Chiaroscuro: A battle between light and dark

Chiaroscuro (English: /kiˌɑːrəˈsk(j)ʊəroʊ/ kee-AR-ə-SKOOR-oh, -⁠SKURE-, Italian: ; Italian for ‘light-dark’), in art, is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition.

Also, afaik, this technique is used by the great Italian painter Caravaggio. Now, I don’t know much about this technique to be able to talk about it in detail. But this blog is about my attempt to do it.

My experience

I wanted to paint a black and white tiger painting and, for some reason, I am stuck.

There’s always this sense of “awe and wonder” that I cannot seem to capture in my paintings. It really frustrates me.

I was talking to my friend about it and she mentioned Caravaggio. It was a lightbulb moment. Maybe this is something that I need to look into.

I learned that in chiaroscuro you need 3 things:

  • leverage your midtones
  • emphasize your shadows and
  • be precise with your highlights

Now, this is a self-taught artist’s understanding. If you are taught differently in art school then do follow that (and maybe share it with me 😄)

How I did it

I started by using Burnt Umber to draw my outline in the canvas. I also used it to emphazies my shadows. It was a pretty neat trick, actually. Having that Burnt Umber as a base for my shadows, it was easier to darken it and blend it with my highlights. It became a good guide.

After that I just continued adding more black and white. Blending it together and painting it in layers until I am satisifed. Here’s how it went:

How was my experience?

I think all in all it was a fun learning experience. I think I am learning more techniques and I am going deeper into the technicality of painting. I am not just smearing paint into the canvas but I am growing as an artist and gaining an in-depth knowledge about art.

I am happy and satisfied with the result but It got me thinking “Is it time for me to enroll in an art course?”. As much as possible, I want to learn on my own and discover things as I go but, somehow, this “self-taught process” is leaving me frustrated and confused on what to do next. It would be nice to have a mentor.

We’ll see… I am still thinking about it.


In conclusion, I learned the following:

  • Burnt Umber is a good base for this technique. I see its value.
  • Don’t be aftraid to add more shadows. Oil paint is very forgiving. It is easy to paint over it.
  • NEVER BUY A CHEAP OIL PAINT! 🤣 A thicker oil paint is really good for blending colors and creating a realistic looking painting. Cheap oil paint are good for beginners who wants to try palette knife.
  • Appreciate your friends. They are a great source of valuable feedback and encouragement.
  • Believe in yourself and follow your gut! By the end of the day, the only person that you need to impress is you.

That’s it! I hope you had fun reading it as much as I had fun writing it! If you are interested to purchase the painting, please visit my shop. See you on the next article! 😊

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Jitty Creative Studio

Jitty Creative Studio

Artist from the Philippines. Lives in Europe. Lover of Life. Follower of Christ.