Improve Your Artwork With Direction of Light

Remembering direction of light enhances the quality of a painting.
Learn how to help your paintings look more professional using direction of light.

improve artwork before after painting

The Takeaway: Direction Of Light

Today we are going to look at one simple rule that can make our paintings better. That’s simply making sure of where the direction of light is. My intent is to help you remember from the outset of your painting to become aware of this basic rule.

This Demo’s Tool Of Use

My method of showing you is by correcting an existing painting: as you see the difference in the before and after, you will grasp the importance of keeping the direction of light in the forefront of your mind when you make your next painting. Therefore, I will paint digitally with Photoshop to help you see the difference, as well as preserve my wife’s original painting. My language in this article will involve both the painting I’m correcting and using Photoshop. By the way Photoshop is a good tool for solving painting problems. I use it when I’m having issues with a painting and am not sure which way to correct it.

Making The Change

Here’s the painting my wife did – and for someone who’s not an artist I thought this was an excellent job. Wonderful painting! However, more emphasis on direction of light can make this a better painting. There is some light there, just not enough for enhanced quality.

Painting of flowers

  • Determine Direction of Light
    Let’s have light come from the upper right hand corner of the picture.

direction of light arrow

I’m going to take the middle section of this painting, the area inside the flowers, and accentuate these petals with light to improve it. This gives more dimension to the flowers in the painting. Then I enhance color more so it’s not too pale. I turn the Photoshop layer off and then on again for a comparison look. I’ve already gained more dimension because we have a sense of direction of light. Lets make the inside of the flower at the bottom lighter. This will help the front petals look more forward.

painting light in flower

  • Accentuate The Shadows
    I want to accentuate dimension even more by making it a little darker and with a touch of violet for color variance under and behind the flowers. This increases the shadows, which helps us have a better sense of the direction of light. I’ll make the buds and stems darker on the left side and also underneath, for their dimensionality and direction of light as well.

Painting shadow on flower, stems, buds

  • Accent Spots of Color
    I want to accentuate more color into the stems here and there for more form, or roundness. But not everywhere – just a few hinted spots so it doesn’t become busy.
    Once again, I make a before and after comparison to see how the painting is coming together (the wonder of painting by computer!). I’d like the green on the buds and stems to go redder, not quite so green. Then add some highlights to catch the eye more.

Painting light on flower buds, stems

At this point I would consider the painting done. But we can showcase the flower more by making adjustments to the background.

  • Showcase The Center of Interest
    Since the flowers are our center of interest, we can make them stand out more by adjusting the background behind them. I decided to cool down the background color slightly in a couple of spots to the left of the painting. Then darken the entire background a little. Now the flower stands out more.

Painting flower background

  • Extra Accents for Final Enhancement
    To make the painting more appealing, I’ll add a warm reflective color beneath the buds and to the left of the stem shadows. Just hints here and there, not all over. That brings more color interest to them (check out Creating Dimension with Core Shadows for more color action).

painting color interest on flower stem, buds

The flower at the bottom would work better if I curved the petals upward and close it off. This helps it look more like a round, completed flower. I’ll give more of a lighted edge accent on the top of the petals which helps give it more form or dimension.

flower painting edge light

I’ll add more shadowing underneath the upper right side flower. Then add a shadow side, slightly redder, to the stigma; then brighten its light side to give more roundness.

painting light shadow on flower stigma

So now you see how giving more direction of light can improve dimensionality. I’ve chosen to give a sense of luminosity to the upper right flower by putting a slightly warm, light color in its front shadow side (it’s bottom right) to give an appearance of light inside of the flower. Also did the same on the top right edges of the middle and bottom flowers. Here is the before and after.

flower painting before after

So keep these tips in mind as you’re working on your paintings. Make sure you determine the direction of where your light is coming from, especially before you bring it to a close. And be consistent with the direction of light on lit surfaces.

You might find Painting with Photoshop On Computer or How to Paint Digitally With Photoshop helpful to learn how some adjustments to my wife’s painting were made.

Now let’s go paint!