Jan 29, 2010

Painting Shadows

The Matchmaker by Gerrit van Honthorst
Great example of Chiaroscuro lighting.

I have seen some painters paint shadows with one color not giving much thought about them. However, they are a very important factor in your work. It is something that you don’t want to take for granted. You need to understand what shadows do for your painting and how they work. If you are painting from a photo you will never fully see the colors in the shadows, they will appear just like darkness, but shadows are filled with colors that are reflected from other objects around them and painting them with colors will give your shadows dimension and interest.
Don’t think that a shadow is just an area with an absence of light. It is not just a blue or grey shape. It often will include shades of the complementary color to the local color of the object. For example if you are painting an orange, often the shadow will have some of orange’s complementary color which is blue in it. If you are painting a green apple, your shadow may contain some red, the complementary color of green. If you are painting a yellow flower the shadow might be a nice grayed purple yellows complementary color.
To make them look shadowy and more transparent I add a glaze over the shadow area. For a purple shadow I will add a glaze of, my Sunset Orange glaze, this will create depth because glazes make things transparent and the eye will equate depth with transparency.

If you paint your shadows dark grey or black, you run the danger of creating areas in your picture that like holes from a distance and are very dull looking.
You need to look at how dark the shadow is, some will be very dark some lighter. The value of the shadow will change as it moves away from the object. It will be darker where it meets the object, get lighter, and usually get softer as it moves away from it.

Then again it will depend on the source of light, if there is weak sunlight the strong contrasts will be eliminated and the shadow edges will be a lot softer. If the light is very strong and severe your shadows will be strong with crisp edges, you just have to be very observant and look for these subtle changes.

You will also want to keep your shadows painted very thin, there should be no brushstrokes showing. Impasto in shadows will destroy the illusion of the shadows you are trying to capture.
Remember your shadows are what gives your objects dimension, without a shadow nothing will look solid.

Your shadows should not be painted so they stand out; you want them to look vague, mystifying, and shadowy. They should stay in the background.
Always think of a shadow as being transparent with depth. Remember this rule: “the darkest dark in a shadow will be the closest to the light.

Why are shadows important?

First of all, if you don’t paint a shadow under an object sitting on a tabletop it would appear to float, a shadow will anchor it. They are an important structural components in your painting; they help describe the surface the object rests on and provide a good design, so be sure to design your shadow shapes don’t just paint them!

Shadows also help you get a painting that has a lot of visual impact. By placing your dark shadows next to light objects, you will give it that impact! Contrast is a great way to make a statement!

There is a general rule that your warm light will produce a cool shadow and a cool light will create a warm shadow. You do need to consider this, you will not go wrong if you follow this rule, however there are times you may see both colors in a shadow area.
I think one of the most important things an artist needs to do is to just observe. You can learn so much by just taking a walk into your own yard. Look at the objects and how the light falls on them and look at the shadows. Notice your light source, if you are in the studio your light source may be from a window but if you are outdoors it will be from the suns position, the time of day will make a great different of how your shadows look. By doing this you will train you eye to see the delicate subtleties in the shadows that you can paint to create a painting that will “sing” with color.

Remember that a overhead light at midday will create very short shadows beneath your objects, your shadow will run right across the center of your object and distort the detail.
If your lighting is coming from the front the shadows will be cast behind the object this will tend to flatten the subject and you will lose the form.
Side lighting will create strong shadows bathing your object in the light from the direction it is coming, this is best if you want to create a very dramatic painting, it is also called Chiaroscuro by the old masters.

If the light is falling on the subject from a 45-degree angle, it is called three-quarters light. This is most commonly used by painters, because it will give a very good balance between the side and front light.

Just remember that shadows are an important part of your painting, pay as much attention to them as you do the rest of your work!

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