its surroundings.

Last week you were invited to make a very representational painting or to use your imagination to invent a moonlit scene. This week you may consider a representational approach or look at the abstract patterns made by traffic and street lighting which would work very well in pastel on dark papers. A few ideas for working in pastel or watercolour are outlined below.

If working in pastel or opaque watercolour you may like to consider working on a dark or mid toned paper.  Often street lights are on well before the light fails completely and in this case a mid toned paper may be useful enabling you to easily make some areas lighter and others darker, perhaps using the paper as one of the tones/colours in your painting.

Bradford: photo
This photo could be interpreted as an abstract pattern of lights and dark.

When using pastel and a very dark blue paper, like midnight blue or even indigo, black will make that even darker for the very deepest tones but use it sparingly.  As last week you may need to place your shapes by working with a mid-toned pastel pencil before blocking them in and reserve your palest pastels for the light sources; light from windows, street lamps etc.

London, near Vauxhall Bridge: photo

If you are working in watercolour plan out your composition so that you can either reserve the lightest and white areas by painting around them or by using masking fluid.  Remember not to apply your washes till the masking is absolutely dry.  Then work as you would usually working first the pale areas, then the middle and lastly the darkest washes.  Your palest washes may be washed over pretty much the whole of your paper, lending unity to subsequent washes and you may like to drop in mid tone colours in some areas at this stage. 

London: Going over Vauxhall Bridge from the South

Do look at your reference carefully as there may be areas of reflected light and sharp edged shadows.

The photographic references include a dark night time scene from Bradford and some in London at twilight where the shadows are diffuse and there is less glare from each light source.

Try to avoid reflections in water this week as that will be the subject of the following week’s challenge.  Stick to street lighting, traffic and car lights, shops and window lights and even cafe lighting.  If you are feeling more ambitious try a floodlit building, sports stadium or building site. 

Albert Bridge: photo
Street Lamp: photo

Look at how the light is emitted from the light source.  It may appear as a round dazzle of light as round the sun or from a torch.  It may be directed as the floodlights illuminating a building or stadium.  You may even see “pools” of light on the ground. 

Torch: watercolour, something you may like to try just for fun!
Concentric rings of wet in wet colour were lifted while wet with a small piece of dry paper towel twisted to form a point. This was dragged from the centre outwards, making creative backruns.

Hope this gives you some ideas and there are examples of how several artists have tackled this subject on the Pinterest Board link below.

Works by John Atkinson Grimshaw, Frederick Childe -Hassam and Whistler are featured and also works by the Czech artist Jacob Schikaneder. I especially like his tramway scenes. These artists all worked over a similar period about 1890 to 1920.

Have fun and don’t forget to photograph/sketch some fireworks ready for the week 5 challenge.

Your paintings;

Front Porches
Acrylic by Malcolm
Bradford at Night
Pastel by Jane
After Childe-Hassam
Pastel by Jane
The Embankment at Night
Watercolour by Heather
City Lights
Pastel by Liz
Lamp Light
Pastel by Barbara
High Street Lights
Watercolour and Pastel by Maricarmen
Watercolour and Pastel
by Maricarmen
Rain, Lexington Avenue
Watercolour after Chin H Shin by sarah
Evening Lights, Lexington Avenue
Watercolour after Chi H Shin by Sarah
Night Lights
Pastel by Ann
Lamps at Sunset
Watercolour by Ann
Seoul at Night
Pastel by Shirley
Shanghai Lights
Pastel by John
Old High Street, Folkestone 1
Pastel by Jan
Old High Street, Folkestone 2
Watercolour by Jan

Lights in the Sky, Lights from the Land: Moonlight

October 27, 2020

Watching the Landscape, near Malham, North Yorkshire: watercolour
These fields seemed like a magic staircase in the landscape so I transformed this very green daytime scene into the pale yellows and dark blue of moonlight

This week’s challenge is the moon and its effects on the landscape.  You may paint an observed scene or introduce something more imaginative. The works of Turner and Samuel Palmer combine large elements of observation with imagination. Much smaller than the sun its size is often exaggerated in paintings; look at Turner’s watercolour sketch of Shields Lighthouse, 1823-26.

Several of Turner’s works together with works by Samuel Palmer and the contemporary artists John Caple and Richard Cartwright and others feature on the Pinterest Board titled Lights in the Sky, Lights from the Land, section: Moon and Stars, Link below;

Another featured artist is the Victorian artist, John Atkinson Grimshaw of whom Whistler famously remarked “I considered myself the inventor of nocturnes until I saw Grimmy’s moonlit pictures.” This is unbelievably arrogant in the face of moonlit paintings by Turner, Palmer etc. years earlier. However it is really worth studying Whistler’s nocturnes of the Thames which we’ll look at in a couple of weeks time.

The moon’s light being a mere reflection of the sun’s light is less bright, but is most often depicted during the hours of darkness, so affords huge contrasts with the darkened skies. Because of the darkness the palette used for painting moonlit scenes is generally less colourful and may be depicted in near monochrome.

This week you may work in pastel which will work very well on a dark paper, perhaps a very dark blue or even a dark burgundy colour as in the demonstration piece below. If you are working in watercolour you may choose a white paper as in the illustration above, or if you consider working in gouache, or white added to your watercolours, again you may like to choose a dark paper. Pastel papers can be stretched in the same way as watercolour paper, or you could work in gouache on an off cut of mount board.

The images below show stages in creating a moonlit landscape based loosely on the Eden valley in Northumberland.

First light applications of pastel on burgundy coloured paper. Note how small the moon is, how in this case it is surrounded by a ring of crimson and a pale halo of a very pale blueish green. The main areas of light and dark are established
The sky is darkened with blue and shapes in the landscape more clearly defined.
Finally much more blue was added and rubbed into in the sky area. The halo round the moon was lightened and rubbed in. Areas of the landscape were then darkened with black/ultramarine and more pale highlights added to the vegetation. Finally the stars were added with a soft pastel with a fine point tapping it against the paper..

Below are a few suggestions for painting the moon in watercolour.

Lifting out: here a small circle was drawn feintly, to indicate the moon and the first light wash applied to the whole paper. When completely dry a small moist brush was used to dampen the moon area and the paint lifted out by pressing a dry tissue into it. This leaves a lovely soft edge to the moon. If wished in the painting’s final stages a little white gouache can be applied if a punchier effect is needed.
Masking: stage 1: here the moon was masked with blue masking fluid using a small very old worn out brush. Clean the brush with soapy water ASAP afterwards. I usually prefer white but it wouldn’t show for the demonstration. You get a better feel for the end result if white ( looks very pale cream) masking fluid is used. Allow the masking fluid to dry completely before applying the first washes.
Masking: stage 2: Apply most of the washes, allow to dry completely before removing the masking with a very soft eraser or finger. You may then wish to soften the edges of the moon with a small moist brush and lift with a dry tissue. You may then wish to paint a feint cloud back over the moon as above.
Reserving the White: here the crescent moon has been painted around, leaving the gleaming white paper. A feint halo has been lifted out with a moistened brush and dry tissue paper.

Whatever your medium, compared with the sun the moon is a tiny object though it appears a good size from earth because of its proximity.  It sheds a much paler silvery light on the landscape which is very different from the vast range of hues revealed by direct sunlight.

Your challenge for this week is to paint a picture of a moonlit landscape with the moon visible in the night sky. This may take the form of a very imaginative scene as in the works of John Caple or Richard Cartwight or something more literal. Have fun!

Your paintings:   

Pastel by Barbara
Winter Moon by Liz
Soft pastel and oil pastel on dark blue pastel paper
Oil pastel touches were added for the snow in the foreground.
Full moon by Liz
Pastel on dark grey Pastelmat
After Grimshaw by Shane
Moonlight over Water
Pastel by Heather
After John Caple
Watercolour by Heather
After Grimshaw by Ann
After Turner
Watercolour by Jan
Two Fir Trees and a Lake
Watercolour by Jan
Moonlight over Water
Pastel by Jan
St, David’s Head
Pastel on buff paper by Shirley
Snake Pass, Derbyshire
Pastel on print making paper by Shirley
Moonlight over the Sea
Watercolour by Maricarmen
Moon over the Valley
Gouache on black paper by Maricarmen
Moonlight over Freshwater Bay by Malcolm
Acrylic and pastel
After Samuel Palmer by Jane
Pastel pencil and pastel
Trees and Moon by Sarah
Watercolour and pastel
Moonlight over Water by Sarah
Watercolour and pastel

Lights from the Sky, Lights from the Land: The Sun

October 20, 2020

The Stour in Winter; Pastel and graphite pencil

This week’s project is to depict the sun and effects of its luminosity on the landscape.  As light sources, natural and manufactured are the topics for the next few weeks, I thought it would be useful to consider some general aspects of depicting luminosity.

Light sources vary in the colours they emit; some have haloes of different colours surrounding a white or paler coloured centre and others are single hued with a near white highlight at the centre. During the next few weeks we will discover some of these differences in more detail.

Sunset in Madeira; photograph

Guidelines for creating luminosity in a composition

(Some of this is rather obvious but here goes!)

1. The luminous area should be smaller than its surroundings.

2. The luminous area should be painted in paler tones than its surroundings and the highlight will be the palest tone.

3. Within the brightest part of the luminous area none of the tonal values should contrast with each other greatly.  Deeper values should be painted outside this area although there may be different colours of medium tonal value outside the brightest part of the luminous area.

4.  A sheen of the colours within and just outside the luminous area often pervades the entire composition.   The Impressionists made great use of these effects.   This can be seen in Monet’s paintings of the Houses of Parliament and the Waterloo Bridge series. The hues just outside the main illuminated feature and to a lesser extent those within the illuminated area are seen as echoes in streaks and dashes of paint, the colours that create a sheen over the surroundings area, giving the work colour unity as in the rather rough illustration below.

A link to the Pinterest board “Lights in Art” is below and you will find images of the works referenced as well as several other examples of how artists have depicted the sun and sunlight.

Illusion of Light: pastel demonstration
White surrounded by yellow, orange, red and purple rings; the blue surround has been streaked with mixes of the purplish red. Compare with how Monet used orange/red/purple hues in his Houses of Parliament paintings of around 1904.
Sun on a cloudy Day; photograph
Note: white centre surrounded by less saturated (less pure) yellows and oranges than in the sunset photograph.
This sun is more like the sun in Martin Johnson Heade’s painting of “Sun over York Harbour, Maine USA”.


Luminosity may be achieved with neutral greys simply by surrounding a small white circle with rings of increasingly darker pale greys on a background of a much darker grey, or with single hue by doing the same but with a colour instead of grey.

Luminosity can also be achieved by using several hues e.g. white surrounded by yellow, then red and other colours but again choosing a darker hue for the wider area surrounding the light source.

Inspired by Josef Albers: watercolour
Even a white square can appear luminous!
Look at the other colours and whether they appear more or less luminous against each other.

Another way of using colour is to surround a saturated colour (pure hue) with less saturated colours or the complement of the pure hue at the centre.  Again it usually works best if the surrounding hues are similar tonally or darker than the luminous area.

A good example of a pure colour being surrounded by a less saturated near complementary colour is afforded by “Impression Sunrise”, 1872 by Monet. The sun is painted as a small disc of a rather pure orange against a rather desaturated(less pure) purple cloud. The reflection of the sun is painted clearly in the water and throughout the work echoes of the orange can be seen among the purples and chromatic(coloured) grays of the rest of the composition giving the impression of the sun’s light giving a sheen over the whole work.

Time to go Home: photograph before the storm Madeira
Note rather monochrome sparkle
Sun on a dull day: photograph
Storm in the Valley: pastel
Sunlight bursting through a gap in the cloud cover and illuminating the river below.

It is of course almost impossible to depict the sun on a bright day with hardly a cloud in the sky.  This is probably why most paintings of the sun involve sunsets and sunrises, or the sun in overcast conditions; its light pouring through the gaps between the clouds.  Another way in which the brightness of the sun is depicted is it’s reflection in water; either as a sparkle or as a reflection of the whole sun.

Water sparkle: photograph
Each sparkle appears as a miniature reflection of the sun
Winter Coming: Pastel and white gouache

Even on the dullest day the sun appears white at the centre surrounded by a ring of pale yellow. At sunset the sun may appear white or yellow at the centre and surrounded by red orange colours or the whole sun may appear bright orange/red.  The duller the day the more monochrome it appears and the sun’s reflection in water behaves in the same way.

For more ideas do visit the Pinterest Board link below.


1. Experiment with making a small area look luminous using one hue and then with several hues.

2. Using pastel or watercolour or a watercolour/pastel combination make a painting where the sun is evident in the sky and may also include a reflection of the sun. The reflection may appear as the reflection of the whole sun or as a sparkle on the water. 

The weather is up to you! 

You may like to work your own version of one of the images on the Pinterest board, or use your own reference/imagination.

Have fun!

Your paintings:

Fistral Beach, Newquay, Cornwall by Malcolm
Pastel and pastel pencils on black emery paper P800 grit
Sunrise by Ann
Sunset by Ann
Sunset at Prinsted, Chichester Harbour
Pastel by Barbara
Glow by Shirley
Etna Erupting seen from Taormina
Pastel by Shirley
Watery Sun by Heather
Watercolour, Sharpie Pen and Pastel
After van Gogh by Heather
Pastel and a little Coloured Pencil
After Gifford by Heather
Sunset at Hell Bay, Bryer by John
Mogonissi Sunset on Paxos, Greece
Watercolour by Sarah
Early Evening, the Isle of Wight from Milford
Watercolour by Sarah
Inspired by Gifford
Pastel by Liz
Sun through Durdle Dor by Liz
Watercolour, Pastel and Pastel Pencil
Sky Study by Jan
Hoylake by Jan
Hoylake by Jan
The Long Walk by Maricarmen
Sun over Windsor Great Park by Shane