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Watercolor Techniques Using Color & Light For Ultra-Dramatic Paintings

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Part One, Step Two

Intensity of Light: A second important principle of light deals with the intensity of the ambient light. Virgil has illustrated four options for intensity below: two ways to suggest strong illumination, a way to suggest weak illumination, and a way to suggest atmospheric effects.

  • Strong illumination: Strong illumination is generally characterized by a wide range of saturated warm colors on the illuminated surfaces, accompanied by cool accents, strong contrasting shadow areas, and a strong, full range of values. Strong illumination may be rendered in various ways. Here are two examples:
  1. Spotlight effect: Characterized by wide and intense range of color and value contrasts. Be cautious that this approach does not place too much emphasis on isolated objects.
  2. Floodlight and/or “glare” effects: As opposed to the extreme spotlight effects of intense color and contrasting values, strong illumination may also be represented by close value and color contrasts suggesting “glare”. These conditions may be characterized by filtered light with softer or lost edges, together with close color and value contrasts.
  • Weak illumination: Weaker illumination is caused by less warm light being present. Thus, weak illumination is characterized by employing a reduced range of cooler colors in the illuminated areas, and cool accents with moderate to limited shadows depending upon the desired effect and strength of ambient illumination. In weak illumination, there are few strong contrasts in color or value. Shapes become flatter with less modeling and reduced detail/texture.


  • Atmospheric effects on illumination: Rain, mist, and fog are atmospheric effects that create special lighting conditions. Compared to weak illumination, atmospheric lighting effects have even greater reductions in color and value range. These effects are characterized by greatly reduced contrast through the use of primarily mid- to light value ranges, and muted cool colors. Shapes are almost completely flat silhouettes, with virtually no modeling, detail or texture.


Effect on surfaces: In normal natural light, horizontal planes collect or reflect light and tend to appear lighter, while vertical planes retain color and appear darker in color and value. This can lead to painting situations such as a black roof being lighter than a shadowed wall.