The Value of Looking at Only Light and Dark


Armand Cabrera

The biggest problem most painters face is value. More than anything else, poor value keeps their paintings from having a sense of light. One way to train your eyes to see the whole image and therefore the value relationship of light to dark is to start by dividing the image into light and shadow, one value for each group. 
This posterized version will not only simplify your work but forces a decision about which elements belong in light and which belong in shadow. Once established you have a template to guide your color choices for the rest of the painting. Anything in the shadow must read as shadow from then on and anything in the light must read as light.  Keep reflected lights as part of the shadows, reflections must read as whatever they are reflecting.
 Whatever details get added they should never obliterate the initial poster shapes.  This is the tricky part because as people add details and describe forms they lose track of their values and the big divisions of light and shadow sacrificing them for more information. Instead they should describe the elements within those values set in the beginning. 

Painting the Cherry Blossoms

Armand Cabrera

Wednesday I got up at 5 am to ride the Metro into DC to paint the Cherry blossoms. I don’t go out every year to paint them and I was really looking forward to being there this year. I arrived just as the sun was coming up and hitting the tops of the trees at about 7:30 Am.


The blossoms are very ephemeral and when they start to bloom you only have a few days to capture them if things go well. The weather did not disappoint and it was a beautiful Spring day. Some years the weather is miserable, you never can tell. I have been there painting when it was in the 30’s and some years like this year it broke 90.


With two thirds of the Washington monument covered in scaffolding I gave it a pass even though it is one of my favorite subjects on the Mall.

I started and ended my day with the Jefferson Memorial. The Jefferson Memorial with its round shape, dome and columns is always a fun challenge for a two hour painting.


I painted the boathouse in between the two Memorial paintings. By the time I started the second painting it was standing room only in the more popular spots along the shore.

I walked the tidal basin twice taking photos for large studio paintings. I finished my third painting by 2 pm,  packed up and headed for the metro before the rush hour mobs. All in all it was a good day and a lot of fun.



Illuxcon 6 Demo

Last week I was at Illuxcon 6. I had agreed ahead of time to do an alla prima painting demonstration using traditional oil paints. I finished a 24 x 30 painting from a traditional 8 x 10 sketch and a digital study. I don’t have process shots but here is the finished image. The painting was touched up a little once I brought it home to the studio but it was effectively completed in a little over three hours.

The turn out was pretty good considering all of the other programming going on at the same time. It looked like audience peaked at about 25 people with people coming and going the whole time.

Painting Autumn Color

Armand Cabrera
Painting autumn color can be challenging. It is important to remember the relative intensity of color and not get caught up in using pure pigments for representation unless it is actually needed to describe the scene. Back lit scenes in sunlight  are very intense but again, think of everything in relation to what’s around it. For that intensity to be effective there must be areas of less saturated color or the intensity is lost.



To help find the proper intensity of a color it is important to consider its other attributes, hue and value. All three parts make up the color you are seeing and so all three aspects should be carefully considered in relationship to the surrounding areas and the rest of the picture as a whole.
It also helps to decide through careful observation in general, where the intensity lies. Is it in the shadow or the lights? By deciding this ahead of time you are keying the pictures intensity to one or the other giving you a stronger arrangement to work with.
Sometimes the limitations of paint call for a creative solution to translating the scene to your canvas. In cases where it is impossible to get the color accurate in all three aspects, I make a design decision about which attribute is most important and then hold that as close to what I am seeing in nature as possible and shift the other two aspects to give me a closer representation of the effect.
This may mean shifting the hue of a red, green or yellow to preserve its value and chroma so it reads correctly in the scene. Or it could mean shifting the chroma to something less intense while preserving the value.These decisions need awareness so a little extra effort on our part is called for to get the most from our painting during this time of year.