October 9, 2013

A New Painting: "Shadow Ladder"

Shadow Ladder, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 9 1/2 x 7 1/4 in.

This fairly simple painting had an interesting lesson about color in its making. Every painting I do is a balancing act of the color's hue and its intensity; the forms and shadows are always a challenge in getting the values right. In order for the color to read as light on a surface all those variables have to be just right. As I worked, I was happy with the cast shadows and light, then I began to work on the horizontal bar crossing the upper part of the painting.

Shadow Ladder, detail

I first painted the light portion of this bar with the same color running across it....and a strange thing happened: it looked as though the bar was bent back towards the edge of the painting, as though it was a "V" shape and not a horizontal at all. Very odd, and how was I going to fix it? I figured that the only thing to do was make the right side of the bar more intense in color so that it would pop forward, so I glazed some thin layers of yellow over the green. I don't know if the color shift is noticeable in the photo, being fairly subtle, but it was enough to pop that edge forward; I think that it now lies parallel to the picture plane rather than receding, and creates a horizontal rhythm with the bars of shadow.


  1. What a delightful painting! I always love paintings that compose with analogous colors, and green harmonies are so optimistic to me. Then that top interstice, which appears to be tipping its hat, is so whimsical. And I can imagine that the surface, and the color and tonal relationships, have more to give in person too. Very successful in my eyes.

    1. Thanks so much for the lovely comment, Ravenna. I enjoy your descriptive prose.

  2. This is one of my favorites, Altoon.