Sunday, April 18, 2021

Painting Beautiful Shadows

A blog reader asks:  “Could you please do a blog on shadows and making them gorgeous?

Painting beautiful shadows requires more than just darkening the colors that you see in the sunlit areas.  In the above illustration, you'll note that, with respect to color, there's a lot going on in the shadowed side of the rocky cliff. Although the sunlit parts are all warm earth colors—ochres, mostly—the color varies much more in the shadows.

To make this clearer, I used my eyedropper tool in GIMP to pull out a few color samples, which I've placed below the painting.  The samples from the shadows contain greyed-down versions of almost the full spectrum, from blues, violets and reds to yellowy-oranges and greens.  The samples from the light areas, by contrast, consist of a narrower range of yellows and reds.

Of course, it's “never the twain shall meet” when it comes to shadow and light values.  To ensure good value separation between light and shadow, I kept the shadow colors all darker than any of the light values, even where I added touches of bounced light.  This bounced light is slightly lighter than surrounding shadows, but still not so light that it competes with the sunny spots

Besides shifting color in the shadows, I also shifted temperature.  Although the sunny areas look cool, I took the liberty of making the bounced light warm.  The contrast between the cooler, bluer notes in the shadows and the warm, yellowy-orange bounced light creates interest for the eye.  The shadow colors are also richer than the sunlit colors.  (Except where the sunlight hits the juniper bushes.)

Finally, remember that you have creative control over contrast.  The more you dial up the contrast—the difference between light and dark, warm and cool, rich and dull—the more drama the painting will have.  Too little, and the painting will seem weak; too much, and the painting will seem cartoonish.  It's up to you where you want to set the dial.


Jo Castillo said...

You picked a beautiful painting to demonstrate your post. Thanks for the tutoring and reminding.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thank you, Jo!

Unknown said...

Thanks for your advice and help with this difficult subject

Julie03 said...

I am a newbie to painting at 63 after Aerospace.(Parents didn't even buy a box of crayons for 4 children. No art on the fridge >sigh< "How many painting can you do it a day?)
The eye dropper tool is such a great tool for this. "The lightest darks have to be darker than the darkest lights."

This next gen of artists are going to astonish us all!

Lorraine said...

This is very timely. I just spent a week painting rocks and canyons in the Utah national parks and struggling with this exact issue. I found it particularly difficult to key the value of the rocks in the light to the value of the sky, then make the shadows as dark as they appeared to be without the contrast becoming too fake-looking.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

I'm so glad you found it helpful, Lorraine, Julie03 and Unknown!