From dark to light

Home / Education / ARChives / Foundational Discussions

From dark to light

From Brad Silverstein

Published before 2005

Patrick wrote:
[...] Usually, when I draw, I start rendering from the darkest to the lightest. I wonder if the same approach should be applied to painting. It is to my understanding that drawing is fundamental to create good works of art and so I am looking for a more common approach painters work with.

Thank you for the helpful advice!


You need to be a bit more specific about your aesthetic intentions, as some painting approaches require more of a chess mentality (anticipating the future consequences of a current move) than others. Are you painting in a one-shot sans glaze way, or are you working both with opaque and semi-opaque pigments?

Here are my experiences:

For direct painting, you want to put all the pieces out on the playing field, as value is relative. The most objective way you can assess values is by establishing the lightest lights (leaving a hair of tonal room for highlights) and the darkest darkest darks, and judging every light and dark thereafter by referring to your calibrated dark and light. Take time and care to make sure that the values are as accurate as you can get them. When proceeding, judge lights relative to lights, darks to darks. When developing forms, the dark areas you've laid in will be slightly lightened and darkened in spots, and the same holds true with your light areas.

I've noticed a tendency in paintings that work from dark to light for the lighter values in the shadow areas to go far too light, or the lightest tones in the light areas to end up less brilliant than they should be.

Painting on a toned ground and wooden palette is a good idea, as your lightest values will look dirty when applied to a white canvas, and the toned ground registers your lights as lights and darks as darks. Painting with glazing is a whole different game.

Good luck, soldier.