This article is part of a series we created with Michael Holter for his now released video workshop, 7 Steps to Watercolor Landscapes.
For landscape painter Michael Holter, it’s all about light. It’s so important, in fact, that he teaches his students an additional type of perspective: Solar perspective.
“Solar perspective,” says Holter, “is really about telling the viewer of the painting where the light is coming from.“
When talking about light, you can tell that Holter gets excited.
“The object of the representational artist is to separate the light from the darkness,” he says.
It's one of the things Holter loves about landscape painting. In part, it's because he knows this is a place for painters to really play.
“If the sun is shining, you have a tremendous opportunity to very simply show the viewer, where the sun is located, where the light is coming from and get drama into a painting,” says Holter. “And that's a key thing.”
The first thing to think through with solar perspective is where all the important components are including, you, the sun, and the objects in between.
Because the sun is round (and very powerful) shadows radiate out from it. Depending on where you’re standing, shadows will fall in slightly different directions.
“The sun is going to create this set of radiating shadows,” says Holter. “All of those shadows will have to point toward the sun.”
Holter gives the example of standing in a forest. You are ground level with the trees. There's you, a tree, and the just rising sun, all in a row. This equation means that the tree will cast a cool shadow out directly toward you.
Each tree in that forest will cast a different shadow, all based on where the sun is and what your view of it is. As a painter, this gives you a way to provide visual cues to your viewer on where they are standing within the painting.
“Very simply, the person would get a feel for the direction of the sun and where the light is coming in,” says Holter of his example.
Like Holter said, solar perspective gives you an opportunity for drama. Through it you can create strong light and dark patterns in your work. It gives you a way to add cool tones to an otherwise warm painting. (Shadows will always be cooler.) And it can give you a way to quickly get in critical information for your painting, which Holter knows can be especially helpful for painters on location.
“If the painting is a light and shadow painting then you very quickly have it done,” says Holter. “And by done I mean you have the basics: You have the shapes and the feeling that you want. And you can go into more detail and do all types of things to enhance it.”
So now that you understand aerial (or atmospheric) and solar perspective, it’s time to start practicing them. Read the next article in the series to explore just that.
Michael Holter’s 7 Steps to Watercolor Landscapesvideo workshop is available now in the CCP store.
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