The Art of Painting with Light, Part 2: the Poets

The Art of Painting with Light, Part 2: the Poets

I want to look today at a very different form of light painting than we did in the last post.  Here the artists carry their lights out into the night to create a poetry of place.  This isn’t about drawing circles or squiggles on top of a dark scene, it’s not gesture.  This is light as a film-maker may use it or a painter. The focus is the place, as a character, a mood.

You could venture into your back yard at night with flashlights and camera and come back with images of a place unknown.  The power in the light-painters’ images comes from the unnaturalness of their light.   The years’s fullest moon couldn’t illuminate as these artists do — highlighting, backlighting, shaping the darkness.

from Jarrett Murphy’s Winter series                 via his website

Snow #3 2007 Norway by Tim Simmons              via his website

Look at these two snow scenes, by the US photographer Jarrett Murphy and by Tim Simmons of the UK.  Both are snow, but the whites are defined differently.  I love in the Murphy that you still register the deep blue of the sky above his white expanse.  And the crisp detail of the withered plants in silhouette.  This is the natural world caught in the quiet and mystery of night.  It feels solemn and true.

Simmons’ snowy spot has theatrical drama, a blue cast over all, a sense of a marvelous place, hidden, now found.  This could be a stageset for a mythic encounter.  The artificiality of the lighting is part of what the image says.  Not nature, more fiction.  It aims at the mysteries of our storytelling psyches.

I find both photographs very beautiful.


Jarrett Murphy

Murphy specializes in light-painting in nature.  Stunning work you’ll not be sorry to be more acquainted with.  I don’t want to draw too firm a distinction between his work and Simmons’.  There’s a wonderful photo of him sitting foreground in a light-painted woods — the path lit ahead is beautiful as pure nature-scape, but also invites a centaur to prance across or Macduff’s army to scuttle through.

from Jarrett Murphy’s Summer series          via his website

from Jarrett Murphy’s Summer series          via his website


Tim Simmons

Simmons sometimes travels far to find the landscapes he paints with light.  You’ll find images from Iceland, the US and his native England in his gallery — special places you might walk past in daylight unawares.  Your imagination will be well repaid by a tour of his discovered spots.

Olympic Peninsula #4 2010 USA by Tim Simmons         via his website

Rockpool #12 2008 UK by Tim Simmons       via his website


Suren Manvelyan

Suren Manvelyan lovingly lights and photographs ancient sites in his native Armenia.  I doubt that he thinks of himself as a light painter in the same way the others do, but I find the exquisite beauty in his night photography equally poetic.

Often Manvelyan’s breathtaking night sky is filled with stars.  He also photographs star trails, those long-exposure arcs that track the earth’s spinning.  I’ve been trying to figure out how he gets these star-spangled skies behind the lit ruins, but I’m guessing a double-exposure, where the film saw the stars before the scene was lit and  again when the lights were on.  A hillside’s not going to wander off in the interval.  Twitch its ears.

Which is one reason I admire his work so much.  His titles make it clear he feels a power and beauty in Armenia that he wants us to share.  Devising a way to include vast skies is an artistic decision both wise and potent.

Don’t miss other images in his gallery, including some wonderful macrophotography.

Amberd fortress, XI-XIII century by Suren Manvelyan       via his website

from the Night Armenian Grammar series by Suren Manvelyan               via Behance

from the Nightscapes of the Armenian Spirit by Suren Manvelyan             via Behance



Guilhem Nicolas aka Jadikan-LP (the LP standing for Lighting Project), is most often brash and wild, often seeing light painting as a performing art, but in this series he paints with light in, well, a painterly way.  I love his greens and blues, the deep spaces, the dingy and unmemorable given strange life.

Red, like indigo, is very close to black.  I’ve seen very little red light used in these place-scapes, for a reason.  It’s so artificial you expect Space Cadets to arrive with the weaponry du jour.  Rockets covered in tinfoil.  The only natural light in these places that would be red is in a forest fire — and then the image is about fire more than about place.

With the first three photographers we’ve looked at there is an impulse to showcase real places, not to dominate them.  In the works Jadikan did in Italy, below, naturalism is limited to using the cool palette  We believe these are abandoned night-time spaces, there’s not a noisy boulevard a block away.  My favorite is first, it seems the freest and its color is clear, less broken, more decisive for the eye.

His other work is also worth your while, including the videos cited below.  He did some spectacular work in Nepal and his artistic imagination keeps morphing and growing in an exciting way.

all three images from the Spectres (Italie) series by Jadikan-LP          via his website

Over the past week I’ve been pulled into the world of light painting with unexpected suction.  The more I read and look, the bigger the field is, the more I love what the best artists are doing.  This is a fairly new artform, relying on batteries and ingenious devices, and you can imagine the artistic space it has yet to colonize.

Next post: Drawing and writing with light.


look further:

Jarrett Murphy Photography, Fine Art and Landscape Photography

Tim Simmons – image series

Suren Manvelyan


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