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.

Peter Doig, Spear Fishing, 2013.

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.

Eric Wayne, #14, The Sphinx.

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.

~ Ends

20 replies on “WIP: Adding the Power of Rim Lighting

    1. Just checked out your work and quite enjoyed it. Clearly on the fine art side of the spectrum. In fact, some of your works resemble some of Doig’s paintings. If you don’t know him, check him out.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. “The fine art world wouldn’t touch me with a 10-foot pole, unless it had a spear on the end” 😀

    I like rim lighting and I’ve used it in my own (totally amateur) work, though I didn’t know that was what it was called. I justify it as realistic because often the light source is reflecting off of something behind the figure, creating a smaller light source coming from the opposite direction.

    I like illustration style art; in fact, some of my favorite images are book illustrations. When my kids were young, sometimes I’d see books based on TV series where the “illustrations” were just images captured from the TV show. Did not work AT ALL. It was really difficult to tell what was going on. Made me realize that illustrations have to be carefully planned to show a lot of action, somewhat compressed in time.

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    1. Hi Jennifer:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Rim lighting can definitely be realistic. You might see it in a lot of indoor situations, especially if there are neon signs, TVs or monitors on, etc. There’s also back-lighting and reflected light, which can have a similar effect to some degree.

      Book illustrations are magnificent, I agree. Absolutely loved them as a child. And you’re right again, that making an illutration after a still from a TV show is not the same as drawing it from scratch. Is a whole different process.

      Oh, what I was getting at about “hyper-realism” (and that term probably has multiple uses) is an attempt not so much at how things actually look, but at accentuating all the aspects of naturalism. T his would include things like a shallow depth of field, which I’ll also incorporate. Reality itself doesn’t always look super detailed and crisp, etc.

      I could track down two of your paintings on your blog, and they didn’t seem totally amateur to me, but rather competent. You seem to have a really good feel for landscape painting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the visits, likes, & feedback. You made my day.

        I had to talk down my art because this is a Professional Art Blog and I’ve always only done it as a hobby, and only started landscape painting this year. I used to enjoy doing pen portraits.

        You are so right that reality doesn’t always look super clear. And it’s amazing when painting from life or a photograph how the end result can look very “realistic” but still be very different from the model.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I don’t really get paid for my art (when I do it’s not much); I’m not a part of the art world in any official or acknowledged way (I’m generally considered a pariah and am banned from several art forums); and I don’t have a job as an artist. I’m just a guy who does his own thing which has a certain amount of intrinsic worth, or not. So, for me too, art is a hobby of sorts, just one I’ve probably made far too many sacrifices in order to keep up. But I rather think that’s what it should be: something we do because we want to, we enjoy it, it’s a way that we find and articulate meaning and substance, it exercises our imagination, and it allows us to individuate ourselves.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Great work, Eric. I always look forward to your commentaries. They make some sense of an art world where I see some work inexplicably succeed commercially and critically, and other work barely make a ripple.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Right. I see it in comics a lot, used for a dramatic effect. Here I’ve used it to articulate the form in shadows. I may play it up or down, erase parts, and change the color of the light depending on how it integrates with the background.

      One could learn a lot from comics though.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a great technique. It really does add to the illusion of reality. I’m not so sure I want my monster to be all that real. I prefer to throw them into the make believe basket but, in real life we have insects and electron microscopes. They are pretty scary too. Anyway, I’m looking forward to the background because environment is important. Meanwhile, does this guy have a story (I mean, like, a story you are, or could, illustrate)? I agree, illustration is a better path, more practical, than “fine art” unless you already know Peggy Guggenheim or Betty Parsons (boy, did I just date myself?). So, Lightroom? Lots to learn there – but, you can do almost anything. Don’t forget to flatten your work or someone will be able to figure out Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii. How did I get so off topic? Point is – love the way you got this going.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t hatched out a story for him yet. I suppose I leave that a bit up to the viewer, but if pressed, given those mandibles I’d go with he’s some sort of ant-man. Probably he’s a grunt: front-line fodder for the wars waged by his queen and tribe. But given the chunk out of his head – representing his opened mind – he may be more conscious or self-aware than the rest. He’s looking up in the sky and asking why he’s in this perdicament. This is a moment of epiphanie and existential crisis as he grapples with his existence as a lowly ant-man, and he’s going to go AWOL from the ant army and try to live independently as a solo ant. No longer ensnared in a system where he’ll never be anything but a sacrificial pawn, he becomes his own ant, wandering lonely in a hostile world, perpetually trying to evade the ant army that would chew him to pieces as a deserter. But he has a new relation with the cosmos, he stops killing, and in his travels he rescues insects and eventual meets one or more other ants who have similarly evolved.

      Yes, if I could go back in time I’d definitely switch out of fine art and into illustration, where I could have got hired right out of school, and used my actual drawing/painting skills. Contemporary art schools are a place to abandon all painting in favor of conceptual art. I’ve never been treated so unfairly as in grad school. These days I’d say young artists would probably do better to learn art on their own from Youtube videos, in the evenings after work, than go to college, have to forsake visual art, and rack up enormous debt.

      Glad you like how the ant-man is coming out. I’ve been working on the background, and it’s looking promising.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love the site design, it does great service to your work, wonderful stuff. Looking forward to reading backward through your posts – it’s a great mix of images and information.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. “You can break all the rules a hell of a lot better if you’ve learned them first.” Yep, oddly enough that was one of the first things I was taught when I started practicing art seriously. I don’t know all the rules, but I sure know a lot more than some people (who are quite content with not knowing them). Anyhow, I’d never heard of rim lighting but I like it. I can see how it would be easy to overdo it. Your WIP looks like you are using it judiciously. BTW, how did this creature manage to lose a front tooth? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the more traditional painting teachers will want students to learn the rules first, and the ones on the radical end would have students start by abandoning all skills. Many of my teachers hoped students would go straight to the real business of conceptual art and far left political activism, and skip painting altogether (and that was 30 year ago).

      I have this wonderful quote from art critic for the Guardian, Jonathan Jones (which you can see on my right sidebar) that goes a little something like this, “painters who know how to paint are relics from another world”. In other words, learning the rules is anathema in the contemporary art world. I made precisely one painting in grad school before giving up.

      I don’t know how he lost his tooth. I could make something up, but it’s not necessary. Someone else asked if there’s a story, and I’ve been thinking about how when I was a kid I’d look through books to look at the pictures, and I wasn’t interested in whatever the story was. I’d watch sci-fi movies just to see the monsters. Nowadays I love a good story, but I think there’s a love of pictures that doesn’t require one. From the looks of him, though, he probably got in a fight, or bit into something too hard. I know you were just asking in terms of amusement, not actually requiring a story.

      He seems to have a lot of humanity about him, as in he seems conscious and capable of suffering. Oh no! Maybe he was tortured! Since he looks like an ant man, he might just have lost it being a pawn in the campaigns of his queen.

      Liked by 1 person

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