Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Reflective Light & Color in Shadows

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 light into the shadows. This reflected light carries color with it. This is called reflected light.
To achieve a better understanding of shadows and reflected light, it can help if we can actually see it happen. I created the general shape of a building to demonstrate the point. Look at the photos of the building. I place the building on four different colored surfaces. Notice how the color of the shadows changed on the building, depending on the colored surface it is placed on. There are 2 kinds of shadows here (cast & form), and both are affected by reflected light.
Click on the picture to enlarge so you can really see the shadows.

In this next example I want you to look at the bell pepper sitting on a white surface. Look at the cast shadow beneath it. Do you see the color of the object reflected in it? This is reflected color in the shadow.

The best teacher is seeing it for yourself. On a sunny day go outside and explore shadows. The only time you will see gray shadows is on a overcast day, and the shadows are very faint. The only time I see gray shadows is when the object is sitting on a gray surface (i.e. a building in a parking lot).

So next time you are painting REALLY look at the shadows before you reach for a tube of gray paint.

Happy Painting!
Brenda

17 comments:

  1. Nice remainder and great examples,

    Thanks

    xoxo

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  2. Sorry, not remainder but reminder,

    xoxo

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  3. Wow, you made it very understandable. Thank you!

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  5. For years I struggled understanding reflective light & color in shadows. I heard teachers talk about it, books wrote on it and yet I didn't see it. I felt...dumb. One day I took colored fabric outside and in the full sun I set up the little house on the colored fabric. It was as if a light went on in my head...I SAW IT! They weren't making this stuff up. There is color in shadows!!!!

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  6. Brenda this is so helpful! Thank you for the great examples. :)

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  7. Your illustrated examples are easy to understand and effective. That's why you are such a good instructor!

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    1. Thank you, Kathleen! I always appreciate encouraging comments.
      Happy painting!

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  8. Very interesting demonstration. The house model really proves the point that not all shadows are alike and using color is the way to go. Thanks Brenda!

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  9. Seeing is believing especially for artist who are visual learners.
    Happy Painting!

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  10. Hi Brenda, this is a wonderful post- so clear!!! You really have to learn to see the colour in shadows, don't you.
    Often the brain just says shadow-grey without looking. I am still working on seeing shadows better and often find it hard to get the right glowing mix in more subtle shadows such as those on buildings. My architect brain (which is used to rendering shadows very dark or black in architectural shadows) always seems to make them too strong.
    Also just want to add that your house examples really show the difference in value (as well as colour) between the cast shadow (under the roof) and shade. Great!

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    1. Hi Liz, I always enjoy hearing when one of my posts really "hits home". The first time I was able to identify color in shadows was an awakening moment. It changed my work.
      Photos have a tendency to make shadows too dark and the reflected colors are lost. Working from life has helped me be a observer of light and shadows. When I have to work from a photo I use Photoshop (or any camera program) to view the picture. I reduce the contrast and the colors appears in the shadows!
      One of my favorite subjects to paint is architecture. Visit my website I have lots of examples of different architectural styles and how I handled the shadows.www.SwensonsArt.net

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  11. Brenda, this was such a helpful demonstration. Finding it was good timing, too: yesterday I was watching an African American woman's face, and the reflected light from her white shirt turned patches of her face white. Not whitened chocolate brown, but actually white. I squinted to make sure, it seemed so unbelievable. I'm still disbelieving, in fact. I had no colored pencils with me at the time to try recreating the colors. I want to say I saw "pale white" in the patches -- a real contradiction in terminology -- something truly white, but not quite the same brightness/value as her shirt.

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  12. Connie, You saw it...now you will look for it everywhere!!! Thank you for sharing!

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