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Don't Be Afraid to Shade! Dramatic use of Darks and Lights

By Dwillia

    Hallo! So, you want to add a bit of drama to your picture? Afraid of making that shadow 'too dark'? Well, you've come to the right place. I'm here to give you some tips on how a little extra pressure on that pencil/stylus/whatever can make an otherwise 'good' pic into a jaw-dropper.

    Oh, and just to make sure you know -- none of this stuff is written in stone; everything's prone to experimentation! You can really integrate this knowledge into your art, or, heck, you can completely ignore it!

Katy Shimizu

    Recently, at another gallery, I came across this striking picture by Katy Shimizu.

It had this *great* start -- nice colors, a sense of mood, a difficult pose, an attempt at some mood lighting...Something quite nice, not your average 'I doodled this in school and then Photoshopped it on their computer' picture.

    I could *see* what she was going for...But I could also tell that she didn't quite have it. I started thinking about how I would do it, and actually ended up digitally editing it (you'll see that at the end.)

I decided first off that I'd keep the lighting on the girl (duh) and on the windowsill, but I'd darken a *lot* of the stones around her. Why?


Well, scroll down and see the answer, silly! ;)







    A good example is, say, how bright neon colors (or white) look against a black background. Bright on dark (or dark on white) make an object pop out.

    This is a great way to do 'sharp' edges when you have a really dark background. Here's an example from my gallery:



Bright white edges popping out from a black background

    With the background so black, and her hair (yes, that's a her) equally black, I had a choice; I could either merge the blacks together -- which probably wouldn't work, due to her contrived hairstyle -- or I could pick out a few white highlights in the shape of her hair, in order to show the edges, and let the viewer's imagination do the rest. This is fun to try with white-on-black silhouettes.

    Here's that concept of using darks to make lights 'pop out' as used on Katy's picture:


Shading example 1

    So, that was fun, and a real handy tip for...really, most artists out there. But now, let's move on.

Cast shadow in Katy


        The next thing my eyes wandered to was her cast shadow. It looked really off to me; and at first glance, I couldn't figure out why. Then, I realized -- because of the direction the light source was coming in from, the shadows wouldn't be right under her....Right?






    In this case, I'd imagine that the shadow'd be long, and coming towards us, huh? (I actually extended the picture towards the bottom to fit in the light coming through the window.)

    This is a tricky part, figuring out how light's going to affect your shadows (I mean, there's this 'mirror image' thing going on, you've gotta know 'bout negative space, etc. etc. etc.) ... In fact, when I first tried to correct this, I plumb forgot about the window being 'thrown' towards us due to the light, so I had to extend the bottom even *more*...then kind of add a semblance of the shadow her body makes by blocking the light in the windowsill.

Attempt at figuring out that shadow.

    No, not the prettiest picture you'll see in Elfwood...And I'm not even sure that it's correct! But it kind of gives you some idea of how I imagine the lighting and shading for this might be. Oh, and just because we have a long shadow coming towards us in the picture doesn't mean that we have to extend the picture at the bottom and add it all in...We've just got to know WHERE things are going, so we don't put something in there because Mr. Left-Brain says, 'Hey, with that light, we need a shadow in the picture!'

    There's another part of the picture here where Mr. Left-Brain (who's verbal and non-artsy, by the way) has taken control and caused the artist to draw what she *thinks* should be there, and not what *is* (or, in her case, would be) there....

Modeling highlights that defy the logic of the light

    Here, she put highlighting (in yellow and white) on the feet and legs to show their form...even though they're in front of a the wall, which emits no light! (And, there's no other visible lightsource in this picture.)

    Now, I'm not entirely sure as to how to solve this puzzle (I didn't even try on it on my 'revision') -- would you just use dark shadows and midtones to show the forms instead of highlights? Or would you depend on a good line to show the forms? I'll leave that to you to ponder...In the meanwhile, I'm going to repeat myself...



    Ever had a tough time reading some text? Say...Light grey text on a grey background? That's because there was little contrast to help you pick out the edges of the text.

    Light grey on black would work (depending on how light your light grey is ;), or white on dark grey. See the nifty example below:


More examples of contrast



    Now, just because you know about contrast doesn't mean you have to use this effect ALL the time.

    Why, smoke and mist don't necessarily have a lot of contrast in some situations. The 'confusion' of edges might make for a mysterious picture, in fact! ... The thing is, you have to know the rules so you can know when to break 'em. ;)

    I think this was the first thing I actually noticed with this picture. She had frontside really highlighted (which was right, since the girl is facing the window), but she left her back and legs in mid-tones...Which is a bit like putting light grey (the highlights) on grey (where there ought to be shadows).

    As a result, you could see she had very dramatic highlights, but they didn't look very dramatic because the back of the subject might has well have been in florescent lighting!

    So, using some digital magic (NON-Photoshop, thanks, instead I use Micrografx Picture Publisher!), I sampled some colors from her image, took my airbrush, set the mode to 'Multiply' (more on that in a second), and went over the areas I thought needed darkening, such as her crossed legs (which would lose a lot of their definiton, since they'd be almost devoid of light).



Whose pants are these anyway??


    Speaking of colors and shading, here's a *reeeeally* good tip for any colorist! For the love of Peter Puppy, unless you're making a graphite picture, DON'T USE BLACK AND GREY TO SHADE THINGS IN!! ... It sucks the life out of any picture. Instead, shade with the complimentary colors (quick! Go find a color wheel!)

    For instance, if you have something red, shade it in with a little dark green (its opposite color)....You'll get a more lively shadow, I promise! ... A good 'all purpose' shading color is 'Indigo Blue' (as the color is seen in a box of Prismacolors).

    And if you have something white, shade it with a light blue, or purple, or any colors around the shirt (reflective colors). The shirt will look more lively and clean.

    Ah, and a special notice for my digital artist-knucklehead-friends out there: GO *EASY* ON THE DODGE AND BURN!!* ... I know some artists swear by it, but I swear equally by picking the color I want shaded and setting my tool to 'Multiply' mode! (For a more complete explanation of this, please see Polykarbon.com -- he has a coloring tutorial on this that explains it wonderfully._

    My entire 'revision' of Katy's piece was done using colors set to 'Multiply' mode -- NOT DODGE AND BURN.


    With that tirade aside, let's see a 'before' and 'after' pic, shall we? Okay. Here are the pictures, side by side:






    Interesting how a little darkness accentuates the light, eh? ;)

    Oh, and a couple of things surprised me here. See, though I used the relatively light color of her skin for shading her neck (by her hair, there)...It came out a very RED color...Yet it looks right!

    I think it worked in this situation because we were given a bright light, with human skin behind it...And if you've ever had an older brother who's stuck a flashlight in his mouth for your amusement when you were younger...Light through human skin makes a reddish color!


    I just thought that was kinda neat. Anyway...

    In my try of the picture, I added some space to the left, right, and top of the picture (composition), just to give the audience a little more room to 'breathe.' You always want to leave enough space for your subject to 'move' in.


Wrapping Up!

    So, as you can see....When you pay attention to your light sources and shadows, then use CONTRAST CONTRAST CONTRAST (and shade with complimentary colors/multiply mode), you can really make a picture stand out. DON'T BE AFRAID TO SHADE!


Quick Review!

  • Contrasting dark with light (and vice versa) adds edges, pops part of the image out (which helps draw the eye towards an area of interest), and adds mood.
  • Attention to light sources may give you less work...or more!...But will make your picture more accurate anyway.
  • Don't use black to shade. Don't use dodge and burn excessively. Multiply mode is your friend.
  • Don't be afraid to shade.


    Well, I hope this tutorial helped you in some way, whether it just gave you a little inspiration, or whether it opened your eyes to an entirely new concept! And once again, I'd like to think Katy Shimizu for letting me use this picture in this tutorial.



FARP Article Guestbook

6 Jul 201045 Vainamoinen
In fact, shadows ARE "black". But unless you are painting absolute darkness (and you never should), you should refrain from just "adding black" in shadow areas. Always assume there’s a secondary, fainter light source with a different color, reflected light from nearby objects etc., which define your shadow’s "color". For reasons of color composition, a dark, warm brown with only a hint of blue might have done the trick here.
2 Oct 201045 TheGraphicGirl
Wow! Thanks for the tip! I learned a lot with this article! Thanks so much! 2

It really adds emotion when you add more shading and such. I like the examples in your article with real pictures it really helps me understand what you’re saying better. I also like it that you added a little personality to this article because it just makes it plain fun to read! 11

My website: http://:iamagraphicgirl.com
24 Nov 201045 Anon.
who is an artist which uses this????????[
24 Nov 201045 Anon.
21 Feb 201145 Marmar
dodge and burn is a terrible way to modify your drawing. You should take shading into account when making it. It shouldn’t be an after thought. You’ll end up with odd unnatural colors. Especially with natural light like the sun, natural light is warm (yellows reds oranges), shadows cool (blues purples greens). Look at her hair, the shadows because of the burn are warmer then then highlights with way more red then the highlighted area giving it a strange feel. The shirt is the same way. Think of the shadows while making your piece and it will look twenty times better then if you dodge and burn it.
21 Jun 201245 Anon.
HOW DO I SHADE WTF?????????????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!
21 Jun 201245 Miley
21 Jun 201245 Makala
21 Jun 201245 Makala
Click Here to Right Something
21 Jun 201245 Makala
Click here to right something.
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