Values in Backlight

bgracebacklit copy11″x14″ Oil on Canvas



I’ve often found myself frustrated while trying to realize form within a backlit subject.  The bright back round light tends to flatten the planes of a figure or face, making it difficult to read the values necessary to create the form of the features.  In a situation like this, the values are darker and often not as varied as one might hope. I painted this portrait with the intention of improving my skills in working with backlight.

As you can see, I started with a recycled canvas (covering an unsuccessful  painting), and a charcoal drawing.  The painting is essentially alla prima (if we can excuse the start in charcoal).

Published by elenacaravela

My world is a wonder of visual candy and foreboding shadow shapes vying every waking moment for my full attention.

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  1. Oh and it’s so worth the again, beautiful..I suppose it’s a little like a photograph with backlight, much less detail but a wonderful softness and bright moments..its amazing though how you actually find them in a brush and

  2. When I read the title I thought you meant the values of life… and the painting reflects exactly that (for me): a person herself is the greatest value! Beautiful! 🙂

  3. You worked it beautifully Elena, her form is coming forward is a wonderful balanced approach. Love see your work and hearing how you’ve progressed to achieve the final piece.

  4. Elena do you shoot the reference pictures yourself and do you print them out for painting ? I copy it from a tablet or laptop screen when doing small studies but this is a nightmare.

  5. Your world seems to be populated by beautiful young ladies or, at least, your portraits make it seem so! I understand the difficulties created by back lighting but in this portrait I think you have solved the problem very effectively. The reflected front lighting gently assists the sculpting of the features and the back lighting on the stray hairs on the left frames the head nicely.

  6. Looks okay to me, but only you know what effort went into it. One of the marks of a good artist in any medium, in any art form, in any style – even an abstract one – is that she makes it look easy.

  7. I agree with Patti Kuche. As an untrained artist, I don’t see the technical problems, only the result… the result, for me, is gorgeous, and, somehow, heroic. My most favourite type of female portrait, a beautiful warrior. Your work exhausts my superlatives (:

    1. First, surprised to learn that you are untrained-could have fooled me. Yes, I can tell by your work that a “beautiful warrior” would appeal. I like that strength to come through as well:) Thanks so very much, Chris.

  8. If it was in a photography, this face having too much reflected light,
    hence it was flat.
    We photographer would put a black board one-side of the camera
    to make one-side darker hence more contrast = and give a depth.
    Try this on your original photo.

  9. Backlight fills me with dread, Elena, so I know where you’re coming from (glad I’m not the only one)… but this is wonderful! I think you’ve definitely nailed the form. The strands of hair and the light on them, too… exquisite!

  10. Excellent portrait Elena! Backlight is tricky for photographers, I never thought about the same for painters. This is gorgeous, doesn’t look like any improvement is necessary to me! 🙂

  11. The rim lights on the loose strands of hair are very lovely. Your use of color in the skin tones and elsewhere is very rich and colorful.

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