Seeing is more than just looking, so today I thought you might enjoy a 'looking exercise'.
Its a drizzly dark day here, but this flat light is very good for observing tones and colour, so I am going to use a white object, and yes, I know it sounds odd but I am going to look for colour as well as tones.
This is a white bowl on a white piece of paper.
The light is natural light coming from the window behind it, so it appears quite dark.
In fact, it is very dark in places.
I'm going to ask you some questions, which I will have answers for below.
See if yours are the same as mine. but don't worry if they are not, this is not a test! If they are different, look again at the picture. If you still disagree, that's OK too.
1 Ignore the background bits, where do you see the darkest section?
2 Which appears to be the lightest section?
3 Excluding the very darkest sections, which is then dark but not the very darkest.
You have just separated your images into 3 tonal areas, if you stick to these when you then draw or paint your bowl, your painting will seem 'right' even if it IS a white bowl.
A1 The darkest section is in the very bottom of the inside of the bowl, closely followed by the inside of the rim on the far side of the bowl, and finally the tiny curve of the bowl where it sits on the paper.
A2 The lightest section is the behind the bowl and to the right, all round the bowl is lightest, but that tiny section on the right is slightly lighter.
Plus the tiny rim of light around the front part of the rim.
A3 The inside of the bow, the outside of the bowl that faces us and the shadow area on the paper.
So that was the bowl against the light.
Now lets move so we see the bowl from a different angle.
This becomes fun, because we now have some 'lost edges' as well as some reflections from the window, the light is still natural however, I have just moved round.
'Lost edges' are a wonderful gift for the painter, this is when the tonal value of one object, when placed next to another, or against a background appears to be the same, so the 'edge' technically disappears, but our brain fills in the missing bit for us. This is especially clear when objects are the same colour such as this white against white, but more tricky to observe in colour when the objects are different. For example a pale pink bowl placed on a pale green base.
We also have some 'reflected light' here. This is when light bounces from one surface onto another, another rather lovely way to describe this is 'kissed by light'
Here are some more questions for you.
1 Ignoring the background bits again, where do you see the darkest section?
2 Which appears to be the lightest section?
Excluding the very darkest and lightest sections, the remaining mid tone varies over the rest of the subject. There are many slight tonal variations, but I just want you to think in terms of three for now.
3 Can you see any lost edges?
4. Can you see any reflected light? (apart from the reflection)
A1 The darkest section is the inside of the rim on the left, then the inside of the bowl as well as the shadow area closest to the bowl on the paper.
A2 The lightest section is the tiny small section of bright light on the paper to the left underside of the bowl. After this is the reflection inside the bowl on the right.
A3 There is a 'lost edge' on the outer top left curve of the bowl and another on the opposite side which merges into the shadow area.
A4 Reflected light is bouncing off the paper and 'kissing' the under edge of the bowl, slightly to the right.
Have I exhausted you yet? and are you still reading?
Finally then, lets look for that elusive colour. Don't switch off now, you are nearly there.
It is easier to see the colours in the lower photo. We all describe colour differently, so I can only tell you what I see. Look at the picture and think about what colours you see, then read on.
Seeing colours demands a leap of faith, we know this is a white object on a white sheet of paper, so the tones should surely be grey?
I see the underlying colour as being a soft purple. A mauve if you like, not grey, there is definitively a purple hue to this.
The glow of light on the paper left of the bowl, is a pale yellow. This I would suggest as a buttery yellow, not a bright yellow. The reflection in the bowl, is not this colour.
Seeing these colours is what the Impressionists really exaggerated in their paintings, which is why for example 'Monet's' series of haystack paintings were so extraordinary, painting the same subject at different times of the day with the emphasis on the changing light. We can only imagine the overwhelming effect the Impressionists had when their work was first exhibited.
Once you begin to observe colour and its nuances, your painting will leap a level.
It is much better to make these observations in real life rather than from a photo, so I hope you will chose a white object and place it onto a white surface, if you don't have a bowl, perhaps use an egg, and just take the time to look, its definitely worth it. You may see more colours depending on the light which becomes rather exciting!