Lighting & Composition TECHNIQUES Uncategorized

Learning to See Light: An Artful Approach Part II: An interview with Thomas Arvid

Photograph or Painting? Photograph or Painting?! I had to know.  So I made my way across the room at the DZian Art Gallery in Worcester, Ma. It was the first time I had come across a Thomas Arvid piece. I stood there speechless for some time, awestruck and wondering what made this still-life painting so visually believable.

I decided that it was the depiction of ambient light and the accurate representation of reflections. These two elements are truly part of his compositions. It is incredible. This realization, of course, sent me into a spin wondering if and how I could improve these same elements in my own photographing. I immediately started researching the use of reflectors and polarizing filters.

Recently, I had the opportunity to approached the artist, who graciously agreed to an interview so that his appreciation and insights on the use of light in art could be shared here, on


Q: To start, as this is a photography blog, I have to ask, with regard to artful expression, do you use a camera or photographs as part of your creative process? I have noticed that on occasion you actually paint photographs into your still life scenery (if yes, please feel free to provide the names of photographers/magazines etc. that you draw inspiration from if appropriate).

A: Yes, I do use photographs for my paintings. I paint from life and a combination of photographs that I take. A photograph is its own representation of what we see, but the human eye is a richer tool and in a painting the artist can add detail and reference that can’t be captured in a photograph. Overall, I think having a vision of what you want to capture is essential to the creative process. To really see an object, you have to spend time observing how light defines it in our visual field.

Q: Now onto the topic of light… one of my favorite aspects of your work is the subtlety of light and shadow. What are your overall thoughts on the consistent use of light and shadow that is observable in your portfolio? Also, If you had to use three words to describe your stylized depiction of light on canvas….what would they be?

A: I use light to create the mood in my paintings and a sense of immediacy. I also use it as a tool to create depth and interest. If I had to use three words to describe my use of light on canvas they would be: mood, texture and depth. If I could add a fourth, it would be “story.”

Q: How important do you feel it is for visual artists – including photographers/painters to understand and appreciate light?

A: It is very important for a visual artist to understand light. You have to understand and observe how light changes and how light changes not just the objects it illuminates but also the mood of those objects. As an artist, you have to understand it before you can hope to capture it.

Q:As an artist, do you feel that light is often overlooked in the business of everyday living? In order to create, do you feel that a visual artist needs to take the time to stop and see light from a unique perspective? If so, is this something that came naturally to you? Or, is this an ability that you had to cultivate?

A: Yes, I do think light is often overlooked. Lots of people don’t take the time to light living spaces, objects or art. You can recreate the feeling of a space just by changing the light. As an artist I am constantly taking a visual inventory of the world around me. The play of light is consistently present in my observations. I have always been interested in the way things look, appear and change depending on your perspective. I think this visual fascination is why I became an artist.

Q: Do you have an exercise or notes that you would be willing to share that would offer guidance on training oneself to see light a little more artfully?

A: Become aware of how light changes throughout the day. Observe how a single composition changes with the light source. I like to move my glass of wine around the house, on to the porch, in the sun, to the shade. I find it changes not only in color and mood, but oddly enough…the level of wine seems to change.

Q: Do you most often try to capture natural light, artificial light, or perhaps both in your paintings?

A: I only use natural light. It’s more difficult to capture since it is always moving and changing in some form.

Q: In regards to natural light and your art… do you have a favorite time of day and/or season? What draws you to it?

A:I prefer the light in the late afternoon, when the shadows get longer and the quality of the light is softer and more diffused.

Q: How closely is color tied to the use of light in your work? How do you feel a photographer could translate this relationship to understanding a setting that is before them as they begin to photograph it.

A: The use of light defines the color–the colors change depending on the light. I work to get my compositions as close to real life as possible, so color and light are very important in my paintings. Photographers have a real advantage since they have settings on the camera to adjust color, but for a painter achieving the right color is incredibly important–especially since we mix the color ourselves.

Understanding the setting is essential to creating art with impact. Before you begin your composition think about how to capture all of the elements–angle, mood, time and especially light. If you can bring these elements together in balance you’ll have an amazing work of art.

1 Comment
   Irene said on February 28, 2012 at 2:31 am

My word! I can see why you were drawn to Thomas Arvid’s paintings. I’m still not convinced they’re paintings! (Well, yes I am, really.) And I thought I got a whiff of the wine! His light, the reflections and colors are wonderful. I am really enjoying looking at them here and reading what he says about light always moving and changing. Thanks for bringing this to us.

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