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Lesson 2 - "The Zen of Painting" by Tom Thordarson

Lessons 2 - Thor's Fantasy Art Painting 

How energy, like painting sunlight, reflects off of everything around us.

Above is a little digital color sketch I did looking at some fruit, grouped close together.  If you look carefully in the shadows and surfaces, you can see how "reflected light" from fruit receiving light, shares a glow of its own color into the pieces it sits beside.  Reflected color and light!

Last Blog I wrote on "Lesson 1 - The Zen of Painting," I kind of jumped into the subject of "seeing" color in shadows.  This is much like lessons in life where we may judge a situation or person or thing based on "assumption" rather than "truly observing" what is there.  I touched on the aspect of the human mind being a machine, programmed for survival, and in this, strives to simplify the unknown, seek patterns of "cause and effect," and get in the way, at times, of really "seeing."  So the parallels of life and painting, for me, have incredible similarities, and I think many might share the same observations as I ponder this.  



After today's blog, I will back up a bit in the "Zen of Painting" series I am writing and go over some foundation things. There is a lot to learn about painting before shadows come to play.  "Seeing" color in shadows is only a part, but I have found this to be one of the more fascinating things, people wanting to paint discover when I point it out.  My hope is that it will entice you to want to learn a lot more, and "see" for yourself, what I refer to as "The Zen of Painting" and share your own personal life experiences. So before I leave the subject of "seeing" color in shadows, let me share one thing that is greatly responsible for this "seeing colors" thing...light!  

"See the light!" digest this a little. Remember when I proposed that you start to learn to "see" colors in shadows that surround you?  Here is another interesting notion regarding painting "light" and color.  Most things that receive light, often become a light source as well!   I heard this said in one form or another in art school, but when I started to observe it and see the analogy it had to my life...yah know what?...I guess you could say I did "see the light!"  Lol. Have you ever been with a group of coworkers or classmates or friends...and someone changes the energy of the entire darn room? People even use the phrase: "That person lights up the room when they enter!'  On the down side, people might say, "Wow, that guy is like a turd in a punch bowl!"  They may radiate something inspirational, fun or sad.  This energy they emit is just like a "light source" in a painting...and when it hits something or someone, it bounces off in part and is absorbed a little as well.  One person can make every other person, in turn, "radiate" a percentage of this energy they projected.  I am certain everyone knows what I speak of as to pertaining to people, and this happening in our lives.  So, here's where you can see it in painting. Ready?

Once you understand how this happens on things around us, you can not only exaggerate it in a painting, like I did in the first photo above, but you can make up fantasy settings, and use what you have "seen" and learned to bring a familiar beauty and "reality" to invented things.  This can be seen a lot in my work, but specifically in this second photo above, in this part of my painting called "Poi Meets Girl."  Note the reflected greens from the banana leaf onto the bowl and lava rock "poi ponder."  Also the warm orange of the bowl reflecting into the surface of the "poi pounder" as well!

Here's what to look for...

Look for things that are receiving a good clear light source in your surroundings and observe.  I will give a few examples.  First, a tree trunk in a grassy park, where half the trunk is lit by the sun. Look at that tree trunk and you will notice a faint green, light sneaking into the shadow side, and a little at the base of the tree!  It's not the direct sunlight that is green...the grass has received sunlight, absorbed some, and became another light source itself...loaded with green, though less powerful, and bathed that tree with that green light!  Another example is to look at people's faces as they walk around outside on a sunny day. Now, look at the undersides of their chins and nose and neck that are shadowed from the sun above.  The shadow under the nose of say, a lady with a red blouse is...slightly red or pink!  The man with the powder blue dress shirt next to her...he has pale bluish light filling in a bit of the shadows on his face on his neck and under his chin!  Most people never really notice these things!  The clothes were lit by the sun...then became "light sources" themselves and snuck into those shadows to color them.  Just like the analogy of the people in the social situation I outlined earlier.  One person was "the sun" sending out rays of energy...the others in the room would "reflect" part of that "light" (their attitudes affected) and become "light sources" themselves (feeling a little happier or sadder because of the one person and passing that on to others).  I am very sensitive to stuff like this.  I, personally, have to work on this all the time when it comes to negative people partially deflating my attitude or enthusiasm with bad energy.  I have learned to not "reflect" this and do all I can to be a positive, colorful light source over a negative one. I constantly try to surround myself with light sources that I want to reflect as well.  They become part of me and I may reflect into parts of them in return.  Main thing to understand is that the energy is bound to bounce about...and the goal is to make great colors!  It's funny though, how I better understood this by painting.  

 Reflected Light & Color

So today, go look for some "reflected light" on different things in your surroundings. It's not always just in the can be on the lighted side of a white picket fence...where a yellow rose, close to it, lit by the sun, will often shine a pale yellow glow on that otherwise white fence! If you were painting that fence, you might celebrate all the amazing, subtle pastel colors that mingle and halo the flowers and leaves!   Beautiful stuff!  Stuff you might have never noticed before! Like I mentioned in the last blog with shadows alone, once you start to "see" all these things....your world will become a glow, with jewels of color and rainbows you simply overlooked before!  Once you see the parallels...and you learn to paint with will you see all the wonders and whispers in moments and people you may have overlooked before in your daily life.


Till next time...Warmest Wishes,





I'd love to hear your thoughts! Comment below.


  • Sarah

    I love your painting lesson posts :) I think this is the third time I have read this post and today I finally – just over a month since I first read the post- I’m starting to see light and colour reflected – hooray! I’m with you on the positive light being shared around, thank you for sharing and for good vibes :)

  • Yvonne

    Wow. this is excellent information to show us….aspiring artist how it should get done..
    Thank you Tom, the information you are providing is priceless….And your art is Awesome!

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