A Study in Light and Simplicity

Last time I did a painting was the dépanneur in Montreal’s Chinatown and I made the two mistakes of adding excessive much detail and making it very dark.

Dark and detail cluttered.

Keen to give another shot, I decided to make a piece in the complete opposite style. Aims: make it as simple and bright as possible.

I went sketching with a friend near Mount Royal in a park and promptly started drawing a scene that offered good lighting and interesting lines. It felt very foreign keeping it so impressionistic, but liberating as well to go outside my comfort zone.

So here is a study in light and simplicity in 5 steps.

Step #1: Pick a Location – Any Location!

Step #1: Location of golden streaming light!

It was hard choosing this location because I wanted a scene that was simple with only a few objects that could be emphasized. I happened to sit right in the middle of a sports park however, so it was crowded, energetic, and constantly moving. In the end, a park bench, tree, and traffic light caught my eye – all the more for the golden light emphasis in the late afternoon. It was good enough to focus on.

Step #2: Loose Sketch

Step #2: Simple line work.

To follow my study criteria, I made sure to keep the line work loose (kind of). In doing so, however, I also panicked and just made it really sketchy and poorly proportioned for an all around compromised quality. Trying to make it simple just made me want to do it fast, so I need to keep in mind that next time I should break the lines a little more and imply the subject more than scratching in the outlines.

Step #3: Adding the Colours

Step #3: Adding the colours.

This time around I made sure I began with the light colours first. I did a pale yellow wash as a base, which I made brighter in the places where I wanted the highlights to be especially bold. From here, I continued to layer: light green, dark green, light brown, dark brown, then finally object colours (ex. the person’s shirt and traffic cones), and blacks for emphasis on shadows. I debated putting any black in at all, but the palette warranted the contrast. Even so I tried to keep it more understated.

Step #4: (Minimalist) Accented Lines

Step #4: A few punchy black lines.

I wasn’t sure if I should add any accented lines, but my reasoning in the end was that as a study in a looser, brighter piece, I also wanted to experiment and see if I could get away with a few choice emphases. Surprisingly, it really ended up bringing a lot to the piece. I not only liked the cartoony effect, but it helped bring life to a previously washed out scene.

Step #5: Enjoy in the Wild

Step #5: Using a baby carriage to prop up your finished artwork against the subject.

The scene didn’t turn out how I’d planned, and I’m not sure how much I like this style, but it was a very informative study to try something different.


For next time, I would like to keep it minimalist, but try to improve the few details I do decide to keep. I need to work on depth perspective as well which should be something really fun to practice over the summer.

In all, a really successful outing! I had a ton of fun.

2 thoughts on “A Study in Light and Simplicity

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