Monday, May 26, 2008

How to See the Light

It has taken a while for me to get this lesson posted. The reason is that this topic was not as easy to write about as I had originally thought. I have taught this lesson many times in the past, but it was always when I was actually talking to people and I could show them things and let them ask questions. Doing this lesson in writing was a challenge. There are so many different things that I could talk about that it was very difficult to decide what to include and how best to present it. If you have any questions or would like to add to the concepts that I have discussed here, please leave a comment.

Seeing the Illusion

The human brain is an absolutely fascinating organ. Science has yet to even touch the surface of understanding is capabilities. One of the most incredible things it does is cause us to see things that aren’t really there. If something is missing and our brains think it should be there, then it will make it up for us so that we can see it. This optical illusion is an example.

How many circles are here? How many triangles do you see? The truth of the matter is that there are no circles and there are no triangles. The brain doesn’t like a void so it tries to fill in the empty space with what it thinks should be there, in this case, it forces us to see a triangle that does not exist covering up parts of three circles and another triangle. But when examined for what it really is you can see that the drawing really consists of three lines bent into sharp angles and three shapes that resemble pie charts.

This optical illusion demonstrates two very important points about art. The first point is that art itself is an optical illusion. Your job as an artist is to create an image that will cause the viewers' brains to fill in the gaps and make something complete. You are not working in three dimensions; you are working in two dimensions. But when the viewers of your art look at it, their brains will force them to see all three. They will not see the fact that what you have actually done is take a nice clean piece of paper and creatively spread dirt all over it. They will see actual objects.

The second point that the illusion demonstrates is that we don’t always see what we think we are seeing. That is the big issue here. If you want to create the illusion for your viewers then you must be able to see the reality behind all things, not just what your own brain tells you exists.

Seeing the Color

Take a look at this rose. At first blush you would think that it is pink. Because of that you might want to draw or paint it pink. But look closer and you will see that it is filled with many shades of pinks, yellows, oranges, lavenders and white.



I used Photoshop to separate some of these colors to make it easier to see, but if you are painting or drawing from a live subject you will not have the luxury of a computer. You will have to be able to see all of these colors directly in the object you are looking at. Look closely at your subjects and analyze them. Everything you need to draw them is right there, don’t let your brain convince you that you are seeing something else.

Seeing the Light

Did you know that you do not see objects? If you look at a car driving down the street or your best friend sitting across from you at the coffee shop, you aren’t really seeing them. What you are seeing is the light that is reflected off of them. Eyes process light. It isn’t until we touch an object that we actually experience the object itself. This is a very important concept to keep in mind when you are drawing. If you try to draw an object then your brain will try to force you to draw that object they way it thinks that object should be. If instead you focus on drawing light and shadow, you will have much better results.

Take a look at this billiard ball. Instead of looking at the object, let’s look at the light. There are three types of light that I want to point out here: highlight, shadow and reflective light. All three of these types of light are very important in creating photo-realistic drawings.


The highlight is going to be the lightest part of your image. This is where the most intense light reflects off of the object. The light you are seeing here is a reflection of the flash from my camera. Never skimp on the highlight but don’t overdo it either. Try to recreate the highlight exactly the way you see it in the original image.

The shadow is always the direct result of the source light. Keep that in mind when drawing. Shadows are simply areas of less light because there is either something blocking the source light or the area is farther away from the source light.

Most people fully understand highlight and shadow, but the true magic of light comes from reflective light. Reflective light is the light that bounces off of other objects and reflects off of your subject. In the example of the billiard ball, the flash of my camera bounced off of the felt of the pool table and is then reflected off of the underside of the subject. Recognizing reflective light is very important. You see it everywhere, but your brain tries to block it out. In many cases, subjects have such a reflective surface that reflective light is defined to the point that you can actually see other objects reflected from your subject. If you want to take your art work to serious levels of realism, you must learn to see those reflections and include them in your final piece.

Where do we go from here?

My original thought in creating this blog was solely for the purpose of the lessons. But I have quickly come to realize that there are more things regarding art that I want to talk about than just the lessons. So, in the future, keep your eye out for the lessons, but I also hope you will enjoy the interludes in between.

1 comment:

Ritu said...

That was a very helpful lesson. Thank you. :)