Light and Shadow


Trick question — which drawing is 3 dimensional?

Answer – neither. They are both 2 dimensional although the one on the right looks like it is 3D. That is because of light and shadow.

To create paintings and drawings in realistic style, or as I like to say, so that you don’t have to explain, you must understand that you as the artist are really an illusionist.

The first step in creating an illusion of dimension requires an understanding of light and shadow. Luckily, it is really easy.

First decide where the light is coming from. When in doubt, make it come from over your left shoulder for the most pleasing results.

Form shadows are the shadows on the object itself. They give the object the appearance of dimension.

To create realistic form shadows, paint your object in a medium shade color. For instance, if your object is red, paint it a medium shade of red. At this stage it will look flat.

NOW for the magic — paint a small area of the object a lighter shade of red where the light hits it and blend this lighter red into the medium red as you move further away from the light source. This is called the highlight. The shinier your object, the lighter the highlight color should be.

Paint the object a darker shade of red on the side furthest away from the light source and blend it into the medium shade. This section is called the shadow. Again, the shinier the object, the darker the shadow.

Your object should now look 3 dimensional. But you are not quite done yet, it’s time to create a cast shadow which is caused because the object itself blocks light.

A cast shadow appears on the surface that the object is sitting on. Start with a dark gray paint and thin it out with airbrush medium. Paint a gray shadow in the shape of the object on the surface, getting lighter and thinner as you move away from the object.

Not quite finished — Take a thin liner brush and paint a thin black line where the object meets the surface. This is called an occlusion shadow and it is always the darkest part of the shadow.

The more you study light and shadow, the easier it is to create the illusion in your paintings. Experiment by shining a flashlight on an object that is sitting on a white sheet of paper. Move the flashlight around the object and observe the form and cast shadows. You will soon discover that as you move the light source away from the object, the cast shadow gets longer but lighter in shade.

Once you feel comfortable, try painting trees in the snow and have fun with light and shadow.