Australian Fine Artist

Second in the Series of Monthly Workshops with David Chen

Seascape Using Impressionist Methods – Interpreting Light

How you interpret light and present it in your paintings can be done in a variety of ways. It mostly depends on how and what you want to present your subject. You need to consider the time of day, the season and the weather. The most important thing is what you want to focus on, as you focal point with usually have the highest contrasts and sharpest edges, to draw the eye to it.

Summer Midday light

Light in the middle of a hot summer day is intense. It has shorter darker shadows, and often the heat haze will blur things in the distance. This means that your strongest colours will be in the foreground and in the background they will be blurred and muted. These few tips may help to define your paintings better when you want to emphasize aspects using light and shadow.

FIRST: Remember what your focal point is. You may need to change the composition to help it to be more dominant. It is your painting, so if you need to move or enlarge something to make it work, take charge and do it. Don’t be a slave to your subject.

THEN: Remember to place your subject in an area where the lights and darks will help it to stand out. This is the area to concentrate your value contrasts and colour contrasts (warms vs cools)

The Goal

Your goal is to create a harmonious and interesting painting that has movement, life and a rhythm to it. By using light to emphasize objects or push them into the background, along with its effect on colour, you have a start on that. Add to it, having soft and hard edges, lost and found edges, and smaller objects balancing with the larger ones, and you can end up with a piece that the eye naturally moves around, to discover all the little aspects you have included.

Let Your Painting Guide You

As you work through your painting, let it guide your steps. As I said earlier, don’t be a slave to your subject. Unless you are painting a commission for a client, with a specific brief, allow the work to guide your direction. It is a good idea to put away your reference, if it’s a photo, during your painting session. That way you will look at your painting as a stand alone artwork and not a copy of something else. It may ‘tell’ you that you need to do something totally contrary to your reference. Stand back and think about how you can make your painting into your interpretation, that reflects how you see the world, and allow yourself to create your vision and not someone else’s.


  1. Light gives colour.
  2. Light gives feeling.
  3. Light brings out your darks.
  4. Even on a cloudy day, with an overcast sky, greys will be warmer or cooler. lighter or darker, creating the form of the clouds and indicating the direction of the light. The intensity of colour and shadows will still push things back or bring them forward.



Try doing two versions of the same scene. One using light values, and another for colour values. See which appeals to you and which stands out to you the most.


The seaside is a favourite subject in Australia, as we still have a beach culture. When you are next near the beach, take notice of how the light works and how it reacts with all the colours both in the immediate area and in the distance. You will discover the atmosphere that brings things to the foreground and creates the soft horizons.

Below is my painting from this session. The first image shows where David marked it indicating where I needed to make changes. He united the three smaller rocks to the left of my main subject, added more wave breaking over them, broke the line of the main rock on the left side at the bottom, and indicated a darker area on the bottom left side to break up that spot.


The second image shows my changes when back in my studio. I changed the dark area at the bottom left to a random shape that reflects my taste and style, scurried a similar colour to unite it with the smaller rocks, and larger one. I used some of David’s white to scurry in with my grey in spots and altered the shape of the marks on the main rocks where David worked on it. By making these marks my own, I made the painting mine again, following the guidance from my tutor, but not leaving any of his changes on the painting.

By continuing to work on my workshop exercises when back in the studio, I can imprint the lesson into my mind so that as I continue painting on new works alone, I can over time, create more successful paintings.


If you would like to go on the waiting list for workshops with David Chen, you can contact him via his website at:

Note that David does not allow photography in his workshops so if you want to photograph your work it is suggested that you do so when you get home.

Please mention you have been referred by Janice Mills.


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