Tuesday, June 25, 2013


I just got back from a couple of paint outs in Richmond VA and Frederick MD.
On the last one towards the end of the event I finally tackled a scene I saw since the first day there, or shall I say I tried to tackle it. In any case, for my whole artistic career I have been fascinated by light especially that of early morning and late evening, dawn and dusk, or twilight. Whatever you refer to it as it is truly the most challenging to understand and to pull off.

Happy to copy and paste this twice weekly letter by Robert Genn:

What happens at Magic Hour?

June 21, 2013

Dear Ken,

Recently, Donna Lafferty of Austin, Texas wrote, "Could you talk some more about the use of Magic Hour light? What happens to the spectrum at this time?"

Thanks, Donna. We can learn a lot about the hour before sunset by looking at the work of the Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla. Mainly a figurative painter, Sorolla (1863-1923) made it his business to paint in the late afternoon. From his point of view we see long dark shadows (often on high-key beaches) loaded with warm and sometimes reflected light. FYI, we've put a selection of Sorolla's paintings, with my brief commentary on each, at the top of the current clickback.

Painters, according to Sorolla, need to think of themselves as truthful cameras. They need to develop the ability to see colours as they actually are, without the problems of previous understanding or careless rendition. He advocated sitting quietly out of doors while looking carefully at various elements in the surroundings--and mentally translating their colours into pigment. Sorolla, as well as Sargent, Monet and other great colourists, reported there to be nothing magic about it. Nailing the right pigment is an acquired skill.

As the sun sets, the spectrum moves more and more toward warm. Surprisingly, cools such as greens and blues pick up a strong vividness that seems at first glance to defy logic. This vividness is due to the surround of warm "mother colour," and even though cools may have warm in them, they are made more electrifying by the contrast. At Magic Hour, painters can also see and use the possibilities of full-strength reds, oranges and yellows. The old art instructor's maxim "If you see colour, emphasize it," still applies. Interestingly, as noted in many of Sorolla's works, almost pure whites can take on unabashed dazzle, particularly when their edges are softened.

"Swatch-painting" on location in late light is an effective exercise. What I call "relationship swatches" can be absolute dynamite. This is where you paint two or more colours occurring before you in nature. For example, in late afternoon light, paint a rose with a green leaf beside it, and then paint the cast shadow of the rose on the leaf. You don't need to get the rose or the leaf or the cast shadow right, you just need to get the hues right. This seemingly simple exercise can make grown men cry.

Best regards,


PS: "Nothing is truer than truth. All the mistakes committed by great artists are due to their having separated themselves from truth, believing that their imagination is stronger. Nothing is stronger than nature. With nature in front of us we can do everything well." (Joaquin Sorolla)

Esoterica: Sorolla's magic-hour work often has subtle conditions that make the work alluring: Wet bodies in late light. Cast shadows that change temperature and hue when passing over wet and dry areas of sand. Delicious "contraluz," where subjects are painted against razzle-dazzle. Lively full-strength colour in reflections and shadows. An education can be found on Sorolla's sunny Spanish beaches.

Below is the piece I was referring to.
Really tough to get an accurate image of it as well. 

"Twilight" 12 x 16 Oil on Linen Panel - SOLD

1 comment:

Judy Nocifora said...

Nice work, Ken! Love this letter about light. So very interesting. Thanks for sharing it. Hope you are having great success in all your painting travels.