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Old 04-05-2009, 02:49 PM
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Dariba Dariba is offline
Radium Hot Springs, BC
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Warm light cool shadows..how?

I have a question regarding the rule where if you have warm light, the shadows should be cool and vice versa.

Please bear with me, being that I am new to oil painting and this may be obvious to a lot of you.

I usually use the technique of lowering chroma in shadow areas by adding its complement. Does this process also create a "cooler" shadow at the same time, if the subject is warm and a "warm" shadow if the subject is cool? Or is this rule of thumb applied only to cast shadows and not body shadows?

Or, do you paint your body and/or cast shadows with a cooler/warmer version of the non shadow hue and also desaturate it by adding its complement (or grey if that is the method you use to reduce chroma)?

Sorry, these are a lot of questions, but I really want to improve my technique and I am finding shadows difficult.

Thanks for your help.
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Old 04-05-2009, 04:39 PM
dcorc dcorc is offline
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Re: Warm light cool shadows..how?

Please see


and also this thread:
particularly the discussions on pages 9 & 10 there.

I don't believe that "warm" and "cool" is a very helpful way of thinking about it - its vague and imprecise. Mostly it means lower chroma in the shadows, which is then often exaggerated and misinterpreted as complementary hue (fine, if you want to exaggerate it as a deliberate artistic choice - but not just as a mistake, eh?). (Daylight with its blue shadows is a special case -see the discussion in the first link)

Instead of trying to derive formulas, why not accurately observe what's happening and paint the correct colours? (I'm trying to get people to think more about accurate nuanced colour-identification - where you end up is more important than what you mix it from).

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Old 04-05-2009, 08:45 PM
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Ron Francis Ron Francis is offline
Tasmania Australia
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Re: Warm light cool shadows..how?

I will be a bit blunt and say that you can throw that rule out the window if you want to try to reproduce realism.
It doesn't happen in real life.

The colour of a shadow depends completely on the colour of its light source.
Outdoors, shadowed skin will look cooler (more precisely lose chroma) because the sky is blue and is basically the complementary of skin.
But a blue object will increase in chroma under skylight!
Also, a person may be standing on grass so the underneath parts of the shadow will be lit by the green of the grass.
This will generally make the hue of the skin go toward green and not lose chroma.
The end result may be yellow skin (that will look right when seen in context).

In an interior with warm walls, shadowed skin will increase in chroma and the hue will go toward red. Using cooler skin, or mixing in a complementary in this case can't work unless you're going for a special effect.

Maybe it will be helpful to break this down into a simple example.
Imagine an object in an interior with white walls, floor and ceiling, that is lit by a white light.
The light reflecting off the white walls will also be white.
Now the only difference between the direct light and the reflected light is the intensity of the light. It has the same spectral content.
Logically then, the hue and chroma of the object will be the same on the lit side and the shadowed side, but the shadowed side will be a lower intensity.
This also applies to a cast shadow.
If the object is on a white floor, then its cast shadow is lit by the white reflecting off the walls and therefore the hue will be neutral.

So the bottom line is, look to see what the light source for the shadow is and see how that is going to effect the colour of the shadow.
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Old 04-06-2009, 12:38 AM
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Dariba Dariba is offline
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Re: Warm light cool shadows..how?

Dave and Ron;

Thanks for your comments. I will go through those threads and try to figure this out better. Perhaps one of my biggest issues is that to this point I am painting from photographs that I have taken and the shadow detail is generally the least accurately captured part of a photograph.

Thanks again for commenting.

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