Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Shadows and Reflected Light

Light is what reveals form, color and texture. It can transform ordinary objects into something dramatic, exciting and full of life! Look for the presence of light and how it affects the subject. When there is light, you’ll also have shadows. In these shadows you’ll have the greatest possibilities for exciting color!
Often I see students reach for a tube of gray paint when they are describing shadows. What they don’t know is that shadows are where the most exciting color possibilities can be found. The illuminated area near an object reflects (bounces) light into the shadows which carries color with it. This is called reflected light.
To achieve a better understanding of shadows and reflected light, it can help to actually see it happen. Look at the photo of the still life; now look at the shadow directly beneath the object (arrow). In the cast shadow you will see color from the object.
Cast shadows will suggest the shape of the object that cast it. A cast shadow will have a distinct edge. The further a cast shadow is from the source, the more it is infiltrated by light and as a result becomes warmer, softer and paler.
Form shadows are delicate in appearance and important in making a subject appear three dimensional. The form shadow is lighter in value than the cast shadow. The form shadow has a softer or less defined edge to it than a cast shadow. This is because a form shadow isn’t created by a blocked light source, but by turning from the light source.
Happy Painting!


  1. In addition to your shadow advice, this illustrates an important point for me: The setup of pumpkin, beet and paintbrush looks - well - uninspiring, but just see how lovely the painting is! I often bog down trying to find something "pretty" to paint, but I should be diving in and painting ANYTHING because everything is prettier in watercolor! Well, at least when YOU paint it!

  2. Jeanette, What a lovely comment, thank you!

  3. I enjoyed reading this post, and will be trying some of these ideas. Thanks. I did have difficulty reading quite a bit of your blog text due to the shaded background (gray) that offers little contrast to the print colors. ??

  4. Thank you for this blog post Brenda. I am learning how to draw and this post has helped me tremendously.