The Importance of Light in Art

Simon Kenny Discusses Light in Art


Why Light is Importanting In Art

I think light is important to all painters or at least I feel it should be. Light surrounds us, it’s part of everything we see, we respond to it emotionally, it defines our world, light is energy and it can lift our spirits capturing our imaginations. In the same way light lifts a painting, it emphasises features through highlights and shadow and it brings depth, with incorrect use or a using too little can leave a composition dull and lifeless. Just as light can bring a painting to life, if poorly applied it can also easily ruin the work. Simply by placing a few highlights in the wrong place or painting a shadow in the wrong direction can unbalance a piece leaving the viewer confused of the work.

How Simon Begins a Painting

When I start a painting I usually have an idea of a certain shape in mind which is then built around where I want the light to be placed in the composition.  I use the direction of the light to dictate where and how I apply the paint, as well as where to add texture. Adding texture gives my work a three  dimensional aspect, which I can then highlight or paint in shadows further increasing the depth of the painting.  Virtually every brush stroke and every strike of the palette knife is dictated in one way or another by light so I’m always mindful of it's importance throughout the work.
As my paintings are predominantly abstracted in nature there is rarely a definitive subject to begin with. I think of my work as primarily being emotionally responsive so I allow my feelings to guide me through the painting until a subject begins to reveal itself.  Once I see strong elements starting to build then I begin to become more and more refined until the painting is complete. Each painting is essentially a personal journey and what I like to think of as good therapy.

Where Inspirations Come From & Learning from the Masters

I’m inspired by many things day to day,  a sunrise or sunset,  the weather or deep space, as well as flicking through books on artist that inspire me like Turner,  Albert Bierstadt, Constable , Caspar David Friedrich and Frederic Edwin Church all help get the creative juices flowing . The named artists were true masters of light and their skilled use of it in their paintings never fails to capture my imagination. I’m fascinated by the energy and life that light brings to a painting and artists like above that manage successfully to reveal its beauty really have to be admired not just for their talent, but also for their understanding of how light effects all that we see.

Making light in your work really stand out

It’s not set in stone but I usually start out with a very light under painting using large amounts white tinted with colour around the focal point. I then slowly build up the tones lightly blending the paint towards the light area and I tend to always leave a small area very clean so it appears as bright as possible giving a luminous quality. Once I’ve progressed to using a palette knife it’s on to darker tones, with that the light really starts to jump out as there is such a strong contrast between the light and dark. As the painting approaches completion I move to using detail brushes to highlight specific areas. This gives the illusion of the light actually glowing bringing a natural feel to the work which is incredibly satisfying.



By Simon Kenny