Painting by Daylight
The new enthusiasm for recording ‘impressions’ of a scene and an emphasis on using colour from a scientific perception – as a property of light – combined to enshrine the idea of daylight as best for all painters. I’m one painter firmly in opposition to that idea.
- In the first place, surely there can be no single ‘Right Way’ of making art. In every time and place art was produced according to one over-arching style, an authoritarian system ruled the society and its artists.
We see the evidence in the stylistic uniformity of art produced by Stone Age Australians, the art of ancient Egypt and in the prohibitions on depicting human figures in Jewish and Islamic art. In modern times, only ‘Social Realism’ gained official approval in Soviet Russia and Mao’s China and still in North Korea.
- Other arguments against painting outdoors involve the hazards of unpredictable weather.
- Rain. Just a light shower may ruin a watercolour but oil paintings are vulnerable too. Although works in oil on canvas are extremely durable, as evidenced by the 500-year-old paintings in art museums around the world, moisture on a canvas in progress can lead to a condition called ‘bloom.’ This results in a whitish appearance across the work, similar to the ‘bloom’ on the skin of a grape.
- Wind. A light breeze will shake a canvas on stretchers, causing a ‘bounce’ that makes precision work harder for the artist. Painting on a rigid panel such as MDF board overcomes this problem but raises a worse one for the future of the painting created on its acidic surface. The watercolour artist isn’t bothered by ruffling of his paper but if the sheet was soaked and stretched in the proper way, drying-out is a worry.
- Glare. The intense light from the sky on a sunny day can cause the artist to make errors in judging the colour mixtures she is making on the palette.
- My most compelling objection is the last: your paintings are never likely to be seen in daylight.When that longed-for day of your first professional exhibition arrives, guess where your art will be shown? Yes, on a wall inside a gallery lit by electricity.
If you’re lucky, it will be in the form of warm, incandescent spotlights. If not so lucky, the hit may come from halogen bulbs. This light is favoured by jewellers because it enhances the brilliance of diamonds.
Works on paper will suffer fading over time but for oil-paintings, the halogen is bad news from the start. This is because such light bounces from the surface of the work instead of travelling through the layers of paint to reach the white primer on the canvas and return, revealing the full depth of the work to its viewer.
- In the worst scenario, galleries will have white neon tubes installed. This form of lighting may well soften the bite of the gallery’s utility bills. It does little to enhance the gallery’s ambience and even less for the art.
Worse may await your artwork when the buyer takes it home. Many people enjoy putting original art into their homes or boardrooms but few engage the services of a lighting expert or ask advice from the creator of the work. Your painting may be hung above a fireplace, where damage from years of heat and smoke may need restoration the buyer can ill afford.
- For these reasons, I have four white neon tubes above my easel. It’s the worst choice of light for viewing artwork but if a painting looks good in the studio, it will look good wherever it ends up.