View Full Version : Shadow and cast shadow colors

online art
01-19-2002, 04:59 AM
I sometimes find it difficult to choose/see the correct colors to use for the shadow side and cast shadow areas. I normally paint wildlife and the fur markings seem to make the colors more difficult to see.

Here's my dilemma this time - Zebra on raw sienna (warm tinge) type of grass. Is there a kind of formula that will point me in the correct direction? Like - object color + complement + reflected light?

I bet this has been answered sooo many times, I'd be greatful for a link to the thread if there is one.

Hope someone can help to clear this up for me (I paint in oils).


Mary Kay
01-19-2002, 09:21 PM
Hi Jason,

Deciding the color of shadows is something I've always found difficult too. There are probably as many ways to figure this out as there are artists, and what may work for one painting may not work for the next one. But here's what MOST OFTEN works for me...

The color of the shadow is the compliment of the color of the light source.

I forget where I learned this, but it was very difficult for me to put into practice. It makes the shadows look like they belong on the object/landscape/figure. A gray shadow color flattens and deadens the shape, but the compliment enlivens it.

The challenge is to figure out what is the color of the light. Then the color of the shadow is easy. I usually start with determining the time of day...morning and evening light would be warm, so the shadows would be cool. Midday light is cool, so the shadows would be warm. The color of the light would depend on the atmosphere you choose...sunny/cloudy/rainy etc.

I now try to make a decision about the color of light before lI start to paint, and that color tones the light areas of the painting. It is a very subtle suggestion of color, but when the shadow is added it looks like it fits. I also throw in reflected color if it is needed, this is not just a flat wash. I work in watercolor, but this will work for oils. color theory is color theory.

Try some samples before you tackle your painting. Good Luck. Mary Kay

cobalt fingers
01-19-2002, 10:25 PM
I posted a reply whered it go?

online art
01-20-2002, 05:11 AM
Thanks for the replies so far.

I understand the complement theory, my main problem with this painting is that the subject - zebra - is black and white - so what are their complements?

Cobalt fingers - I also posted this in the oil forum, your answer is there - thanks.

Please keep the answers coming.


01-20-2002, 01:30 PM
Jason, it's a little difficult to be specific without a source image to go on as the same situation - zebra and yellow grass - could have quite a number of quite different shadow colours given different lighting conditions and other environmental factors.

If you are painting this from a specific image or images, look carefully at the shadow areas on the zebra and try to ignore everything but its colour; a small hole punched in a card will often allow you to perceive this more easily when positioned over parts of an image so you can ignore extraneous detail. If you are painting this from your head then you can pretty much choose how to depict the shadow depending on your personal vision, although I would strongly suggest references if realism is your goal.

In this case as a rough guide I might use various mixes of Burnt Umber, Ultramarine, Ivory Black and Titanium White of course, for the basic shadows, with the reflected light areas mixed from Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Titanium White and Cobalt Blue.

Object colour + complement is a good general rule to follow, with the lighting and environment generally taken into account for the reflected lights within the shadow areas. As Mary says, the complement to the lightsource colour has a bearing but that doesn't mean if the light is yellow the shadows will automatically be violet-tinged. Close study of real-world situations is vital to developing a practical appreciation of this effect and although not ideal, photos are a good long-term reference as lighting conditions are generally fleeting en plein air. Once you have developed your eye for colour actually mixing the right result comes next and a few good colour theory/practice books are worth having, Blue And Yellow Don't Make Green is my favourite. Then all you have to do is practice, practice, practice ;)

Hope this helps,

online art
01-20-2002, 01:54 PM
All the tips have really helped, thanks Mary and Einion for taking the time to go into such detail, I know it must be a bit boring going over things like this with a mere novice.

Einion - The color suggestions you gave are the ones more or less that I am using so it is very comforting to feel that I am going along the right lines.

I don't expect perfection as I am on quite a steep learning curve, but I feel that this painting, which I thought would be relatively easy, is turning into a challenge, from which I am discovering lots of new things about light.

Who knows I may even be brave enough to post it here when finished, so that you can all give me tips on how it could have been improved.


01-23-2002, 03:20 PM
If you want to follow the color complement thing, you would add cool purplish to make the shadow on the warm yellow grass. For the shadows on the black and white zebra, I would stick to black with hints of reflected colors added. (Blue from the sky, yellow from the grass etc)

01-23-2002, 05:40 PM
Just a note that a raw umber, venetian red mixture can be magic for difficult shadows on the human face.

online art
01-27-2002, 01:19 PM
Thanks everyone for the tips.

The painting is almost done now and the shadows appear to be working. I'll post a picture of it once it's completed.

As long as there are no disasters in the mean time.LOL.



01-28-2002, 04:07 AM
you can use theory of practical application as an answer. one will work better than the other. but it is hard to answer because i can't view your situation. so online,,,,can you post the image or reference you're using......{M}