Here is a quick recap of what The Spotlight is all about!
The Spotlight is an activity thread for pastel artists of all experience levels working from photos chosen by a monthly host. Most months, the host will choose photos from only one subject, putting that subject into “the spotlight,” so to speak! For example, one month the subject will be painting water, another month will spotlight flowers, etc.
Some months, rather than spotlight a subject, the focus will be on a challenge of some sort. In those cases, we might have a wider variety of photo references, but “the spotlight” will be on the challenge itself.
Since this is a group activity, we can pool our knowledge and resources, and grow as artists in a fun, “no-pressure” atmosphere. And no critiques unless specifically asked for. The intent is to have fun, try new things, experiment, and perhaps most of all, to see what our friends and colleagues are painting from the same reference material!
Please note: The photos this month are taken by me, or are from the Reference Image Library. You have permission to use the photos as reference to create your artwork and to sell them and/or exhibit them. The actual photos still retain the copyright of the photographer. So you cannot copy the photo to your blog, for example, without the permission of the photographer, or digitally alter or reproduce the photo for any purpose other than for your personal use, with the exception of crops, digital alterations and posts of these photos within "The Spotlight" thread.
This month’s Spotlight is on…Shadows!
An entire book could probably be written about painting shadows, but I will try to restrain myself and keep it as brief as possible!
As usual, this Spotlight will contain many of my own observations, as well as things I’ve learned over the years. Always keep in mind that your observations may differ and that there are many ways to do things when it comes to art!
When we talk about shadows in art, we are referring to any part of the scene that does not receive direct light from the main light source. This includes both the shadowed parts of objects and cast shadows.
On a very basic level, I usually follow the principle that shadows are a darker and duller version of the color in the light. So a banana or a yellow flower might be a nice bright yellow in the light and a darker, duller yellow (in other words – a dull brown) in the shadow. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same color yellow – but in the general yellow family.
The top color sample is in the direct light, the bottom sample is in the shadow. Notice the middle swatch – this is just before the light turns to shadow and is often the area of the most intense color.
But even though the shadow sides of objects and cast shadows don’t receive direct light, there is almost always some additional source of light that illuminates shadows to a certain degree. Secondary sources of light can be the sky, additional artificial lights, and light reflecting off nearby walls, ceilings, objects, etc.
So let’s revise our basic shadow principle: Shadows are a darker and duller version of the color in the light, plus the colors that are introduced into the shadows by a secondary light source and/or by reflected light from nearby surfaces or objects.
In the above photo we see that the grass in the sunshine is a yellowish green. The grass in shadow is a darker green, but more on the bluish side due to the effect of a secondary light source – the blue sky. The path might be categorized as gray, but in the sun it is a warm (almost pinkish) gray. In the shadow it is a blue gray, again because of the blue sky light shining into the shadow. Just so we don’t think it is all just a formula, I included a swatch from the more diffuse shadow near the walkers. That shadow must be getting a bit of diffuse sunlight, so it is warmer in color (little or no blue) than the darker shadow and not as dark.
Notice that shadows are essentially transparent, so where the one large shadow shape goes from the path to the grass, it changes color – because the surfaces that it falls on are different colors.
Even though I have used color swatches in the above examples, I would like to emphasize that I don’t think it is necessary to try to match colors exactly – or even particularly closely. Art is not just about scientific accuracy, it is about personal expression. And the use of color is one of the best ways for an artist to express themselves! In my opinion, when it comes to representational art, values and colors need to be believable
, not necessarily 100% scientifically accurate.
Here are some more observations about shadows:
A cast shadow is darkest and has the sharpest edges the closer it is to the casting object. The cast shadow will lighten and its edges will become more diffuse as the distance increases, as we can see below:
The value difference between light and shadow decreases as objects become more distant due to the effects of atmospheric perspective, as demonstrated by the paired swatches below:
On a hazy or foggy day with more atmosphere to see through, the effect is even greater. The value difference between light and shadow become negligible and the objects become silhouettes within a shorter distance.
The above two photos also shows that the value difference between light and shadow is greater when the light source is strong and direct, as opposed to diffuse. Here’s another example:
I know, you can’t see the sky in these pics, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it was very sunny with a clear blue sky on the left, and more diffuse sunlight shining through some high clouds on the right. Notice also how much more blue the shadow is on the clear day! So even though we can’t see the sky, we can tell by the shadows which day was clearer/hazier and what the color of the sky was!
Apparently, there is a fair amount of light “bouncing” off the clouds, the snow (and perhaps other things) to add subtle differences in color and value within the shadow. This effect helps make the shadow appear transparent because we can still see subtle details and changes in the planes of the surface. But those differences in value are much smaller than the difference in value between the light and shadow, so those “lighter” areas within the shadow still easily read as part of the shadow. If you squint, those subtle differences will disappear and the shadow will appear as one shadow shape.
Here are a few examples from one of the greatest painters of shadow and light (in my opinion) – Joaquin Sorolla.
Here is a blow-up:
A couple things I notice:
As the shadow goes from #1 to #3, notice how the color and value of the shadow changes depending on the color and value of the object that it appears on.
I see some wonderful touches of reflected light including the small touch of skin tone reflecting on her clothing just to the left of the #4, some sand color just under the #1, as well subtle touches of both warm and cool colors throughout all the shadows.
Again these color and value changes within the shadow are very subtle so that the shadow shape still appears to be one shadow shape, not a bunch of smaller shapes. The shadow colors are also not intense, but stay duller than the colors in light.
I picked this example for the shadow across the sandy beach. Look at that variety of colors! Blues reflecting from the sky along with some rich dark earth colors, too! Also some purples and some of the blue-greens of the water are mixed in, as well. Are all those color really reflecting into the shadows? Maybe – or maybe not, but you can usually add some hints of other colors that you use in your painting to the shadows to help balance and unify the painting as a whole! Remember, it’s a painting, not science!
And once again, the differences in value and color intensity are subtle so that the shadow reads as one shape. Again, if you squint, the shadow shape should be clearly unified as one shape.
Here is a wonderful example of reflected light on the man’s left sleeve. Notice the brown/orange color in the shadow of the upper sleeve – reflecting that yellow-orange color of the wall behind him. Also notice the green reflected light within the shadow around the elbow – reflecting the green that appears just below.
A word of caution….
Most painting books and art instructors urge caution when it comes to the topic of reflected light. They often mention that it can become so much fun to start including it that the painter overdoes it – using too much reflected light and, more importantly, making it too noticeable. Usually the reflected light is not the main subject of the painting, so some restraint may be necessary! So, most instructors will advise (as I have done over and over…
) to make sure the reflected light is subtle and blends in with the entire shadow by keeping all the shadow values fairly close and making sure the reflected light color is not too intense, and by avoiding hard edges within the shadow. While sometimes in reality the reflected light may seem considerably lighter in value than the rest of the shadow, it is usually recommended to keep the value of the reflected light closer to the value of the rest of the shadow. Otherwise you can fragment your shadow into too many scattered shapes. So, when it comes to reflected light, it is just like many other aspects of art, it is up to you to decide when to use it…and when not to.
One other word about light and shadow. The emphasis that we give to the light areas and the shadow areas will vary from painting to painting. In many cases, the areas in the light are the main areas of emphasis, with the shadows playing a minor or secondary role. It might be a good idea in those circumstances to keep the shadows simpler. Other times, as in the first Sorolla example, most of the painting is about the shadows (or so it seems to me) with only a few patches of sunlight on the women’s clothing. Since more emphasis is on the shadows, most of the color variety is within the shadows rather than the lights. While this is definitely not a rule, it is sometimes a good idea to decide whether the light areas or the shadow areas are going to get a greater variety of colors. Putting lots of colors in both the light areas and the shadows might make the painting too busy – and in some sense – is not what the eye sees. For example, if we look at a barn in sunlight, we may see lots of colors and values on the sunlit side, but an open barn door may look like a very dark hole with no detail or color/value variation within. But if we concentrate on that doorway and focus there, our eyes open wider and we begin to see details and subtle variations in color and value within that opening. However, when we do, the light areas outside that doorway get simplified. We can not see a lot of detail and color/value variation in both light and shadow areas at the same time - at least that is how some artists approach this subject. Again, it’s not a rule by any means, but perhaps something to think about.
OK, a few more comments on that last Sorolla painting! I think this painting is a great example of how the use of reflected light helps place the objects you are painting – in this case, the man - into the scene as a whole. The objects in the painting are related to one another. I am sure we have all seen paintings where each object seems to be painted in isolation – and then brought together into one composition. They often look pasted on. But in reality, every part of the painting is connected and interrelated by the color of the various light sources. And this includes secondary and reflected light!
Here is a little set up that demonstrates this further. Each photo is the same except for a vertical piece of colored mat board that reflects the light back into the scene. Notice how that reflected light affects the shadow colors (and even the white flat surface). These objects are all subtly connected by the color of the reflected light and the resulting image is more unified.
James Gurney is a great artist with a popular blog that gets mentioned frequently here on WC. He has done a number of blogs on light and shadow and here are a few links:
For a more detailed description of all the various parts of light and shadow on a sphere:
And more on shadows:
Diffused light on a sphere:
Reflected light in shadow:
Vertical surfaces in shadow:
For a rather detailed description of dappled light and shadow:
One quote from the Gurney blogs sums it up well: "Within the shadow is not darkness but the effect of other, weaker sources."
This Spotlight is a companion piece to one that we did last April – The Color of Light, which can be found here:
That thread is closed, so you can’t add new posts to the thread, but the information may be of interest.
The references will be in the next post…