What I learned from Vermeer

I started this watercolor over a year ago.  It was a part of a series of drawings of women doing various thing and I had the idea that maybe someday when I got better at oils I would paint them.  But I thought I’d do some watercolor sketches first.  I got it to this stage:

and then I got stuck.  I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it, so I stuck it in a box and forgot about it.

At the Vermeer exhibit earlier this fall I remembered this series.  In the painting I posted, there is a similar lighting scheme: cool light in the foreground and warm light from outside the door.  I suddenly realized that what was wrong with my watercolor was a third source of light: the foreground was much too bright and it sapped the light from the window and door.  It’s such a simple lesson but it’s easy to forget: if you want to make something look bright put something dark next to it.