Capturing the light has become a bit of an obsession of mine; and by this, I mean those moments when whatever the light is doing to what I am looking at really engages me, or possibly even leads me into an other-worldly moment, an experience of connection with “the bigger-picture”. Gazing at light, or more accurately the effect of light on the physical world, enables me to enjoy those transcendent moments that take me beyond the physical world to somewhere else entirely. Of course, there is no way of literally capturing these elusive moments, only something of their essence as a reminder of the effect they had.
Now, I don’t generally paint “en plein air” (apart from quick studies using watercolour in my sketchbook) and even if I did, the moments I’m describing are so fleeting that they would be over before I could take the caps off my tubes of paint! I also find that photography seldom captures more than a ghost of what you are experiencing. However, a ghost is far better than nothing and I grab these opportunities when I can, even with my phone camera (and I have already waxed lyrical on the subject of using this to “grab moments” in an earlier post). Fortunately, the same photographic memory that served me well in days of school exams is my most valued tool in the pursuit of light. This is because I can play around with the photography using Photoshop, however poor and rudimentary the shot, and know instinctively when I have hit upon the colour and tonal effect that most exactly aligns with the memory I have stored of what I saw. This is the starting point for most of my paintings (Helen White Art).
And if there is one rule that is golden to a painter it is to paint what you see; you can never go far wrong if you adhere to that, however bizarre the colour we are seeing may seem to our logical left brain (Emerald Green shadow on a person’s face, Purple Lake flashes in a green field). Where people go off track is when they try to paint photographically (which is largely akin to what they think they saw) because photography flattens all of these colours until the face is entirely flesh-coloured, the field green. Ironically, by the time I have finished with my photography, tweaking it (sometimes quite considerably) back to the memory, it is far more real (in terms of what I saw at the time) than the photographic record and it is from that enhanced – or you could say stripped down – image, combined with my memory, that I paint!
- Here are some close-up examples of my attempts to capture light and colour diffusion in my paintings:
For the full versions of work from which these details were taken go to http://www.helenwhite.org.uk/.