Let me show you my best painting secret!
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One of the questions from my Artist’s and Collectors Circle recently was about painting shadows. It just so happened that I am preparing lessons on this topic for my Art Coaching class. This also touches on previous color mixing lessons I have covered on this blog. So why not prepare something showing the overlap between color mixing, color temperature and painting shadows?
Sounds good so here it is. There is also a video to show you these ideas in practice.
It is Still About the Light
Make no mistake about it. Painting shadows is as much about painting light as painting … um, lights in your scene. It is all about seeing the light for what it is. As an artist you will start to see the light (no pun intended) and shapes like an artist. For example on a sunny day you will know instinctively that the sunlight is warm. Lovely warm light.
But it does not stop there. How to show that warm light in your painting? Or more correctly how to depict warm sunlight with a few paints and a brush. Starting to seem a bit more tricky now.
Turn on the Light with Shade
Many beginners struggle with this idea. I did and so will anyone at first. This is because you will likely be thinking about drawing and getting all the bits of the subject included on the canvas. Important for sure. But soon beginners want more. Why is the light not coming across in the painting? On the day the photo was taken the light was hot and bright. Sunglasses and melting ice cream weather. But the painting looks flat.
One way to achieve this light filled look is to use shadows effectively.
Color Speaks for You
When you paint a shadow do you reach for the dark colors and paint in a shadow? If so good for you. Surprisingly many beginners do not paint in shadows at all. The outcome is a flat painting. Okay you have a dark color depicting shadows, but they look weird. Why is that?
Two big reasons typically cause shadows to look odd in a painting. Incorrect values and wrong color temperature. Values is the light and dark relationships between shapes. Shadow shapes will be darker than light shapes. But are they too dark? Photos tend to underexpose the shadows. You may be tempted to make your painted shadow so dark it looks almost black.
This tends to close off the shadow shapes. Instead you want shadows that encourage one to peer into them. What is in there? Interesting blues, purples and dark greens, for example, will attract the eye. Especially if you have these colors fairly transparent by not using white paint in them. These colors will remain transparent and therefore have more depth.
A tip is to tweak your digital photos by increasing the brightness slightly until you can see some shapes within the shadows. It may be necessary to increase contrast too so that you keep shapes clear. All you want is to avoid black shadows for the most part.
Color Temperature Gives Life
On a sunny day the color of direct light is warm. Stands to reason your paint will look warm too. But what about shadows? Logic says the shadows must be cool. This one idea changes everything. So many artists stop with using a dark color to paint a shadow. Maybe burnt umber. But it looks odd. The reason is simple. Burnt umber is warm not cool. Especially when put next to dark greens and other dark colors that are cool. So you have a warm shadow and that does not read right does it?
Instead cool your shadows down with blue. Simple as that. The coolest colors on your palette are the blues. The warmest are the yellows. Warm sunlight color therefore has yellow mixed in. Cool colors will have some blue mixed in. Put these color shapes next to each other and you instinctively react to it. You will feel the cool shadow and the heat of the sun.
Suddenly those flat paintings have a zing of real light effects. I can assure you your painting will never be the same again.
Shadow Colors Change
In theory then a shadow color has some local color and blue. The local color is the inherent color of the shape. Let’s say the road is yellow ochre. The shadow will then consist of yellow ochre and blue mixed together. But be careful when mixing colors equally in volume. You could end up with a muddy color. Make sure one color dominates. Perhaps more blue? Your shadow will be colorful, dark and cool. Nice.
Shadows are darker near the base of whatever is casting the shadow. The shadow gets cooler as it moves away from its origin as more surrounding light is reflected into it.
Also aerial perspective influences shadows too. A shadow far away will be lighter than one close to you. Edges get softer too. Make sure that you observe the shadow closely and ask yourself questions like lighter/darker? And warmer/cooler?
Open Up New Avenues of Reality
All representational paintings deal with shadows. Landscapes, still life and portraits need shadows to describe form, volume and light. These tips apply to all of these subjects. Make your shadows look right and your paintings will gain vibrancy and color. As you grow in experience you will make your shadows more intriguing with a variety of colors and color temperature changes. Be patient, but try things. What if …? Have fun and experiment and see your painting improve fast.
Six months of Art Coaching?
Imagine what six months of personal painting instruction will do for your painting. There is nothing quite like it and you can take your painting to new levels. But you will need to act quickly to book your place. Find out more here.
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