Lighting is one reason not to use Poser for anything other than reference. Most modern artists and teachers do not understand the correct use of light in a painting or drawing.

Here we have the six positions of lighting in tradional art. Lighting from the bottom of the page changes mood, often introducting an evil context or a theatrical effect. The mistake of most modern artists is in being influenced by bad camera work where the subject is lit from the front, creating a "flash" effect.


This is William Shatner with apologies to Chris Pine on the left showing "flash in the face," that shows some of the different lighting. Old movie people used to understand lighting better than the new. Amateur photos always suffer "flash in the face." Structure is lost with light, and shadows often indicate mood. But a photo is not a painting, as you will see in the pictures below.

Also note that the darkest shadow is next to the highlight, then the reflected light, then the cast shadow. The patter is 3-1-2-1. Lighting the subject from the front makes it so the artist cannot rely upon the reflected light without introducing a plastic look to the work.

I cannot emphasize enough that the artists who work in illustration are fabulous. I do not use their work as examples of bad art, but of instruction gone wrong. In this modern time, we have lost knowlege. We only know that something "feels" wrong and often do not know why. My demonstrations here with others' art is only to show the problem, not to criticize. I do not believe in criticism; it damages more than helps. However, seeing problems in others' art is a way to avoid those problems.


To show you the difference between traditional tecnique and modern, here are two paintings of fantasy women for the book market. The one on the left is by Boris Vallejo and on the right by Frank Frazetta. I tried to choose women in a similar position.

Aside from the feature differences, the main difference is in the treatment of the paint. Vallejo works in "hard" paint with high light. You can see how soft Frazetta's paint is; you can see the canvas under it, the paint is so thin. Frazetta uses the traditional "dark" background to set off the figure. Vallejo has tried to get a realistic background, but has to line his figure or lose it. Vallejo works from models and photographs. You can see the "flash" on the front of this model. Frazetta has worked from his imagination, but the light is high and overhead, NOT on the front of the model.

By doing his lighting this way, Frazetta can rely upon reflected light without losing his shadows, something Vallejo tries to do a little bit on the waist of his model. He loses the 3-1-2-1 shadow that is also traditional. Traditional painting is like ballet--there is mastery and not much left to the whim. Even an accomplished and popular artist like Vallejo ends up looking studied next to Frazetta. Note how the skin of his model gets the plastic look that Frazetta avoids.


One of my favorite artists is N.C. Wyeth whose Robin Hood picture is on the right. When I was little, I received a Tolkien calendar with paintings by the Brothers Hildebrandt. This painting on the left is their work for Shannara. Amazingly similar works. BUT, once again, I had a hard time figuring out what was wrong with the Hildebrandt pictures until I learned something about traditional illustration and painting. The Hildebrant's drawings are amazing, but the paintings all have this plastic look to the skin. Why?

Both of these paintings Look like they are lit from the front. But the Wyeth painting is not lit from the front, but from overhead again. There is no "flash in the face" look to Robin and his men. Lighting is everything. Note again that Wyeth's dark background focuses attention on the people. In the Hildebrandts' painting, the dark cloaked figure is darker than the background and the trees are too well lit, making the focus jump around.


Here are two stunning actresses: Ava Gardner and Natalie Portman. The left photo shows lighting done well. You can see the structure of her face. In the right photo, Natalie's face has little structure to it that really shows with good lighting. The very nature of a good actress is that she have good bone structure so that the camera can capture the structure of her face well. In drawing and painting it is essential that you understand lighting.


One way to find out if the lighting works is to turn up the contrast all the way. You can now see that Natalie looks strange, whereas Ava still has the essentials the make her beautiful.


Look again at Shatner and Pine when I turn up the contrast. You can now see what I mean by structure vanishing with lighting from the front.


We are distracted by color. In this beautiful painting of Washington done by N.C. Wyeth, you can see the basic structure when I turn off the color. When I adjust the contrast, you can see the beautiful way which this is lit. Your eye is immediately drawn to Washington's face by that crescent of bright light on his profile echoed by his collar and his vest.


Both of these pictures were done by the Hildebrandts, the left one a painting done in the 1970s, the right a drawing done recently by Greg. Although both of them seem to have good lighting, the early painting doesn't work as a painting as well. Too much information is lost when the contrast and color are adjusted. In the drawing, the lighting makes the picture work, no matter what the contrast or color.


Probably one the best of the new artists is Adam Hughes, who was classically trained. You can see here, even in this comic treatment, Adam is relying on the lighting to carry the picture. He has given us the shape of Wonder Woman's face, her essentials, all in light so that if the color is messed up in printing, the picture holds its own. The lighting acts as a dramatic feature of its own, not as a distraction. Many artists rely on color to do this, but relying on light is less apt to be ruined in the reproduction process. You can see this in the high contrast below.


© 2016, A.R. Stone

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