View Full Version : HALFTONE - is it light or shadow?

aspiring artist
06-01-2002, 09:56 AM
If we describe the HALFTONE as the area that is neither light nor shadow, but somewhere in between . . . . . . .

........And faced with doing a graphic portrait value study in ONLY two values: black and white, to represent shadow and light, respectively - - - where do you chose to place the halftones?
In the shadow area, [using black], or in the light area [using white]?

The project demands seeing these three values:
1. light
2. shadow
3. halftone

BUT ....... choosing to place the halftone in either the (1.) light side of the drawing,
the (2.) shadow side of the drawing.

There can only be two values in the final drawing - - - - - light and shadow, depicted by black and white ONLY.

So - again the question is:

When you see areas in a face (or a vase for that matter) that are obviously not in the light, but neither are they in the shadow, and therefore are "halftones" - - - - - if halftones MUST join only one of two teams, Team # 1 - LIGHT, or Team # 2 - SHADOW ........... which team does the halftone choose to play on?

Thanks again in advance for any clarification or opinion.

06-01-2002, 02:49 PM
This used to be called a lith or line image in repro work, where a normal greyscale picture would be converted to only two values by copying or printing to high-contrast film or paper which could only record black or white. In images of this kind there are no longer any halftones, but rather areas where the halftone has been converted to highlight or shadow - basically if the tint was less than 50% it becomes white, more than 50% it becomes black.

If you're making this determination 'manually' it's a bit more difficult as you have to choose for every area, but once you've done it for a while it becomes second nature. As a starting point, try converting a couple of images to bitmaps to use as handy guides to how you might tackle certain tricky transitions, in Photoshop use the "50% threshold" option at the top, which should be the default. In PSP posterize, selecting 2 levels, for similar a result. In both cases you have to start with greyscales.

You might see areas of graded tone are sometimes converted poorly, giving a sort of speckled appearance, as a result doing this by hand can give better results. Taken to extremes, this method produces images similar to some black and white logos, but these tend to be very slick and smoothly contoured without any 'organic' feel.


aspiring artist
06-01-2002, 06:43 PM
~ Einion ~

Thank you!
Thank you!
Thank you!

06-03-2002, 11:03 PM
half tone is taught poorly and by teachers who don't know or can't explain. this is why students STILL have questions. halftone causes more confusion than just about any aspect of painting i know.

halftone is in light,,,,,that is why you can "see" it. there is no such thing as "kind of in light and kind of in shadow". it either is or isn't. and since you paint form by painting light,,,,it is in the light that you should place your emphasis.

you're better off not worrying about halftone, and simply paint what you see in light and what you see in shadow(only with less emphasis).

the more you worry about halftone, the muddier your form will be, because chances are you won't know where the halftone is. so,,,forget the semantics........{M}

06-09-2002, 04:30 PM
I ran the same picture in an editor and did it full range of gray, then 5 value steps. There is diffuse light so there is no real "out of the light" which is a much more common condition indoors, so I have a lightest light, a darkest dark and 3 value steps in the middle.
The last one is only 2.
It is really easy to see in how a computer looks at things what the sages above were talking about...

06-10-2002, 03:33 AM
dj,,,,i didn't say anything related to your example. maybe einion did......{M}

06-10-2002, 03:38 AM
if it is a flip of a coin (ie: 2 values) the bulk of the halftones are in the light.
The descriptive part averaged into the white and only the darkest dark were necessary to describe the form.
They ARE what you see. They are not the part in the dark.
I even thought my all gray tone picture made it even more clear... oh well.
HOWEVER I do understand what you are saying about NOT getting all wrapped up in it. The details are what hold it together, not the value shifts.

06-10-2002, 04:15 PM
actually, if you took out the whites on the forehead, cheek, and nose of the middle image,,,,,it would be better. and to clarify, it has nothing to do with halftone.

simply,,,,,artists shouldn't bother with halftone until they understand values.....{M}

06-22-2002, 09:32 AM
Aspiring, I was doing a technique experiment the other day which was easy to modify and shows the 50:50 split in a simple way. See how the five values of the dress have been compressed?

You can also see how manually tweaking certain areas would help to keep an area "readable" so that you don't end up with a hole in the image like here where the gap under the bust and the front of the dress merge to form a featureless blank. If I was doing this specifically to be a black and white image I would either change the background to white or add some small touches of reflected light to help show form.

aspiring artist
07-06-2002, 08:56 AM
Thank you, Einion!

You have nailed it for me, and I appreciate your time and effort. I've copied and printed out your answer for future reference.
I had a feeling the answer wasn't that complicated, but my poorly-worded question led everyone off on various paths.

Thanks for showing the way easily and with excellent visuals.

Now I'm thinking that as artists, it is up to US to *see* where to place the halftone (in this exercise only) in either the shadow or the light IN ORDER TO DESCRIBE fully what we are hoping to depict to our viewers.

So - in essence, there are no hard and fast rules, would you say? We take our own vision into account, and do what's best for the art work, with the goal of revealing what we wish about the subject.

07-07-2002, 04:48 AM
Hiya, you're welcome. Some people would argue there are no hard-and-fast rules at all in art, which I agree with up to a point; for this type of image, the choice is very much up to the individual where to put the stress. If you look at the background in my example you'll see the 50% breakpoint in the graduation from light to dark is treated as a hard line, which doesn't work very well; all-white or all-black would both be better here I think. If you look at DJ's example, I would probably put the stress exactly as done automatically but you could just as easily shift the boundary to stress the shadows more.


08-02-2002, 08:46 PM
Originally posted by aspiring artist

Now I'm thinking that as artists, it is up to US to *see* where to place the halftone (in this exercise only) in either the shadow or the light IN ORDER TO DESCRIBE fully what we are hoping to depict to our viewers.

either i'm not reading what you're saying correctly, or you're not meaning what you're saying, or you will end up with mud.

halftone is in the light.

shadow,,,,is in the shadow. form is described in the light. that is where the halftone lies as it describes color and form turning away from the light, BUT STILL IN LIGHT. shadow punctuates shape........{M}

aspiring artist
08-03-2002, 08:45 AM
Thank you for your clarification, Bruin70!

Isn't it a shame that there are so many ambiguous terms when it comes to the names chosen to depict light and shadow as it models form?

In my reading, I've come across, (in addition to halftone), turning edge, shadow, body tone, body shadow, core shadow, and mass shadow.

Would you distill it down to these 6 (below)? Or do you have a clearer terminology you could share for these designations?

Moving from light ------ to -----> shadow:

1. highlight
2. light
3. halftone
4. shadow
5. core shadow
6. reflected light
7. cast shadow

Any input, or is that fairly close?

08-03-2002, 11:04 AM
Things are not necessarily one thing or the other (I was going to say this is not a black and white issue but that would be too painful a pun) and in a very real sense halftones are neither in the light or in the shadow - as you put it yourself, it is neither light nor shadow but the transition zone between the two.

Regardless of opinions on the matter, which are mostly semantics, one doesn't need to get hung up on terminology as long as you can see and reproduce the effects, especially since some terms are used vaguely from artist to artist.

Your local library might have Sanden's Painting The Head In Oil which I highly recommend as a painting guide anyway, but the book is also valuable for lighting terminology in describing form. His newer books (sorry can't remember the titles) I haven't seen in the flesh but from the scans of a number of the pages look equally good.


08-03-2002, 03:06 PM
the reason i am so adamant about this issue is that it is the one painting problem that rears its ugly head time and time again,,,,year after year. aspiring's question is very typical,,,,and instead of spending time SEEING, everyone worries about definitions. and what i end up seeing is artist's who paint their form(usually heads) in middle tone because their "HALFTONE" is in the wrong place or there's too much of it, because they "couldn't find it". but as i said E, though it's a transition area(and i think this is why people get confused),,,,,it is still in light since it is the light that shows it. and so it is better to say there is just light and shadow. really, the "aspiring" artists who are most successful at painting clearly simply paint what they see and don't think about definitions.

and for practical application,,,,,,

hilites...DON'T THINK ABOUT 'EM !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
another very bad misinterpretation by artists. and i take that back,,,hilites are even MORE misunderstood than halftone:):):) hilites are ACCENTS and NOT form light. the best example of erroneous interpretations is the nose, which catches lots of hilite. artists invariably use the hilite on the nose as form light.

light...form light. light that caresses the form and describes it.

halftone...i am afraid if i gave a definition, we would be no better off because people will still spend too much time looking for it.

core shadow...forget this one because you shouldn't make a big deal about it. but simply, core shadow is shadow that has very little reflected light. DON'T PAINT CORE SHADOW!!!!!!! it will be there in your painting when you add your reflcted light.

reflected light...there are varying degrees of reflected light. it is ambient light that hits the shadow area. most obvious would be an egg on a table cloth. that light you see in the shadow area comes from bouncing off the tablecloth. the darker the source of the reflected light(darker tablecloth), a difference in color,,,,,will change the strength of the reflected light. reflected light can also be vague,,,,the atmosphere around the form will throw some illumination on the form.

cast shadow....shadow CAST by the form itself. like your shadow on the sidewalk. so you have two shadows,,,form shadow and cast shadow.

i tried to simplify the definitions as much as possible. the shadow and reflected light business is more complicated but i'm trying to avoid that.

IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO PAINT WHAT YOU SEE BECAUSE IT IS ALL THERE IN FRONT OF YOU. these definitions are for when you are trying to explain things to others and a bit of catagorizing is required :) so don't think about them, just be aware of them......{M}

08-03-2002, 07:07 PM
later on, i think i'll post some examples and try to give you a practical use or nonuse of these light/shadow elements......{M}

aspiring artist
08-25-2002, 08:11 PM
Bruin70 - - - - - Thank you for your offer to post some examples.

Drew Davis
08-27-2002, 04:16 PM
Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.
-- G.K. Chesterton