Saturday, January 12, 2008

Overcast Light, Part 2

Yesterday we looked at how the French academic masters used overcast light to orchestrate complex scenes. Those artists are a tough act to follow, but I thought you might like to see how I’ve tried to put these lessons to work in my own paintings.

To get the hang of it, I’ve done some plein air sketches in overcast weather. An example is White Church, which I showed in an earlier post.

Here’s an 8x12 inch sketch I did at a boatyard with the overcast sky just beginning to break up. I love painting in this light because it doesn’t change much, even in four or five hours. This is not the case with direct sunlight, where in the span of two hours the light completely changes.


When it came to inventing a complicated fantasy panorama like Dinosaur Parade, (1989, detail above) I used overcast light. I was also influenced by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, who loved to set his scenes in indirect light, (in his case, usually open shade).

I used it again on Dinosaur Boulevard, shown in a detail below. Link for full composition. This light made it easier to show the patterns of the costumes and to render most of their forms close to their true local colors. I put a lot of haze in the air to push back the background planes.


In art school you don’t often get a chance to paint overcast light conditions because there’s no way to simulate it perfectly indoors. A very large north-facing window comes close, but studio north light is still quite directional compared to actual overcast light. Even a bank of fluorescent fixtures across the ceiling doesn’t match it exactly because the light needs to be coming equally and evenly from above.

Lighting experts in the CGI animation field told me recently that overcast light is one of the hardest light conditions to simulate on the computer because it involves such a vast number of mathematical calculations.

P.S. Thanks to Grant Butler of the Oregonian for naming Dinotopia “one of the 10 great moments in dinosaur pop culture.” Link.

Tomorrow: The Golden Hour

5 comments:

indiaartist said...

Thanks, once again. Looking forward to your next post.

Erik Bongers said...

Studio photographers often use a light tent for diffuse light conditions.
Fluorescent fixtures may not give a perfect evened-out light, but hanging a couple of old sheets underneat them might help.
A link for an example :
http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2006/04/make_your_own_light_tent.html

Actually some upside-down lightboxes may also do the trick.
There are fixtures available that are more or less light boxes :
http://www.lightingfacts.com/Fluorescent%20Fixtures.html

Anonymous said...

Thanks for those great posts James.
This Alma Tadema Painting you quote
is central ( a copy) in my living room
for " centuries " !... I love very much pre raphaelites....

cheers

Anonymous said...

Thanks for those great posts James.

This Sir Alma Tadema Painting you quote
is central ( a copy) in my living room
for " centuries " !...

I so pre raphaelites....

cheers

Patrick said...

Did you also have your models pose outside for this kind of lighting condition? What about your dinosaurs?

Thanks. :)