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Old 07-09-2007, 02:59 PM
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More on Color Temperature

As I have remarked elsewhere, lighthouses tend to be troublesome subject matter for the beginner -- and ofttimes for the professional. If the lighthouse is particularly scenic, it's hard not to end up with a postcard.

The other day, I drove over to Lubec, Maine, to paint the lupines blooming in front of the old fish houses in the McCurdy Smokehouse Complex. Unfortunately, the road crews were out doing some sort of noisy work that involved a couple of backhoes, and they were right in front of my lupines! I decided to drive a bit farther out, to the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, where it would be quieter.

I've never painted this particular lighthouse before. I wanted to choose a view that featured the lighthouse prominently, but I also wanted the painting to be more about light than about the lighthouse -- especially since it was such a blindingly bright morning. The best way to accomplish my goal was to just focus on the relationships of color temperature in shadow and in light.

I have to admit, this one gave me a headache. I was very happy with the painting when I finished, but as it lingered on my "viewing mantle," I began to second-guess my temperature scheme. I painted the lights very cool and the shadows warm. But the warm, shaded side of the building just didn't seem to fit. Maybe, I thought, I had misjudged the relationship, and the shaded side should be cooler. So, I made it cooler with some violet. After looking at that for a day, I wasn't happy with that, either. I decided to try blues. Another day passed, and I still wasn't happy.

I finally used my colorwheel. I looked at my bright green grass, which is a blue-green, and found the exact complement -- a warm, brownish hue -- which I meticulously matched in value to the shaded side. To help in this value-matching process, I used a sheet of clear plastic over the actual painting and daubed samples of my mixture directly on it. This way, I was able to try different values, as well as color mixtures, without ruining the painting. It worked perfectly!

One unexpected consequence of this re-painting is the buildup of scumbled shadow colors, both warm and cool. It adds a very pleasing density and complexity to the shaded side.

"West Quoddy Light, Bright Morning" 8x10, oil
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Old 07-09-2007, 03:23 PM
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Re: More on Color Temperature

Hi Michael, this is a great piece. I can see why the light effect would give you trouble. But I do think it's very successful in reading like it's backlit.

When I first viewed it, there were two immediate thoughts after the light effect hit me. 1) The horizon line is almost exactly the same height as the roof of the lighthouse buildings. If I notice something like this when I set up to paint, I will adjust one or the other to avoid the tangent. Of course, that's IF I notice it, which doesn't always happen. I would suggest just dropping the horizon line enough to get rid of that tangent. 2) The other thing that I noticed was the saturation of the grass. The chroma could be knocked back so that it isn't quite so GREEN. I know how grass can appear when you look at it hard. It's about the most intense green you can imagine. But it seems to me that the star here should be that wonderful backlit lighthouse. Try not to take away from it by distracting the viewer by the brightness of the grass. If you warmed and greyed back the grass just a bit ( and i'm not talking about lots here), your effect would be heightened, IMHO.

As I looked at it, it made me smile when I noticed your subtle control over the light effect. The reflected light of the grass on the building where it meets the grass is masterful. It reminds me of the great Paul Strisik and his control of these backlit subjects. Wonderful job!!

Steve
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Old 07-09-2007, 04:32 PM
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Re: More on Color Temperature

Thanks for the comments, Steve!

You're right about the horizon, but in this case, it was the next best thing I liked about the actual scene. I did walk around a bit to change my viewpoint and to see how things would look if the horizon were higher or lower, but I found myself still very much taken with it, dead-on. So, I went back and painted it as you see here. Normally, I would avoid such a coincidence like the plague, but I just couldn't forgo the striking sense of stability it gives the scene.

The chroma might be a tad high, indeed. I may go back and grey down the grass a bit.
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Old 07-09-2007, 06:06 PM
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Re: More on Color Temperature

Quote:
Originally Posted by atk1961
I would suggest just dropping the horizon line enough to get rid of that tangent.
Steve

yeah...I'd like to see the roof line horizontal appear to be just above that distant water's horizon line more...drop the sky down just a bit below it..

the colors are fun, and I've been to some lighthouses where such sun hitting and festive colors of the lighthouse are just like this. Almost circus like in its festiveness.

Considering how many hours were spent by those working in them, such would not be surprising...in effort to spice life up a bit.

Nice work, Michael...
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Old 07-09-2007, 07:35 PM
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Re: More on Color Temperature

I think it turned out super. And as you say, it's not just a postcard. I feel like I'm right there and I work there.
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Old 07-09-2007, 08:49 PM
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Re: More on Color Temperature

I like this! I'm heading to the beach later this summer and will watch my "postcard" tendency more closely. I would not have thought about it, but know exactly what you mean. One of those "Hallmark moments"...

I agree your work on the shaded side has VERY "pleasing density and complexity". Doesn't your vision saturate in that blinding light? I would imagine it's very hard to detect these subtleties when you're out there. Nice work, no matter how you managed it!

I am paying a lot of attention to lenths of shadows and reflections lately. Would the shadow of the right-most chimney really be that long while the lighthouse would cast no shadow?

Hope it doesnt seem like nitpicking... Just trying to "get it". I'm learning so much from you all
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Old 07-10-2007, 02:52 AM
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Re: More on Color Temperature

I'm afraid the inconsistent shadows really jump out for me. Taking the sun angle from the chimney and flagpole it out to be something like this:



Doug
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Old 07-10-2007, 03:21 AM
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Re: More on Color Temperature

Quote:
Originally Posted by MChesleyJohnson
As I have remarked elsewhere, lighthouses tend to be troublesome subject matter for the beginner -- and ofttimes for the professional. If the lighthouse is particularly scenic, it's hard not to end up with a postcard.

The other day, I drove over to Lubec, Maine, to paint the lupines blooming in front of the old fish houses in the McCurdy Smokehouse Complex. Unfortunately, the road crews were out doing some sort of noisy work that involved a couple of backhoes, and they were right in front of my lupines! I decided to drive a bit farther out, to the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, where it would be quieter.

I've never painted this particular lighthouse before. I wanted to choose a view that featured the lighthouse prominently, but I also wanted the painting to be more about light than about the lighthouse -- especially since it was such a blindingly bright morning. The best way to accomplish my goal was to just focus on the relationships of color temperature in shadow and in light.

I have to admit, this one gave me a headache. I was very happy with the painting when I finished, but as it lingered on my "viewing mantle," I began to second-guess my temperature scheme. I painted the lights very cool and the shadows warm. But the warm, shaded side of the building just didn't seem to fit. Maybe, I thought, I had misjudged the relationship, and the shaded side should be cooler. So, I made it cooler with some violet. After looking at that for a day, I wasn't happy with that, either. I decided to try blues. Another day passed, and I still wasn't happy.

I finally used my colorwheel. I looked at my bright green grass, which is a blue-green, and found the exact complement -- a warm, brownish hue -- which I meticulously matched in value to the shaded side. To help in this value-matching process, I used a sheet of clear plastic over the actual painting and daubed samples of my mixture directly on it. This way, I was able to try different values, as well as color mixtures, without ruining the painting. It worked perfectly!

One unexpected consequence of this re-painting is the buildup of scumbled shadow colors, both warm and cool. It adds a very pleasing density and complexity to the shaded side.

"West Quoddy Light, Bright Morning" 8x10, oil


I'm with Steve on this one. I wasn't there, but can't see the reason for a tangent being the best view other than you wanted to give yourself a challenge. The little tiny sky triangle is the big clue that something is wrong, a fussy a little note like that can attract the eye away from the big picture. I would also be as reluctant as Hopper to chop off the top of the lighthouse as I can paint grass anytime, but then again I never painted a lighthouse. So I'm going to the internet to find some Hoppers...
Boom! Not quite but it will have to do...





O. K., I couldn't find a Hopper where he cut off the lighthouse, but this was a closest view to yours I could find to applying the tangent to. I tried to crop it close to yours too. Still don't like the tangent, but notice he put the horizon right in the middle so there must be many inherent problems with lighthouse shots. This is my choice for cropping this kind of shot.

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Last edited by Bill Wray : 07-10-2007 at 03:37 AM.
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Old 07-10-2007, 05:27 AM
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Re: More on Color Temperature

I've always loved that Hopper painting, Bill. Hopper gives the lighthouse a lot of breathing room. The scene has an expansiveness that is so typical of the coast. Thanks for your hard work on cropping, etc., to see how different options might work.

But I still like my tangent.

As for the lighthouse reaching up past the top of the painting, well, there's another school of thought. If, for example, you're painting a tree, that tree will seem larger and more imposing if you don't keep it within the confines of the frame. That was one of my goals with the lighthouse.

Here are two more paintings from Hopper:





Regarding shadows, Doug, I painted them as they actually were. That long chimney shadow on the roof really did go right off the end like that, because of the slope of the roof and the placement of the chimney. I suppose I could have made it shorter, but then someone probably would have pointed out that the shadow was too short for the slope of the roof. I do agree, though, that the shadow of the flagpole could be shorter.

Thanks for the thoughts, everyone!
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Last edited by MChesleyJohnson : 07-10-2007 at 05:34 AM.
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Old 07-10-2007, 02:00 PM
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Re: More on Color Temperature

Sorry Michael from the length and direction of the flagpole and chimney shadows, I assumed you were looking into the sun, which was quite high in the sky, so I assumed the gable shadow should have been larger.

Doug
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Old 07-10-2007, 02:18 PM
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Re: More on Color Temperature

Quote:
Originally Posted by MChesleyJohnson
I've always loved that Hopper painting, Bill. Hopper gives the lighthouse a lot of breathing room. The scene has an expansiveness that is so typical of the coast. Thanks for your hard work on cropping, etc., to see how different options might work.

But I still like my tangent.

As for the lighthouse reaching up past the top of the painting, well, there's another school of thought. If, for example, you're painting a tree, that tree will seem larger and more imposing if you don't keep it within the confines of the frame. That was one of my goals with the lighthouse.

Here are two more paintings from Hopper:




.

Thanks for the thoughts, everyone!
Well I'll cop to the first one... I admit I like Hoppers crop. However, I don't consider the other one a crop. The lighthouse is touching the top; a tangent. And despite it being Hopper, I think it was a poor choice on his part. God knows we all make them. I will not jump on the tangent train, however, radical cropping is another story... I'm still learning on that subject. My feeling in Hopper's case is on his cropped view is it works as he was so close into camera. I think it begs the question when you crop a longer shot. What are your theories about it?
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Old 07-11-2007, 05:42 AM
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Re: More on Color Temperature

Doug - Not to worry, as that flag shadow does need to be adjusted!

Bill - I agree. I think that if you have some distance from your subject and it's a very minimal crop -- such as losing the top one inch of a 50-foot lighthouse, then you probably made an error in judgement, and the thing should not have been cropped at all. Or at least, that's the impression the viewer will get. Such a minimal crop would would leave enough of a question in the viewer's mind that it would distract from the overall effect. It's better to pull in close with the camera, as you say, and do a definite crop.

Funny we're talking about Hopper at this moment. I had a student come all the way to Campobello Island from Oakland, CA, only to get waylaid in Boston for a day due to airline difficulties. He took advantage of the situation, though, and spent the day in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where they are currently having a massive Hopper exhibit. For some reason, the student, who is an architect by trade, decided to buy a copy of the exhibition catalog and to give it to me as a gift! I was bowled over by his generosity, but even more so by the images in the book. Lots of lighthouses!
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Old 07-11-2007, 09:02 PM
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Re: More on Color Temperature

Quote:
Originally Posted by MChesleyJohnson
Doug - Not to worry, as that flag shadow does need to be adjusted!

Bill - I agree. I think that if you have some distance from your subject and it's a very minimal crop -- such as losing the top one inch of a 50-foot lighthouse, then you probably made an error in judgement, and the thing should not have been cropped at all. Or at least, that's the impression the viewer will get. Such a minimal crop would would leave enough of a question in the viewer's mind that it would distract from the overall effect. It's better to pull in close with the camera, as you say, and do a definite crop.

Funny we're talking about Hopper at this moment. I had a student come all the way to Campobello Island from Oakland, CA, only to get waylaid in Boston for a day due to airline difficulties. He took advantage of the situation, though, and spent the day in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where they are currently having a massive Hopper exhibit. For some reason, the student, who is an architect by trade, decided to buy a copy of the exhibition catalog and to give it to me as a gift! I was bowled over by his generosity, but even more so by the images in the book. Lots of lighthouses!
I need to go see that show! For some F--ed up reason it's not coming to the west coast.
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Old 07-12-2007, 02:35 AM
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Re: More on Color Temperature

Michael, I like the painting. The horizon line is an interesting choice. I'm loving all the whys and wherefores. I'm learning....

Thanks,
Jo
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Old 07-12-2007, 07:02 AM
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Re: More on Color Temperature

Bill - The catalog is pretty darn good and worth the $45, IMHO.

Jo - Thanks! As I've said, the placement of the horizon line was a very conscious choice and not inadvertent. This doesn't make my choice a stroke of genius necessarily, but I do feel it is essential to the composition. The lighthouse is made more prominent because of it. Important, even though I feel the painting is more about light than the lighthouse.
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