The Challeges of Contra Jour

“Bandits at 3 O’Clock!”
Watercolor, 30″ x 22″
Contra Jour, or backlit subjects make for big challenges in color and value management. Typically, everything facing the painter is in shadow, which completely affects color. Hues in the light are vitally different than hues out of the light, both in value and temperature . . . .and maybe intensity, also. Right off, with the big value differences set up by glaring light pouring straight at the viewer, all sorts of gradations need to be considered to transition into the lit areas . . . .and cast shadows cannot be whimpy. So, often, the watercolorist might be faced with restating (painting over) values and colors.

In the world of watercolor, “stuff” begins to accumulate the moment one paints over a dry coat of paint (glazing). That “stuff,” as I refer to it, can roll up and create what watercolor painters call MUD. That is, as the different pigments get painted over one another, they are also loosened from the surface of the paper . . . .some commercial pigments do this more than others . . . .then they begin to mix and mingle with the pigments being glazed. When working with warm accents inside cool passages, this happens often. When attempting to put the front side of a form (out of the light), such as these figures, the painter is confronted with very cool areas (reflecting the sky in this case) and warm areas of reflected light from the ground. These guys’ white jump suits presented such a challenge. How to mix the warms and cools to avoid making gray, sooty, neutrals . . . commonly known as MUD. Click on the image for higher resolution and you can see areas where these challenges became apparent.

I have spent over a week wrestling with this problem and building a convincing painting of a contra jour street scene using figures dressed in white. I am not sure of this, but it seems there are a bazillion less challenging subjects and approaches. Like a nice bowl of oranges, or perhaps some nice boats, or maybe a sweet landscape.

Then, there is the challenge of making the colors painted come out on my monitor and to cause Photoshop to behave as I would like it.

Would someone please shoot me? Please !!

10 thoughts on “The Challeges of Contra Jour”

  1. Hi Nick! Thanks for coming by!

    (For those who are reading the comments, Nick walked away with NWS’s top award last year with an incredibly innovative watercolor painting. Check him out . . .just click on his name above . . .)

    Nick, I am honored by your visit. Let’s stay in touch.

  2. Mike , this painting has everything except mud! Nice clean washes, cool texture in the foreground concrete, excellent drawing, dramatic light and interesting story. It really draws you in. I’d say enter this one somewhere!

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