DON'T BE AFFRAID OF THE DARKS
Don’t be Afraid of the Darks
I’d been painting for a few years when I was given some advice – pay attention to the darks.
We can be painting for years and not recognise things that are lacking in our work. We can go through a lifetime of painting and miss things if we are not told about them.
I was thankful about the comment on the darks because looking back, they were certainly lacking most of the time.
Lack of darks is common in a lot of work and especially in water colours, where just when you think the darks are good, it all dries lighter. Darks in water colour take some boldness, but it does with other mediums too.
In oils and acrylics, putting in the darks at the beginning of a painting is a statement of boldness and confidence and those initial confident darks will set up the rest of the painting.
There is no better way to portray light than to have contrasting darks, and many a drama-filled painting has this feature. Landscapes, portraits, still life and abstract works come alive with contrasting darks and lights and often without this, paintings can look flat and uninteresting.
The most gripping example I can think of is Sir Arthur Streeton's 'Victoria Tower, Westminster'. I have seen this painting in the flesh at the South Australian Art Gallery and the link to the photo provided does it no justice at all - https://www.cutlermiles.com/the-victoria-tower-westminster-sir-arthur-streeton.html
This work draws you in to its atmospherics because of that cloud shadow on the tower. The shadow is exaggerated perfectly in colour and darkness, to give it real guts and it makes the tower an imposing object full of awe. The bright light in the foreground is but a foil to make the tower even more dramatic. It is surely one of the most powerful shadows ever painted, and had the shadow been painted lighter, the work would not have had half the power.
Exaggerated darks can beef up an otherwise boring scene, and is one of the best tools available to artists, that can make the painted version of life so much more interesting.
The photo of 'Late Afternoon, Burke Road, Melbourne' is another example of exaggerated darks in the foreground, that gives depth to the more distant objects, as well as giving the overall painting some substance. The extreme darks also allow the tail lights of the cars to shine.
As a matter of interest, black was used in conjunction with other colours to achieve the deep darks in the foreground - more on black paint next time!
Caption - Late Afternoon, Burke Road, Melbourne is available at the Artworx Gallery - 50x50cm oil on canvas.