What painting techniques can I use to put a person in a spotlight?
Dinah Trent, US
Lighting is never an easy thing to make convincing in a painting, but spotlighting in particular allows for a lot of simplification, which makes your job easier. Being the only light source in the image is definitely a component, but what really makes a spotlit figure both easy and convincing is the massing and subordination of the shadow shapes.
The key phrase to remember is: information in the light, no information in the shadow. Group your shadow shapes into big, distinct masses that have little to no form or detail. Because the spotlit figure is in a very dark setting, there won’t be much in the environment for the spotlight to bounce off of and influence the shadows on the figure. These large, simplified shadow shapes are important to the composition as well as the spotlight effect, so try to design these well.
To balance this emptiness of the dark areas, all of the form and detail must be emphasised in the lit areas of the figure. Because there will probably be a lot of empty darkness in the image, the form, texture and colour in the light side needs to be really interesting to strike a good balance within the composition. Build up the form gradually and dramatically all the way up to a punchy highlight, the way an epic orchestral song builds up its powerful crescendo.
By keeping information out of the shadows and emphasising it in the light, you can easily
create a convincing and compelling spotlit figure.