Monday, 22 February 2010

My Shadows Look Like Black Splodges

Painting shadows may tempt the beginner into darkening the colour with black or dark brown. The resultant effect may be a painting that appears to contain solid black pools beneath trees and foliage. The beginner may represent shadows in the same way, making each shadow appear to repeat throughout the painting with a jarring effect, taking the eye from the intended focal point.

The Causes of Poorly Painted Shadows

The problem with shadows is that because they are not solid objects, the beginner may not treat them with as much importance. The following practices will often spoil a painting containing shadows:
  • Using black or dark brown on its own, or mixed with another colour to represent shadows
  • Darkening a colour with black
  • Using one colour for all the shadows within a painting
  • Illustrating shadows as having a definite shape with harsh outlines
  • Assuming that all shadows point the same way from a particular viewpoint, making shadows appear to “sprout” from objects at the same direction throughout the painting
  • Forgetting to take shadows into account within a composition, resulting in a painting with shadows spilling off the edge of a painting
  • Trying to paint shadows from memory
  • Using shadows as a gap filler within an empty area of painting
See my Youtube clip on painting autumn shadows before reading the following tips.

How to Paint Shadows

More realistic shadows can be achieved with the following tips on painting shadows:
  • Put the black paint in the bin
  • Darken a colour by introducing its complimentary colour. Green for instance, can be darkened with any colour containing red, such as red itself, violet, burnt sienna, Indian red or permanent rose
  • But shadows also contain a host of different colours, depending upon reflections and lighting conditions. Unlikely colours, such as greens, earth colours and violets can often be seen in shadows
  • Shadows contain varying tones, from pale to dark. Part of a shadow, for instance, may reflect a summer sky, making part of it appear a pale blue. Another part of the same shadow will appear darker
  • Shadows have different types of outlines. Shadows cast from far objects will appear diffuse; shadows cast by nearby objects will have sharper outlines. A shadow from a tree, for instance, will have different outlines depending upon the height from which the shadow was cast
  • Shadows will appear to point in different directions if the viewer is facing the source of light. Similarly, shadows spilling over a wall will change direction according to the contour of the surface
Make Shadows Interesting in Painting

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There are lots of opportunities for making shadows more interesting in a painting. A shadow spilling over different contours, such as a brick wall will create a focal point. Dappled shadows on a bright day or lengthening shadows over a lawn in the evening cannot fail to draw the eye. Viewing shadows from unusual angles, such as pointing directly at the viewer will make shadows the focal point within a painting.

Essential Art Materials Required for Painting Shadows

The following pigments will prove invaluable when painting shadows and can be used as a base colour: burnt sienna, burnt umber, ultramarine blue, permanent rose and white, although other colours will be seen within shadows. A good photographic resource or still life setting with shadows is also invaluable. Keeping it simple is the key for the beginner.

But great satisfaction can be sought from painting shadows outdoors from life, in which case, the changing lighting conditions will need to be taken into account. It is advisable to paint the shadow element of a painting simultaneously, before they shift direction too much.

Related Articles on Painting Shadows

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