Pat Fiorello - Art Elevates Life

Art & Inspiration from professional artist and instructor Pat Fiorello. Pat is known for her romantic landscape, garden and floral paintings in oil and watercolor. Her paintings often depict beautiful places like Italy and France. Pat teaches painting workshops in the U.S., Caribbean and Europe. She is passionate about inspiring others to include art in their life. Whether creating it or simply appreciating and enjoying it, there are so many ways that art elevates life!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lily Study- Warm Light , Cool Shadows

Lily Study, Warm Light
8 x 8 Oil Painting
by Pat Fiorello

The other day I posted a study of a white lily where I focused on maintaining a consistent cool light.  The areas being struck by light were cool white- titanium white with a hint of blue. Areas in the shadows were not only a darker value but also a warmer temperature.

This principle of warm light, cool shadows and cool light, warm shadows is one that is often challenging for artists. I have had several instructors, authors, artists that I trust and are highly experienced give conflicting messages on the topic. Some swear by this principle and say that it is a law of nature and must be observed and followed and others have debunked it. So I decided to do some experimenting for myself.

On a practical basis, the question comes up for me, less when painting outdoors because there I just go with what I see, but more when I'm setting up a still life and have to figure out am I/should I be using a light of one temperature or another? I've had instructors who only use cool light because it simulates natural "north light" which is apparently more consistent and another instructor who was equally as masterful who works only with warm light for her still life set-ups.

Today I did a version of a lily similar to my last post, but maintaining a warm light with cool shadows. It is pictured above. I slightly revised the background of the Cool Light study from the other day so that is now pictured below.

Lily Study, Cool Light
8 x 8 Oil Painting
by Pat Fiorello

So what are my conclusions so far?

Whether or not this is a law of nature (and I'm tending to come out on the side that it is), I think picking a temperature for lighting your subject and maintaining that is a good practice as the uniformity of the light temperature can give your painting overall harmony. (Imagine a more complex still life where you had inconsistent temperatures, my guess is it would be harder to discern the forms, light and shadow).

Either lighting seems to work for producing convincing form.

 I personally enjoyed doing the warm light, cool shadows version more, but I think that is because I'm used to the notion that objects in sunlight would have a warm cast and shadows would be cooler and bluer, reflecting the sky. Think of a white house in sunlight with  blue/lavender cast shadows under the roof line/eaves (and a bit of contrasting warm bounce light reflecting up from the sunlit ground plane below). In the version with the warm shadows I had to keep thinking about how to get warm dark shadows without automatically reaching for ultramarine blue to darken things (which would of course cool them too).

As far as which I like better, it's hard to say. The white in the cool light actually looks whiter, more vibrant, when I compare them side by side in person, but I am kind of partial to the warmer more sunlit look of the warm light version.

I'll continue to explore and be mindful of these temperature differences moving forward.

What are your views on this warm light vs cool light debate?
any perspective you'd like to share. Feel free to click on comments.


  1. Seeing them side by side, I guess it is the feeling you want to evoke. I think of warm light for flowers, but that is just the nostalgia of sitting int he garden at days end. Thanks for raising this important consideration. Love them both.

  2. Thanks for your comment Susan. Yes they do have a different feel. I'm glad I actually tried the same subject in both types of light so I understand the difference a little more in my head vs holding it as an abstract concept or "rule".

  3. Hi Pat, is this painting for sale?

    1. Yes, Jamie, This painting is for sale. Please email me with your contact information at and I'd be happy to answer any questions for you.