Bounce Light

Still life painting by Pierre Bonnard, oil painting.
Still life painting by Pierre Bonnard, oil painting.

 

“Speaking, when you have something to say, is like looking.

But who looks? If people could see properly,

and see whole, they would all be painters.

And it’s because people have no idea how to look

that they hardly ever understand.” – Pierre Bonnard

Photographs Showing Orange Bounce Light on Left Pitcher
Photographs Showing Orange Bounce Light on Left Pitcher

When we teach classes indoors, we often set up a very simple still-life for the class to work from. Under the subterfuge of offering a painting class, we’re really trying to train students how to see as an artist. Seeing anything completely and accurately, as an artist or careful observer would, is not a natural skill we learn as we grow up.

When we look at an object in a still life painting arrangement, perhaps the first thing we notice is its outline, or general shape. Then we might notice its color and the distribution of light and dark on its surface – the highlights and shadows. Those are the basics. To see beyond the basics requires some “enlightenment”, because we now enter the area which requires a practiced eye. One of the important effects of light being cast strongly on an object that beginning students often have difficulty seeing is the “bounce”, or reflected light. This is the light which strikes a surface near the object and is reflected partially back onto that object. It can be a horizontal surface or a vertical surface. Artists have often intentionally used this light to give their still life subjects greater dimension and impact.

Still life with Saucepan by Pierre Bonnard, oil painting.
Still life with Saucepan by Pierre Bonnard, oil painting.

To make this effect more noticeable to students’ eyes, we use a brightly colored cloth under the objects, so that a color is reflected back up onto the still life. Many times, though, even that is not obvious enough to grab their attention. What does work, we have found, is to take a sheet of white paper and block the table cloth color momentarily, removing the reflected color from the still life. When we pull the paper away, you can hear the “ahas” from the class as though a light has been suddenly switched on. It seems like such a simple thing, but it gives all of us great satisfaction to see something new in the familiar – beauty in the mundane. The more we look, the more we see. We wake up to the world. That is the great lesson in trying to improve on our abilities to see more fully the world around us.

Join us on The Artist’s Road for more enlightening articles, interviews with top artists and discounts in the unique Artist’s Road Store.

–John and Ann

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John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.

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