View Full Version : Advice needed: how to depict "warm lamplight" in opaque acrylic?

06-03-2014, 01:21 AM
I am an amateur painter, and I am having the devil of a time trying to work out a painting problem. I would be hugely grateful if somebody could point me in the right direction. Using opaque acrylics, I am trying to depict an area of warm light from a lamp, shining across a reddish surface like crimson damask fabric.

For the life of me, I cannot work out this apparently simple problem. It seems like it should be easy to approximate the warm area, and the shadowed area, and then blend them together. But I am wasting vast amounts of paint and am no closer to working this out. Somehow I am not "seeing" the values of these colors correctly, or something. My shadowed area always ends up being warmer, while my "lamplit" area ends up looking like a muddy flesh tone rather than the most vividly colored area. If anyone has a suggestion about the best way to approach this effect, I'd be most grateful.

I suspect there might be whole threads here about the rules for depicting warm light sources, but there is quite a bit of information here and I'm rather overwhelmed.

06-03-2014, 05:05 AM
If you could post a picture of what you have now, it could be easier to help, to give more specific directions.

06-03-2014, 07:26 PM
Yup...if you could post a reference pic that would be helpful...assuming you are working from one.

I would expect the light's inherent color could be represented by a clean mix of white + a small amount of yellow-orange or orange. It would be good to mix up a pile of whatever color you use as the light's color.

Far away from the lamp, only a small amount of this color would be falling on/affecting the objects. The closer you get to the lamp, the more this color with be illuminating & influencing the object. So you'd use more in the mix. There might be a noticeable hue shift from yellow towards red the farther away you get from the light. But this is just a generalization...in the same way that sky colors at sunset can vary greatly too.

06-04-2014, 12:57 AM
Sadly, all I have to show for myself so far is a large number of canvas test panels covered with various swatches of red and burgundy, blended unsuccessfully into areas of light pink, dull orange and murky yellow. I figured that the lighting effect would be the most challenging element of the painting, so I thought I should work out that strategy first. Which means that I have made exactly zero progress.

However, the area around the lamp in the background of this photo shows the sort of effect I'm aiming for.

ETA: Okay, turns out I am only allowed to post images or URLs to other sites after I have made two posts or more. So my next exciting post will include the URL of the photo.

06-04-2014, 12:58 AM

I guess I can't directly link to a photo on another site?

06-04-2014, 09:23 AM
In this case, I wouldn't use white to lighten the red, because it will also make the red lower in chroma. You want the lightest parts to be very high in chroma. I'd rather lighten the red with orange or yellow (but avoid making it too orangy). You don't have to lighten it very much though. A very high chroma red will read lighter than it actually is. This side-by-side comparison illustrates that:


Notice how lit area in the colored version looks much lighter than in the black and white version. Go for a very high chroma red in the light area.

The dark area is (in the photograph) is darker but not very different in hue and chroma. So if you want this effect, you have to mix a dark red that is about as high in chroma as the red in the light area. This is probably a bit difficult to achieve (as most dark reds are lower in chroma), so you'll have to compromise a bit. You probably have to settle for a lower chroma or a less dark color. Or a bit of both. I don't know what colors you have, but for the dark red, I'd start with the darkest red you have and go from there, instead of darkening the light red.

I hope this helps.

06-04-2014, 01:22 PM
Are you looking for technique, or colour?

Technically, I would say your best bet would be once you have the base colours down, take the warm yellow or orange of the lamp, with a lot of white (more than you would think), thinned with water (or water and medium if yoiu are so inclined) and drybrush it in, slowly building up layer of opacity to get the field of light you are trying to mimic.


06-04-2014, 02:57 PM
Here's a closeup of the nitty gritty.

For the bright red, you could use an orange-red like Pyrrole, Naphthol or Cadmium.

For the dark red, you could darken your bright red by adding just enough Ultramarine, Prussian, or Phthalo blue (you'd have to see which looks best). Or use Cadmium Red Deep, or a thick application of Alizarin Crimson (or substitute), PR264, Perylene Maroon, any such deep red.

06-04-2014, 04:18 PM
This is probably a bit difficult to achieve[...] I should add that it may be difficult to do this alla prima. You could, of course glaze (if that's what it's called in acrylics) the dark area, to get a high chroma dark red.

06-09-2014, 01:38 AM
Thank you all very much for the analyses! This is all helping me to reconsider my approach to the problem.

Ochre: the color/b&w comparison is very informative! You are right, I would have sworn that the lamplit area was a lot brighter. I have probably been trying to mix a much greater difference in value. This is exactly the sort of thing I suspected when I said I wasn't "seeing" these colors correctly.

Andrew: I haven't tried building up color with multiple drybrush layers, but it sounds a bit intimidating to me, I suspect I am not skilled enough to produce a successful effect. I am using opaque acrylics precisely because I am crap at glazing techniques in general. Every time I try to adjust color by adding thin paint layers, the result is the same: it always looks like blurry streaks of pigment smeared across the original paint surface. Then, when I attempt to blend it more effectively, I invariably end up pushing the paint around until it starts getting tacky and lifting up, so the whole surface is ruined. I am not sure whether my problems are exacerbated by the colors shifting as they dry. Possibly applying drybrush layers would be a bit more forgiving, I will have to play around with it a bit.

Patrick1: That is a big help, I will give that palette a try and see how it goes! It looks to me like the lampshade itself is close to Turner's Yellow, or maybe Yellow Oxide with a dab of white? Fortunately the painting I'm working on doesn't include the lamp itself, just the indirect lighting effect.

This has all been very encouraging! Thanks to all for your generous advice to a rank amateur. I hope I posted this question in the correct forum, I wasn't quite sure whether this one or "Acrylics" was more appropriate.

06-18-2014, 08:19 PM
work backwards.

match the chroma of the red by mixing any number of out-of-tube reds until you get what you want. no whites or any other light color to make the red light. i cannot tell what colors because all colors by all manufacturers ALL vary. that will be your pure lit wall red. that red will be the reddest red of all your reds. then darken it to gradations that match the rest of the wall. you can reason everything logically. the red just above the arc of the light is slightly tinted by the coloring of the shade

mainly stay with black because black darkens with little affect on the red. if you use compliment to cut the chroma, be careful so as not to turn the red into brown. IT ONLY HAS TO LOOK NOT AS RED AS YOUR MAIN RED

from a painterly pov, the whole point is to maintain the idea of redness in the room, and so all the reflected hilites in the frames, metal, ceiling, chandelier glass, molding are accented with some sort of reddish tint.

having said all that, non of it matters until you lay paint to canvas because then you have to tweak and that's when you really PAINT.



there are 3 main areas of red..the light hitting the wall. the light hitting the wall through the lampshade, the rest of the dark room. keep it simple.