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Light and Colour in Landscape Painting

By Edited Aug 3, 2015 0 0

Now I know this sounds ridiculously obvious, but in the total dark, all colours look the same!

Without light, there is no colour, and as light changes, colour changes, or at least how we perceive it changes. Light and colour go hand in hand, this is particularly true of landscape painting. I live and paint in the Alentejo region of Portugal, it is a beautiful and unspoilt corner or Europe that is an artist's dream location.

A common sight here in the Alentejo is of newly striped cork trees with bright orange rings where the bark has been removed. Within a few metres of my studio is the start of the forest. As I walk the dogs each morning a scene of twenty or so cork trees, in bright sun with vivid greens bright vibrant oranges and clear blues skies can quite literally stop me in my tracks, yet I might have passed the same scene by the day before when it was dull and overcast without even noticing.

Cork Trees In The Alentejo

For the landscape artist, the light source is the sun, and its intensity will affect our painting dramatically.

Generally speaking;

On a sunny day the local colour of an object is absorbed by the strong glare and the feeling of sunlight is conveyed mainly by the strongly cast shadows.

On a sunless day the diffused light eliminates the cast shadows, but the local colour becomes more apparent.

On a foggy day the weak light causes objects to become less distinct, their corners lost and the colour greyed

Particularly in bright sunny forested locations, it is easy to be overwhelmed by a sense of 'uniform 'greenness', but a pene­trating search will reveal a subtle colouring of various greens. Warm and cool greens must be sought and their yellows and blues forced, if necessary, to define them. For example, when attempting to separate the various greens and one is a warm yellow, stress the yellow hue; if a cool bluish green, stress the blue hue.

When observing and painting the autumn version of the same scene, almost the opposite holds true. Now there is such a variety of colours that you wonder if you will have enough room on your palette for all the colours and shades that are present. In this case restraint has to be used when transposing them to the canvas. It is impossible to reproduce on your canvas the full brilliancy of colour present, but by seeking out the greys the brightness and vibrancy of the splashes of colour can be enhanced and produces an effect that could not be achieved by merely placing bright raw colours on the canvas.


  • That Colour is strong in the foreground and it weakens as it recedes.
  • That Colour is more harmonious when a mantle of subdued light envelops the subject.
  • That Colour gives variety to a scene.
  • That the Colour of the sky is a vital factor in the Colour scheme.
  • That all Colour is relative to its surrounding Colour.



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