What a difference rim lighting can make in a hyper-realist image. This is the first time I’ve really attempted this technique, and it took a lot of tinkering to get a result I was satisfied with. Rim lighting is a technique illustrators and other artists borrow from cinema. You have your main light source — mine is in the upper right — and then you add another lamp, preferably another color, far on the opposite side so that it brings out the edges that were formerly hidden in shadow.
I call this hyper-realism because you wouldn’t typically see this that much in nature, and you could do every sort of realist image without incorporating it. For the illustrator, it’s another way to make something stand out through additional articulation. I’m not an illustrator, so this is a new technique for me.
And let me just pause here to explain the difference between an illustrator’s approach to making an image, and that of a fine artist. The fine artist of today will generally eschew all representational techniques, emphasize the flatness of the picture plane instead (perhaps adding texture), and use any number of alternative ways to create an image than the way things actually look. Below is a contemporary example by Peter Doig.
If you you at the figure in the orange diving suit, there’s no light source, no shading, no modeling, and certainly no secondary light source. There’s no reflection in those eyes, and no striations in the rises. But there is texture: the texture of paint itself. Everything is flat. No perspective. This approach comes out of Matisse, Gauguin, and others. To the degree I got any painting instruction in art school, this would be about as far as we go into painting a representational image at all. I quite enjoy this sort of approach, but am trying to expand my horizons.
Above is a piece by me roughly in that same ballpark, though more on the side of Van Gogh, Francis Bacon, and even Picasso. Here, again, emphasis in contemporary fine art painting is on composition, color, texture, and abstraction. This can be fun and opens up a lot of doors to creativity, but it sacrifices realism (though few people on that end of the spectrum have any problem with that). The fine art world won’t touch me with a ten foot pole, unless it has a spear on the end, and without a stroke of luck my chances of getting any recognition there are pretty hopeless. My strategy at this junction is to try to appeal to a more general audience, including the world of illustration, where, if you actually put in the work and are excellent enough, I believe you will get some recognition. The fine art world is so fickle that no matter how hard you try, you can end up with a kick in the nads and a fart in your general direction.
Above you can see the image in progress without and with rim lighting. This is not a difficult technique if you are using digital sculpting programs, because you can just add a lamp and position it (which I’m not against doing). But doing it manually requires one reallyt digests how it works, and this could be helpful in images I produce in the future, because…
You can break all the rules a hell of a lot better if you’ve learned them first.
This piece has been taking me weeks, but that’s largely because I’m learning some of the skills as I go, and doing a lot of trial and error on this image. I still need to add more highlights, and paint over this layer to fix some stuff. There will be a background. I’m coming down the home stretch. And because this one was such a learning experience, I’m planning on doing another, where I can work faster because I already have a better idea how to go about it all.