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Sweet Summer Light Tutor

What is the painterly ‘essence’ of Sweet Summer Light?

the singing butler - sweet summer light

The Singing Butler – clickable image

Ever wonder why some paintings are so memorable that their painters are household names … maybe it is because of sweet summer light?

Sweet summer light is a painterly device that bypasses the logical mind of the viewer

and subconsciously activates the ‘must have’ instincts.

The Singing Butler by Jack Vettriano employs this device.

Many see this image and think the appeal is the care-free holiday mood of this painting.

Others view this painting and wish they could afford a maid and butler and take their sweetheart dancing at the water’s edge.

I suggest the subliminal appeal is the lighting of this painting.

But don’t take my word for it … The Singing Butler cornered $1 million+plus in print sales in 2004.

mona lisa sweet summer light

Mona Lisa

Why is the Mona Lisa so revered? Many say it is the enimatic smile. Nat King Cole amongst others recorded a hit record … opining on the enigmatic smile.

The Mona Lisa – described as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world.”

However … should you take more than a second look at this painting … you will notice the glow of this painting.

I submit … it is the Sweet Summer Light that pulls the viewer and won’t let go.

Consider this painting was done sometime between 1503 and 1506. The Mona Lisa continues to enchant people after 500 years.

Leonardo da Vinci’s painting – hailed for the use of a loggia – a transition between the subject and the distant landscape.

Critics marvel at the horizon line being at the subject’s eye level.

However … I come back to the device of Sweet Summer Light.

What makes this device so powerful that viewers just cannot get enough of it especially after 500 years?

Could it be … that the subconscious mind just craves the warm coziness of the colors? Maybe … yet what exactly … makes the ‘cozy’ so powerful?

abbey house bridge sweet summer light

Abbey House Bridge

Maybe … we should take a look at Thomas Kinkade’s Abbey House bridge painting.

And what do we have here … sparkling yet subdued light judiciously placed to move the eye from the sky, down the building, along the bridge and down we go to the reflections in the water.

You are excused for not noticing the muted glow in the footpath on the right side of the painting … but that footpath takes us back up to the bridge and we are now roiling around in this painting.

With no where to go the eye consequently travels back up – along the bridge, up the building, bounce through the sky and then back down again.

No matter whether one loves or disdains Kinkade … he isn’t called the ‘painter of light’ for nothing.

the mill rembrandt sweet summer light

The Mill

While Rembrandt’s paintings are considered dark and lugubrious

… every once in a while he uses the device of Sweet Summer Light to astonishing affect.

Here we have heavy weather giving way to wispy clouds driving across a blue sky and boom… a totally unexpected glow of light dancing through the huge blades of a mill house set atop a craggy mountain.

For it’s day … and even today connoisseurs and artists value this painting as one of Rembrandt’s greatest works.

The romantic aura and the forces of nature all play out against the sweep of the sky.

Well … you might say … these are well established artists doing what they do best.

But is it possible for a beginning or an intermediate artist to attempt something like this? Like now … with a limited amount of knowledge?

After all … if it just the application of yellow … is it that simple? Not really!

Take heart … it is doable for you … with a little more insight.

san guirgio Jmw turner sweet summer light

San Guirgio

As we look at JMW Turner’s San Guirgio … we see and we don’t see.

Because what is happening here and throughout the paintings we’ve seen so far … is a mystery … until one picks up one’s brushes and jumps into the world of color relationships.

Read on because I have a treat in store for you.

We are about to do just that … and JMW Turner’s palette gives some insight. JMW

Turner’s painting hook was the color of light.

Turner’s paintings are color arrangements of tints and tones.

And finally …

he applied transparent glazing colors to control the quality of light.

JMW Turner’s palette (about 1840): Flake White (White Lead), Chalk White, Chrome Yellow, Gamboge (Yellow), Safflower (Yellow), Quercitron (Yellow), Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna, Vermilion (Cadmium Red), Iodine Scarlet (mercuric iodide), Indian Red, Venetian Red, Carmine, Rose Madder, Cobalt Blue, Blue Verditer, French Ultramarine.

Can we still use this palette today? No and believe me – you don’t want to.

* Like all lead based colours, Flake White is classed as toxic which means that care must be taken to avoid ingestion of this pigment or paint mixtures containing this pigment. Very poisonous and should be avoided.

In use since the prehistoric Greek period, the second oldest artificially produced pigment. It was the only white oil-colour available to artists until the middle of the 19th century.

* Chrome yellow – A family of inexpensive natural pigments made from lead chromate, first developed in about 1800 by The French chemist Louis Vauquelin.

However, their tendency to darken over time, coupled with their lead content, has led to their replacement by the Cadmium family.

* Safflower yellow – Commonly known as Carthame, this fugitive (it fades over time) red lake derives from the flowers of the Safflower plant. Now obsolete.

Toxic chromium yellow lemon, which is not used anymore. Today one could use Schmincke Horadam Aquarell Watercolor, Chrome Yellow Lemon, which is a highly transparent lemon yellow tone.

* Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Paint, New Gamboge, is a recently reformulated warm yellow pigment resembling genuine toxic Gamboge.

* Quercitron Yellow – Obsolete yellow obtained from the bark of the black quercitron oak from America. It was introduced to Europe by Edward Bancroft, a Doctor of Medicine and Fellow of the Royal Society, in 1775.

* The remaining colors – Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna, Indian Red, Venetian Red, Carmine, Rose Madder, Cobalt Blue, Blue Verditer and French Ultramarine are still all available today.

Artists today will acknowledge that painting in the exact style of JMW Turner

will make their paintings looked dated.

However the legacy of JMW Turner is very much alive in a contemporary painter you should

become acquainted with …

Robert Hagan.

The genesis of this article is a painting by Robert Hagan … I simply could not get it out of my mind. Even though I saw it more than a year ago.

To me – and once you see it … I feel you will agree … it is the essence of Sweet Summer Light.

You see the color palettes of yester-year just take on new permutations as we move forward into today.

Robert Hagan sweet summer light

Robert Hagan Girls Frolicking on the Beach

As a workshop presenter … I had used the lighting concept of this painting and the workshop was a resounding success.

I wanted to present this color scheme to my in-person workshops … but I had misgivings.

Suppose they hated it. Suppose they thought it was too complicated.

I could not have been more wrong!

Attendees loved the concept, loved the look, loved the suggested sound of the water

lapping at one’s feet … in short this painting just took them to a place of their

youth … and they wanted to stay there.

You see beginning painters and even intermediate painters seem to get hung up with the lighting of noon time. Because it is so easy.

Bright light, strong shadows, accented darks seem to rule the roost.

Overall muted light is just not on their radar – even though it is hidden in plain sight.

Well … seeing is believing don’t you think?

I encourage you to visit Robert Hagan’s site

click the STORE in the top menu … you will see something called FREE DOWNLOAD.

Click there and you will be able to obtain a PDF tutor on painting Robert Hagan’s Pelican Pete.

I want to you download that PDF because

at the bottom of page 2 Robert Hagan gives you the color palette used in the creation of Pelican Pete. – Cobalt Blue, Cadmium Red, White, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Yellow Ochre and Light Red.

Notice the similarity of palettes used between JMW Turner and Robert Hagan.

As you enjoy the many subjects, styles and lightings Robert Hagan paints in … you will

very quickly realize … there are many more paintings of figures in meadows and at the


And Because Robert Hagan lives on the proceeds by selling his paintings … I submit to

you that his beach and meadow paintings are selling like hot cakes.

Now Robert Hagan paints in oils.

But I digress …

How do we transpose this painting into watercolor? Consider…

I submit it is the sky treatment that sets the tone of this painting. It is the colors in the sky that set up the the figures in this painting. And I am going to introduce you to an unlikely color combination that really advanced tone painters use all the time for great affect.

Aureolin and Payne’s Gray. Could it be that simple … even for a beginner?

Nita Engle mentions Paynes Gray for the sky treatment in her book

– How To Make a Watercolor Paint Itself.

If You are not familiar with
Nita Engle… I’m sure you’ve heard of one of her star pupils … Tom Lynch.

mars burnell sweet summer light

Mars Burnell – watercolor treatment

This is my watercolor treatment of these two girls at beach.

Fast forward for a moment – Robert Hagan calls his approach – color, tone and story.

Eliot O’Hara calls his approach – strong vertical, atmosphere and story.

Today’s successful artists admittedly … stand on the shoulders of yesterday’s successful artists

… regarding palette choices, subject choices and technique.

I’m paraphrasing Hagan … regarding his painting style … “There is nothing new … what there is … is the ability to paint something ordinary … in an amazing way.

So let’s breakdown what I did in transposing this oil painting into a watercolor.

1] In my studio I drew in my figures … quickly pencil sketching them in to capture the essence of movement.

You could start with stick figures … just a quick pencil curved line from head to toe for both girls.

In the workshop demonstration because of time constraints I just round brushed two curved lines – one aureolin and the other in cobalt blue… representing the curve of the spine of the two figures.


Then … I brush in the horizon line … ignoring the rule of thirds… with the tip of a round brush in transparent brown oxide.


The figures are blocked in with a round #5. Cobalt blue is the base color for the girl on the right.

Then I streak in some ultramarine blue on her left and along the areas of her legs. Then I streak in some turquoise along her right side. And while still wet … I lift out some color with quick swipes of my brush.

The area of her dress behind her left leg is lifted after the dress was dry.

The face color is done with Transparent brown Oxide and then lift on the right side. The hair is done by mixing Van Dyke brown, Cobalt Blue and Paynes Gray. The ribbon is spotted in with Opera and Alizarin Crimson… using a liner brush.


The girl on the left is quickly painted in with quinacridone yellow. Some Veridian is quickly painted in for the shadow areas and the highlights are painted with cadmium orange. The hat is done with aureolin mixed with Paynes Gray and the hair is done with transparent brown oxide and Van Dyke Brown. The left and right arms are done with Jaune Brilliante and shadow tones are done with transparent Brown Oxide.


For the water …I hold the painting vertical as I wash in streaks of marine blue, cobalt blue and turquoise.

This way the wet colors run towards the edges of the paper … giving me horizontal waves … when the painting is turned right side up.


The sandy beach area at the girls feet is started with aureolin yellow using a round brush #6. While still wet I wash in some Veridian, Cadmium Orange and Turquoise and transparent Brown Oxide. When dry …

I high-light the water splash with Titanium White using the edge of a fan brush.


I leave the sky for last. With a mop brush I wet the area of the sky and while still wet I dropp in some Aureolin, some Paynes Gray, some cobalt blue and some Opera. Then I mix it all together … to dissipate the strength of the Paynes Gray and let all the colors mix together.

I do what I call ‘rock and roll’ with the paper from left to right and back again… to allow the colors to mix on on their own.

I find this technique works very efficiently and gives astounding blends.

While still wet I use a mop brush to lift areas for the uneven sky affect… enabling me to maintain the overall wash of the sky.

A video of this kind of approach to a painting by Vettriano … one of the world’s best selling artists … is available – just Click Right Here.

So … if you are looking for a sweet summer light method, a technique to gain a marvelous tone, a subdued light into your watercolor paintings …

you might want to work this painting out for yourself. You will be overwhelmed at the results.

And Paynes Gray is the key. The mixing quality of this color is truly amazing.


Have you noticed the similarity of tone, colors and subject between our very first painting by Vettriano and our last painting by Hagan?

And a word of encouragement to you … both painters are self-taught.

So … you can too!

Happy painting – Mars Burnell