Light Conditions

"Certain colors change enormously with electric light. Blue is one of them. Yellow is another. They all change but some really change. I do a bit of guessing. The next day, I walk up to the studio at noon and I am excited but also afraid: is it what I thought in terms of color? A painting that works in electric light does not necessarily work in daylight."
-Joan Mitchell from The Artist's Mentor by Ian Jackman

This echoes my recent experiences, both with making the art and documenting it. Early evening yesterday, as the sun was setting over the hillside, I quickly applied one more layer of rose pink to a monochrome panel. Acrylic dries quickly, so of course I didn't have time to waste once the paint was down. I pushed the color around with the palette knife, wiping and smoothing with a cloth, and then the power went out. It was nearly dark in the studio as I frantically smoothed, wiped, and re-wet the paint while there was still some light. An hour or so later when the electricity came on, I checked my work under the painting lamp which is supposed to mimic bright daylight (it doesn't exactly). Even under the lamp, I knew I really could not tell the true daylight color, although close inspection revealed I had done a good job of smoothing the color around. Chalk that down to years of experience.

Fast forward to this morning....the color does look quite different now. It's darker and redder than I'd planned, yet still rich and vibrant. However, the photo tells a different tale.

Un-enhanced photo of the painting in progress in real daylight: I used the "cloudy" white balance setting because it's rainy and gray outside, and the easel is next to the window. In reality, the painting is richer, deeper, brighter than what the camera sees here.

I'm constantly trying to find the ideal lighting conditions in order to photograph paintings, especially those with large areas of yellow or blue. This involves some experimentation with the camera's white balance, and still, the colors often don't look true. I don't have Photoshop but do have a couple of other picture programs for final tweaking. (Yes, I know, I should get Photoshop, a few artist friends have insisted.) The painting below had to be photographed, literally at least a dozen times, at different times of day, in various light conditions, indoors, outdoors, etc., etc., before I got as close as humanly possible to the true lemon yellow hue. The final photos are pretty close to actual hue.

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