The Pastel Classroom
Creating Shadows with Complements
This is a 5.5 x 8.5 inch study I did from a reference library photo by olika. (This is as close as I’m going to get to gingham, Preston!)
I’ve only been doing using oil pastels for a year and since I’m still learning I feel that I’m not really a qualified teacher, so am considering this thread as more of a study group type thing, where we can all experiment and learn together. So please consider that this is just my way of creating shadows and folds and that maybe I can also learn a few different approaches from some of you too.
First, this is done with a limited palette. I know that some of you don’t have complete sets of Ops and I wanted to show how much just a few colors can convey. I do have the Holbeins and gain an extra advantage by having 5 tones of each color. But one of the nice things about Ops is that you can add white to tone down strength. The colors I used are:
2. cerulean blue
3. ultramarine light
4. oxide yellow
5. red violet
6. antique orange
Another thing I wanted to explore was the use of complementary colors for shadows. I’ve tried doing this many times, only to end up with mud. I knew the principle was to use the opposite, or complementary, color to dull the intensity of a color and to make interesting grays for shadows. But I discovered that using the shade that is the EXACT opposite on the color wheel makes a lovely color with no muddy effect, and that using the wrong shade of a color can create the mud. So I really advise pulling out that old color chart when you choose your palette (and if you don’t have one it’s a very cheap investment). All of the shadow areas here were made with a mix of the basic color and a complement. I chose blue for the shadows in the white, but used an orange to dull the intensity and create the shadow areas, and used the red-violet for the yellow areas. I laid down the basic color…either the yellow or the base blue and then went over it with the complement. Sometimes I had to do a couple layers of each to get the effect I wanted. But the secret is to sort of lightly skim the top color over the bottom color. OP’s can be very opaque if applied heavily and you don’t want to lose the base color. In some of the very dark areas I allowed the purple to show (egg shadow and shadow area behind the eggs) and in some areas I completely blended to a new color (far left shadow areas). I think it created a real pleasing new color that I don’t have in my 45 color Holbein palette.
A note about shadow areas here…
Shadows tend to come out as solid black areas in photos. But in real life they have color and some light. So before you start painting really study the ref pic or still life you’ve set up, so you will be able to lose the ‘black holes’.
Try to understand why the shadow is cast in a certain position and whether it is a weak shadow or strong one. Shadows will be the same color as the material under them, only dulled in intensity. If the object is white, like the eggs, it will reflect color from the surrounding areas in both shadow and highlighted areas. Three dimensional objects also show reflected light at the edges. This is really exaggerated in the eggs, which is why I chose them to demonstrate this principle. The dark area is where the sharpest curve is and very little light hits there. The lower area catches refracted light from the surrounding areas and picks up local color. The flash diluted some of the colors, but you can see the yellow and blue reflected back on the white of the egg.
A strong light source will create sharp dark shadows and a more diffused light will cast softer edged, lighter shadows. Another advantage of using complements for shadow areas is that you get a nice cool/warm play of colors in your piece.
Folds of cloth can be intimidating. I made some color change choices to keep it a little simpler, just going with a two-color stripe. The highest areas will have the most light, along with the areas that have the strongest concentration of light (like under the eggs where the shadow does not fall). Light spills over the edges of soft folds. You can create sharp meeting areas, but if you want to mimic the softness then you need a transition color area midway between the light and the shadow. If you want folds or the edges of the eggs to come forward then you need to put a slightly darker value behind the light area. The fold directly below the eggs has a fold in front of it and where they meet both had a very light value. So at the very edge of the back fold I put a slightly darker tone in. It still looks light but it gives the illusion of being behind the front fold. I also use my strokes to follow the shape of the cloth, I think this helps to lead the eye.
So, the class study assignment this month is to attempt to do an egg on cloth study. If you are just at the beginning stage using OP’s you can start with just trying an egg by itself (including the shadow it casts) and a small crop of a folded cloth done separately. If you are intermediate I’m providing this image from the reference library (submitted by Fagan)…
(for larger version)
this is a little simpler fold-wise and you’re only dealing with a single color.
If you are advanced try the same ref pic by olika that I used…
and of course anyone can set up their own still life with eggs and a cloth and some strong directional light to cast strong shadows.
Some notes to help out the beginners…start with a good sketch. I had a photo of mine but it was too washed out by the flash to use for this demo. I used a yellow ochre prismacolor pencil and sketched lightly. To get the egg shape just sketch little short lines…think of going around a clock and use a general clock position to head for…you do want a general oval shape but it doesn’t have to be exact, as all eggs are a little differently shaped. Try a couple practice eggs on scrap paper first. If you do the lines VERY lightly they can be adjusted quite a bit with no erasing. The folds are done the same way….figure out which position of the clock hands that each fold is headed, think of the distances they go…the top fold may be ½ as long, or twice as long as the fold below it, etc. If you sketch lightly you can adjust.
The egg needs to be covered with white before you add your shadows, and then VERY lightly drag your shadow colors where you want them. If it’s too dark you can add a touch more white to lighten it or gently blot up some of the strong color with a folded edge of a paper towel or a clean tortillon. You can use a tool to push the background up to the edge of the egg. Since you already have the white laid down it’s easy to clean up the edges if you’re careful. Remember that if a color is too strong that you can dull it down with its complementary color…use the same or a lighter value and just barely skim it over. Don’t forget to try the complements for the shadow areas.
Please post your studies in this thread, along with any questions and comments you have. If you use a different technique than shown here, please explain your approach for us. Critiques will be part of this so that we can help each other grow, but please point out the strong areas as well as any weak areas and be kind. Comments on improvement for my study are also invited.
I’d also really appreciate some suggestions for things we’d like to explore in future classes….subjects, techniques, etc. This exercise really helped me to learn and I might not have gotten around to figuring out shadows created by complements without the push to come up with something for us all to work on. I think it’s kind of cool to have a study group as I, like many of you, am self-taught for the most part. It’s all fine and dandy to read things in a book or WIP, but we can’t really learn until we’ve applied the principles ourselves.
Please feel free to correct anything that I’ve stated that is not right, as I said I’m learning too! I hope you have fun with this exercise and am really looking forward to seeing the results and maybe learning a couple more things myself.
(Special thanks to olika and Fagan for their wonderful ref pics!)