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Artificial light

The rays emanating from an artificial light diverge equally in all directions. Indeed, we say that they radiate in all directions from the centre of the luminous source.

In the presence of more than one source of light, an object will cast as many shadows as there are luminous sources – which complicates things somewhat since the shadows will overlap more often than not.

This is a real headache for the artist and your drawing can very often suffer as a result.

You will run up against the same sort of problem when daylight enters the same room through several windows.

What is a very pleasant and attractive situation in real life can turn out to be rather less so in a drawing when you strive to render a real effect with a minimum of means by ridding yourself of all but the essential!

So, when lighting an object you want to do draw, I suggest you limit yourself to one source of light for the time being. Once you have completely mastered the basics we are discussing here you can move on to more complex forms of lighting.

Since you are restricted to one source of light for the moment, try if at all possible to choose an angle under which the object is influenced from only one source or, better still, look for a subject which is better suited to this technical constraint.

Before you start drawing your object, ask yourself where you want to position the light. It’s a good idea to place it fairly high up so as to summon up the effect of natural light. This is in fact what artists used to do when they closed up the lower windows of their studios so that light streamed in only from above.

Incidentally, note that in an outdoor scene the lightest part will be the sky whereas indoors the strongest light will bathe the ground.

In addition to its height, the sun can be in many different positions in relation to the subject, and the part in the shade may variously be opposite you (the artist), on one of the sides, or behind the object if its illuminated side is facing the artist.

If the sun is behind you, the subject will be short of shade and if it is in front of you, it will lack light. That’s why a lighting from the side is the most attractive proposition as it affords a whole range of very pleasant nuances. Side lighting allows you to build up a composition in which there is a balanced and subtle interplay of light and shade.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that you can’t create beautiful effects in particular situations such as sunset landscapes where the shadows are turned towards the onlooker, but here the sky takes up a large part of the picture and we would not have the general impression of a lack of light as we would with an object seen against the light.

To sum up, always think carefully about choosing your lighting to your position whenever you cannot alter the illumination of your subject.