Creating a Painting Is Only Part of the Story

A student emailed me earlier with a question about light and color. She had done some small flower paintings outside and they turned out well. But when she took the paintings inside and hung them up, she was shocked to see the colors looked completely off. What appeared as warm and luscious colors outside now appeared oddly cool and sickly inside. What happened?

This all comes back to the workings of light and how we perceive color.

When you paint a subject, the light that illuminates the subject, your palette, and your painting will influence the colors you see. A subject under warm light will appear completely different from the same subject under cool light.

Most artists seem to be familiar with this phenomenon. But what many forget is that when we take the finished painting and hang it under a different light source, the colors may appear different.

That’s what happened with this reader. She was happy with how her paintings looked outdoors. They were honest and faithful reflections of the flowers in her garden. But when she took the paintings indoors, the light changed and that’s why the colors appeared different.

Unfortunately, creating a painting is only part of the story. You must also showcase it in the right environment and light. Even the most brilliant paintings will appear drab under the wrong lighting conditions.

High-quality, balanced light is your best bet. Not too warm or cool. For inspiration, take a trip to your local art museum or gallery. They should have optimal lighting.

What you must avoid is light that goes against the nature of the painting. Don’t hang a warm painting under cool light, or a cool painting under warm light. This will make the painting appear weak and sickly.

Sunlight through an open window is also a good option, but keep in mind, the appearance of your painting will change with the light over the course of the day.

It’s worth paying attention to this stuff. We put so much time and energy into creating our work that it would be a shame for it to be poorly showcased.

I also thought it was important to email about this as you might think there’s a problem with how you’re painting when really there’s a problem with where you’re hanging the paintings.

Hope you have been getting some painting time in. I just signed a new painting complete and I’ll share that with you in a few days. If you ever want to learn more, check out ​21 Easy Ways to Improve Your Paintings​.

Kind regards

Dan Scott


Dan Scott is the founder of Draw Paint Academy. He's a self-taught artist from Australia with a particular interest in landscape painting. Draw Paint Academy is run by Dan and his wife, Chontele, with the aim of helping you get the most out of the art life. You can read more on the About page.

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