Sunday, November 14, 2010

Reflections in Shadow

During my visit to Illuxcon this weekend, I was reminded of a lesson I had forgotten about shadows and light.  I found it very interesting because I feel it relates not only to the physical world and objective reality, but also to the way that situations and beings interact with each other. 

Basically, the observation is that many people beginning to paint attempt to paint shadows with black, or only with black or gray glazing over whatever is underneath it.  This can be placed in the correct area, but ends up feeling very flat and fake compared to the actual reference.  The truth is that reflective color bounces into a shadow from all of the objects surrounding it, including the object it was cast from.

What a beautiful observation!  Once the reds of the wall and the yellowy browns of polished wood get included into a shadow, a still life painting of fruit starts to feel like it is in a space.  The light has a color, the objects have colors, the ground has a color, and all of it is reflected onto everything else!  While this bounced light is often subtle, it makes a profound difference to the believability of a scene when reproduced in a painting.

I think that this is a truth that we also realize about our everyday lives in a philosophical sense.  While we may not actively notice it, we can perceive that there is something off about discussing situations from an extreme angle.  If the shadow is black and the light is white, it just isn't right.  It can't actually exist that way!  Nobody truly perceives only blackness and light without the gradations of colors splashed around.  Even the color blind perceive the reflection of light into shadows.

These reflections into shadows aren't just around the edges.  Notice how you see a red glow around the edges of your fingers if you hold them up to block the light.  Even in the flesh that bends away from the edge, there is some red within the shadow.  The shadow includes your flesh color, and the red of your illuminated capillaries on the edge of the light.  As the shadow nears the center of a finger, the redness eases into a duller state, replaced by the flesh tone entirely, but also with a bright highlight of reflected light off of the other hand, or the wall, or some other nearby object.  For me, it was a bluish white color over ochre skin tones, reflected off my clothes from the blueish light bulb which was my light source.  Observing this interaction is incredible, and something to remember when reproducing anything in color.

It is also something to remember when recalling or observing any situation we want to label as "good" or "bad."  I choose good and bad because they are a simple distillation of judgments we place on things, but any opposing adjectives will do.  The truth is that things are actually both good and bad.  Or bad and good.  They probably are a lot more than either of those things, because the light (or consciousness) that defines form bounces all over everything.

It is everywhere, reflected onto surfaces and into shadows.  The light that falls off of my shoulders and bounces into your shadow touches us both.  Where are the edges?  We cannot define them.  Our perception blurs it all, or defines it rigidly, noting only what it chooses and discarding the rest.  The decision to only percieve one part of the story is so human!  How can we resist it, when to take it all in is so vast and indescribable?

Perhaps we are only insightful when we are able to carefully observe and refrain from describing too much.  While we try to understand and define what we see, we know that we are only interpreting reality.  It is only a small part, and only a subjective reproduction in our minds.  This reproduction might find its way through our hands and into paint or blog entries, or out of our mouths in words.  Occasionally careless, occasionally profound.  We are foolish to believe we are constantly one or the other - we are always both!

I am fascinated by Rohb's study of the hallway and the examples of painted fruit he used in his lecture this weekend.  The use of light and shadow and remembering to observe the colors that get reflected onto all objects near each other will stick with me from here on out.  It's a way to help me in my painting and tattoos, but also to help me understand my muscle tension around thoughts.  All actions and thoughts get bounced into each other.  They don't stop just at the edge of the situation that spurred them.  In this way I can learn to distance myself from thoughts and actions that reflect onto me and cause pain, or see that this is what I am responding to.

For sure, this is a week of insight!

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