Hints 'n' Tips | Visual Arts

Understanding Shadows

Because of their ability to create beauty and form, the illusive character of shadows must be observed and understood by the successful landscape painter. Shadows, it could be said, are the essence of form. Without them a landscape is reduced to flat masses, lacking in much interest and excitement.

The first consideration when setting up to paint a shadow is its general shape. These are determined by the shape of the object causing them. In the landscape this can be anything from trees, shrubs, hills, mountains, roads, riverbanks and a million other things. The shape of a shadow is principally a matter of observation and drawing.

A much trickier matter is the issue of value and color in shadows, which can be caused by various factors. The strength and quality of the light on a particular day, the amount of moisture, dust and pollution in the air, the color of the sky, the local color of the object itself and the colors in the adjacent area surrounding the shadow all play a vital role in the shadow’s color and value.

A recent trip into the field with some of my students will serve as a valuable example of what it takes to understand shadows. We arrived on location about four in the afternoon on a clear September day with a brilliant blue sky and little moisture or pollution in the air. The fall light chiseled shadows into the side of a mountain, which became the subject for the day. At its distance from us, the mountain was a combination of several green greys in a mid-tone value, with the shadows a half dark value on the blue-violet side of the color wheel, with a grayed-down intensity. Several rock ledges, which were very light in value and extremely warm in color, provided a stark contrast to the mountains’ cool shadows and gave this subject its alluring sparkle.

Categories: Hints 'n' Tips | Visual Arts

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