I was twelve years old when my art teacher told me to ‘simplify’ my painting. This was the first of an endless number of teachers all saying the same thing. “You should simplify”. As it turned out, it was great advice.

 The contrast of the darkest and lightest tones attracts the eye and give clarity and strength to the picture.  

The contrast of the darkest and lightest tones attracts the eye and give clarity and strength to the picture








 Back lighting  







Front lighting  







Side lighting  

The problem was that no one explained how to simplify. With my own efforts giving thought to every painting I turned out, after careful study I developed a method which became useful to my work. It is an approach that will allow you to simplify your painting.

Wait for a sunny day. Then grab your easel and head for a suitable painting spot - not too complicated, not so simple that it doesn’t allow for a challenge. It will also help, for at least the first attempt, if the subject matter is light in value. White objects are particularly good because they make it easy to see the patterns of light and shade. Because dark surfaces absorb light, they are not as helpful for this exercise.

Position yourself where you view of the subject provides a clear pattern of sunlit surfaces and shaded areas. Now you can begin the process of simplifying your painting by seeing shapes, not things.

Instead of taking the approach of seeing a collection of individual objects - a house, a car, two trees, - squint your eyes and see only two shapes. Shape one will be everything that is in sunlight. Shape two is made up of everything that is in shadow. You have now simplified numerous objects in two identifiable shapes.


As you begin to draw you must proceed with caution, for if you revert to old habits and draw each objects, rather than two shapes, you will have negated the very essence of your new approach.

Your pencil lines should follow the edge of light and shade. The resulting drawing will be a rather strange-looking pattern of abstract shapes that should be generous in size.

Freed from the constraints of painting many objects, you can now execute a more spontaneous expression of your feelings.

Begin with the idea that what is in light will be left as white paper. You are now faced with but one shape to paint - the shape of shade. Paint the shape as a abstract pattern. Don’t allow yourself to be overly influenced by local colour. Begin at one end of the shape and paint to the other. One approach is to first wet the entire area of this shape and drop in colours. Take this opportunity to experiment.


To achieve success in painting, most students need to change their concepts while forsaking old habits. If you would like to become a par or a better painter, stop thinking about brushes, pigments, paper, how to hold your brush, how to draw a house, and start thinking about shape and colour.

Observe the painting I have done ‘how to simplify what you see’ titled ‘going for the catch.’ There is no more thrilling sight than that of big soupy washes of colour being brushed on to a sheet of sparkling white paper and allowed to diffuse softly together. The effect is magical.

The atmospheric effect of the sky and the sea is achieved with weak washes of cobalt blue, light wash of burnt sienna and cadmium yellow, applied wet-in-wet.

The contrast of the darkest and lightest tones attracts the eye and give clarity and strength to the picture.

Designing with light

The idea of “designing with light” is not offered as ‘the best’ or only approach. It is an approach which works. Sunlight is powerful. It can make a black roof appear white and white objects look black. By seeking patterns of light and shade we are freed from the object single light source, the sun there is most often a rhythmical connected pattern of both the light and shade.

By moving slowly around a potential subject and observing the shapes created by the light and shade, you can find the pattern that is most interesting. Your relative position to the object and the light source changes not only the patterns but also the effect.

n Back lighting a subject makes a large connected shape of shade with rim lighting. This unifies so many shapes into generous patterns.

n Front lighting produces disconnected spots of dark shade. When read as a whole and placed against a larger shape, these spots of dark expresses light and describes objects beautifully.

n Side lighting makes alternating shapes of light and dark. This lighting can be a bore without careful consideration of the amounts and size of light and shade. Position yourself where the light out weighs the shade or vice versa.  


Tissa Hewavitarane

Wednesday, 12 May 2010