3. Knowledge of Painting Lights : Basic Red Ball Demo : Part 1

The 12 lights demonstration on a basic red ball.

You are about to be given the fundamental and, in my opinion, the most important tools you can ever own as a representational painter:  How to identify and paint the 12 lights.

Do you know that everything you ever need to paint from the representational world can be created by understanding how to paint this simple, red ball?  It’s absolutely true. Every aspect and quality of light that I have been able to identify is covered in the following demonstration of the 12 lights.

  • When you understand this exercise, you will learn how to paint horses, people, landscapes, still lives, everything!  Nothing will ever be a mystery to you again.
  • Once you learn to see these lights occurring everywhere in your world, and you begin to identify them, the world of painting will never be a mystery to you ever again.
  • If you’re a beginner, once you’ve mastered painting this ball, why not try an orange, pear, or apple?  The same principles apply, no matter what the subject.
  • I will cover the exercises first in oils, since I believe these are the easiest medium to master the lights.  However, I use oils, acrylics, watercolors, and even charcoals in ‘exactly’ the same way using the same principles.
  • We will use the ‘indirect’ painting methods (wet-into-wet) to begin with, again, since I believe this is the easiest way to paint and control the process.  When painting form life I use a more ‘direct’ method.  We will be exploring these when I introduce you to my Key #2 lessons.

This is my basic red ball exercise, a simple object.  The only thing to note about this photo is that it has a clear shadow and light pattern.  I recommend that, as a beginner, you do to.

The Kingdom of Shadow:

Ball with light/shadow pattern.

Light 1:  Form Shadow

Rapidly apply loose, thin shadow shapes

  1. Begin by making the “shadow” color mixed with turp and liquin. The formula for this is:
  • Notice/identify the main color of the object to be painted, in this case, red.
  • Look at your color wheel (you can find one on the internet) and identify the color opposite, in this case, green.
  • Select 3 transparent (triadic) darks, ensuring that the green is the dominant hue. In this case, I used Transparent Oxide red, Viridian Green, and Ultramarine Blue. You see, it definitely ‘leans’ to the green, therefore providing a perfect, cool shadow, or “opposite” for my red.

2. Mixed with a little turp and Liquin, create a loose shape of the ball.  If you like, there’s no need to draw it out first.  (I want you to use your right brain and it uses “shape” not “line”.)

3. Loose and free!  It’s only a ball!

Excavate a platform for light:

Wipe out WLH with a soft cloth

  1. If you’ve already painted, I know you’ve made mud.  Mud occurs when the colors that belong to the kingdom of light mix with the kingdom of shadow!  To avoid this, we “excavate planes” for light.
  2. With a soft cloth, wipe out a platform for the light plane.  In other words “where light hits” (WLH).  This creates a clean platform for the light plane or ‘kingdom of light’.
  3. Again, soften “edges” on outer edges of shadow shapes

Light 3: Void Shadow

Occurs in cracks, crevices and creases, usually where two planes meet. Think of this as the darkest dark, the void shadow, or ‘absence of light’.  These void shadows are very important and I like them to be retained throughout the painting’s development.  They become ‘landmarks’ to keep everything in it’s place…. So you always know where you’re going!

Applying darkest dark to cracks, crevices & creases

  1. To create a suitable “black” to be used as the void shadow, (absence of light,) I can simply use a thicker (less medium) application of paint where I see the crack, crevice or crease. In this case, where the shadow plane of the ball meets the shadow plane of the surface.
    • Alternatively, I will select three triadic, transparent darks, this time leaned toward the compliment of “the light source” itself. For example, if it’s sunshine, or a hot indoor light, consider the light source to be a hot light, in this case, yellow. Therefore, my “black” is made of Ultramarine Blue, Viridian, and Mineral Violet as the dominant dark (again, because it’s complimentary to the “light source, rather than the object itself”.)
  2. Apply only where light cannot penetrate, often in the cracks and creases where two planes meet.  They must be subtle, yet visible.
  3. It’s interesting to note that, at this stage, the object is already visible and in a very pleasing, creative way.  When I’m painting a person, students often want me to stop the demo at this stage!

Kingdom of Shadow

Want to see the process in action? Click below.


Final Word….


My life is a living testament to the old statement “What comes around, goes around”’; or “What you do for others in an act of generosity, comes back tenfold”.  In honor of this code, I began writing down everything I know in these lessons in 2011 and began to offer them out, for free…. But it’s very valuable information.  The lessons constitute a lifetime of learning, and are lent to you as an act of generosity to help you on your artistic journey.  If you find this material helpful, continue to ‘pay it forward’ by sharing this website with others so that they too can be inspired with Art through "Lessons With Lesley."

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