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  • Writer's pictureShawn Dell Joyce artist

Sorolla and the Color of Light (paying homage)

As a painter, I am easily amused. I can watch light wrap around figures and forms, captivated, for hours. Often when I am at the beach, all I do is study the play of light and shadow. People think I am staring at them, but I am entranced by the warm light/cool shadows or reflection of sand on their skin...

Some painters appeal mainly to other painters because we are the only ones who "get them." I'm thinking Sorolla was probably one of those painters. When you look at his paintings through the eyes of the general public during that late 1800's they were not so technically impressive and didn't get the same accolades as his contemporaries (think Sargent and Chase).

These artists were all friends, and clearly influenced each other, although each had varying levels of acceptance and success in their own areas. Sorolla was said to have reached acclaim with this painting: "Bad Inheritance" which shows afflicted children bathing in the ocean. He sent his oil sketches of this painting to his two friends for advice.

His grand-nephew also spoke to Henri Hensche of the dozens of studies Sorolla often did before making a painting, and how most were color studies.

This concept has always attracted the artist's eye, and few have captured the color of light as successfully as Sorolla. A trained eye looking at his paintings sees a master of color temperature describing forms with subtle shifts from warm to cool. While his values are generally spot-on, it's the color temperature that really steals the show...

Look at how the warm light reflects off this rock and onto the underside of the boy's arm, while the cool color of the water reflects up on the rest of the figure. On the back of the boy is sky reflection showing the color of warm sunlight, cool blue sky and deep cool cast shadows evident on the underside of the figure.

Sorolla's interpretation of the scene is far more compelling than the actual scene itself which would be full of deep darks and blinding lights.

So what exactly is the color of light?

On a warm sunny day like this (Sorolla's wife and daughters), the sunlit areas are very warm like yellow white and pinkish white. The shadows are cooler blues and greens, reflected light is neutral and could go either way depending on the color next to it.

On a hazy day, cloudy with diffused light the shadows tend to be warm (if any shadows) and the light is cool. In this example, the light on the fish is very cool, shadows are warm. The fish are under the shade of a tent. The sailors are in full sun-look how their uniforms appear white but no pure white is used to paint them!

Many artists have deconstructed Sorolla, including the talented Thomas Jefferson Kitts. You can see a nice teaser video for his instructional video on how to capture the color of light like Sorolla here:

I'll be showing this to my "Classical Training for Artists" class at Dunedin Fine Art Center this week. If you would like to train yourself to see the color of light and paint like Sorolla. Try a challenging study like this:

Paint this runaway bride using warm and cool tones. You may really need to stretch your artist's eyes to see the variations.

I love women in white dresses simply for this reason. All you see is the color temperature. My class will be working from an all white still life. Only we wont be able to use pure white. Instead we will paint the scene using only warmer/cooler colors.

Here's one of my own color studies showing warm/cool and values:

Hope that is helpful! As always, I'd love to hear from you so post what you paint or what you think in the comments section below.

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