How to Paint Light, or “a Lotta Bull” Step 1


Welcome to my new DIY painting blog post installment. We will focus on “A Lotta Bull” in this set of posts. The very observant, ‘Born in a Barn’ folk may immediately note that despite the bullish horns, this specimen has a swollen udder swinging between his hind legs. So from the beginning, the premis of this painting and post is a lie. Perhaps it will be the only one. However, should you choose to continue reading, “I told you so”.

My appoach to painting is not to paint what I know, but to ask questions and seek answers from the subject of my painting. The first question is, why do I want to paint this subject. Maybe I really like to paint “bulls”:). Maybe it is the design, in this case, the geometric and organic contrast of shapes, or the contrasting colors (red vs. green). Or maybe the dynamic light that rakes across the hinder-parts of our transgender bovine leaving deep shadows in its wake! In this case, subject, design, colors, lighting and maybe a bit of humor have combined rather well.

Next on our agenda is the drawing of the beast and its domain. I am using yellow ochre oil paint to sketch with. I start by asking myself where to place my main objects. I do this by comparing distances. The foot of the building is ⅓ of the way up from the bottom of my photo. I make marks ⅓ from bottom of canvas on right side. The side of the structure is just to the right of the halfway mark. I make marks for the left side of the building. The bottom edge of the roof is approx  ⅙ of the distance between foot of the building and the top of the photo and it overhangs the left edge of the building maybe half that distance. I continue asking questions about placement, measuring and comparing to being precise. For further clarification on how to measure and compare ratios without a ruler, go to my class/ workshop page and follow links to sign up:).


I have drawn lines to diagram the main objects. I have also made extra lines on the “bull”. These lines are the beginning of a new set of questions. “Where is the direct light and where is the shadow. This is not the same as separating the darks and lights. This is not a drawing of how the bull’s fur changes from brown to white. This “?” asks, where is the morning sun hitting the cow and what parts are left in shadow.


This is what I call a light map. There are 3 really good reasons to do this. This gives you a great sense of how good your painting’s composition is and how well it is drawn…. Back off from your painting 10 paces and ask yourself, “How good is my painting’s composition and how well is it drawn?” and then answer truthfully. If there are problems, it is better to fix them now. This process also lays a foundation for your painting based on light not local color. When you start mixing colors, the brown of the bull is visually different in color and value depending on whether it is in direct light or shade.


The 3rd reason to do this is that we can start locating passages to connect our “separate objects”. The sky might flow into the roof. The shadows on the building could flow into the shadows on our bull. Light from the sky wanders along the top edge of the open gate, eking out a passageway into the deepening shadows of the building. In this way we can unify the design of our painting. Those who view our painting will be attracted to the light and then drawn into the shadows.

This concludes step one of “A Lotta Bull”. Please look to the top of this post and “subscribe” to this blog by entering your email. Stay tuned and have a blessed day:)

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  1. Pete Turner says:

    Thanks Ron, great information and illustration, this is the stuff I need to work on.

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