In art, just how important is lighting?
Well, let’s first talk about the practical stuff. If you can’t see your subject, you’re not going to be able to make a good impression of it. Humans are visual creatures by nature, so a lot of our art is also focused on visual elements.
Going beyond that, lighting is arguably one of the most important parts of any art piece. From paintings to sketches, light – and the shadows it casts – plays a huge role. Light is everywhere around us, a crucial part of what we see, and can even affect us emotionally.
Light is how we connect to the world. If a painting has no lighting, it doesn’t feel right. Something in our brains doesn’t click, and it fails to capture our imaginations, stir our reactions.
The use of light can help emphasise things, such as contours or curves. Shadow can also add depth, add the illusion of something being three-dimensional. In sculpture, this is less important. For paintings and other two-dimensional pieces, the illusion is critical.
Of course, some styles don’t consider the depth and the illusion to be significant. However, for most artists, placing a light highlight in the wrong place or getting a shadow wrong can leave a piece confusing. Viewers may not necessarily know why, but they can feel something is wrong.
As for making the light work for you, there are no rules set in stone.
For things like scenery or outdoors, you will want to go with the natural lighting. Use your memory to capture as much of the details as you can, if you’re slow to capture things on canvas.
For indoor scenes or if you’re working with the option to adjust the lighting, that requires a bit more thought. You have to think about not only the mood you want to convey and how the light helps with that, but also how you capture that mood on the canvas.