It’s not always easy to predict what the weather will be like on any given day, but there are resources available to us which can greatly increase our forecasting percentages. The same thing goes when painting outdoor light. The thought of painting the effects of sunlight may seem as unpredictable as the weather, but there are certain patterns that tend to occur in nature which can help guide you when painting this type of light.

Just as you would look to the weatherman before planning that weekend trip to the beach, it is also helpful to look to some of the great painters of the past when trying to determine what the temperature will be when painting outdoor light.

Artists often refer to colors as being warm or cool. This term comes as a result of associating certain colors with things that we are familiar with such as fire (red, orange, yellow) or water (blue), etc. These different “temperatures” occur all throughout nature in everything that we see. As an artist, it’s important to notice where these temperature changes occur so that you can accurately record them on canvas in order to help create the illusion of sunlight in your own paintings.

When it comes to using temperature changes in color, Frank Benson ranks as one of my favorites to study. His paintings seem to drip with sunlight. He was a master at using changes in color temperature, but also knew where these changes occurred and how to effectively place them throughout his painting.

Painting by Frank Benson

Painting by Frank Benson


Notice the color changes that take place within the figure in this painting. Everything that is in direct sunlight is warmer in temperature than areas that are in shadow.


Areas of warm, direct sunlight on figure


Now look at the large areas that occur in the shadows. They appear to be cooler when compared to those areas that are directly in sunlight. These shadows are being influenced by the cool blue from the sky.


Areas of cool shadows


The coolest temperatures in these areas can be found immediately where the warm, direct sunlight meets the shadow. This color effect occurs in nature as well.


Areas where coolest temperatures occur


One last color temperature to notice is the warm, reflected light that is being bounced back up from the ground into the figure. This helps to create volume and depth within these areas without having to make any big jumps in value. These warm areas also indicate where a change in form occurs.


Areas where warm, reflected light occur


This play of warm and cool temperatures goes on all throughout nature and is vital in order to create the illusion of outdoor light when painting.

By studying some of the great painters of sunlight such as Frank Benson, Joaquin Sorolla, Claude Monet and John Singer Sargent, you, too, can be better prepared before setting out on your next adventure in painting outdoor light.