Sunday, May 14, 2023

Light on Dark on Location


5/89/23 Dogwood tree, Maple Leaf neighborhood

Whenever I experiment with a new technique or approach using photo references, it doesn’t feel “real” until I try it from life. With several light-on-dark sketches practiced in the studio, I decided it was time to take the approach on location.

One advantage to working at home is that I have at my disposal lots of colors to see what works in a variety of dark-colored Uglybooks. On location, it’s tricky, because I don’t want to carry more than a few pencils, so I have to take a chance with a limited palette of tints that will work with most subject matter and in the Uglybook I’ve chosen to carry.

Real-life conditions are also more challenging. In the sketch on dark blue paper below, I had strong sunlight when I began, but within minutes the sun had ducked behind clouds, and suddenly the light and dark contrasts I depended on were less visible.

5/8/23 Green Lake neighborhood

With nocturnes, it’s easy to draw only lights and darks because I can’t see midtones. In daylight, the darks should not be totally dark like night, but if I put in midtones, the brightest lights will lose some contrast. I usually choose to eliminate most midtones and focus on exaggerating the contrast between the lightest and darkest areas. Both of these sketches look a bit like photo negatives because the shadow areas are darker than they should be in daylight. I’m still working on that balance.

It felt good – and “real” – to finally try this in the field!

Prismacolors and a white Derwent Drawing pencil are my current favorites for this light-on-dark approach.


  1. These have a strong atmosphere. Nice work!

    1. Thank you! Dark paper does add some drama automatically, I think!

  2. I like how you captured the lighting on the trees in the first one. Nice!!

    1. Thanks! That maroon colored paper is hard to use, but I like it behind the bright pink trees!


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