Playing with Light and Shadows

Now I want to talk about how important shading and light is to sketching and, well, just about anything really. Not just sketching. This is probably going to be one of the most important blog posts you’ll read on here.

I’ll give you another exercise, a simple one, that I learned myself at a young age. Remember studying objects? You’ll need to do that again. Actually you’ll always need to do that.

If you were intimidated at all with the photo I posted in the previous post (or intimidated at all with getting started), this is the thing for you. I’m going to attempt to explain to you how to understand the shapes you are observing and studying in the world around you. As well as to focus on lighting and light sources.

First, try really simple shading (if you’ve never done this before you’ll need to learn this first). Take your pencil (any pencil) and start drawing on some paper. Start by pressing firmly (not too firmly or you’ll break the pencil lead) and, moving in a sweeping, back and forth motion (like coloring with crayons), gradually lessen the pressure as you go across the page. It should look something like this:

You’ve successfully learned shading! Yay! Remember to practice this first until you feel comfortable with it. Note: Don’t go back and forth in different directions. Try to keep the motion going in one direction or it’ll look messy.

Don’t make it uniform either, make sure you’re going from dark to light (or light to dark).

Now that we’ve got that down, here’s a simple exercise to help you apply what you just learned:

Simply draw the shapes above in the picture, like I did. If you feel more comfortable using a ruler you can. They don’t need to look perfect. Then add this:

That is your “lamp”. Now, the placement doesn’t really matter (or what it looks like), but, to save yourself some confusion, you may want to place it exactly how I did in this example.

The lines I just drew represent the light coming from the lamp.

Next, you’ll need to add shadows to each shape.

Now this is where it can get complicated. You’ll need to place them based on where the light source is. You’ll want to place the darkest shadows on the opposite side (for my example it’s the bottom right). Then, gradually make it lighter all the way towards the source of light. Remember to wrap the shadows around the shape of the object. For example, the sphere is not flat, so don’t use straight lines while shading—make them curved.

Need a better visual? Set up a real life example of this using a lamp or a flashlight you have around the house. Place random objects under the light and observe where the shadows are.

If you want to get real advanced, take into account the texture of the object too. Is it shiny? Does it have a matte surface? These will all reflect light differently. In addition, the height of an object, as well as the placement of the light source, will have an effect on the shadow the object casts.

Clear as mud? Great. You’ll want to practice this quite often. Take note that you won’t actually draw a lamp in every sketch. But for practice, if it helps you visualize where the light source is, feel free to draw it.

You must not only be comfortable with light and shadows and shading, they must become second nature to you. It’s vital to just about any medium and subject of artwork. You can apply this with what I said in my last post about drawing what you see.

Remember to keep yourself motivated, this takes a lot of patience and perseverance. I’ve known several people who took one look at this example and immediately were put off by it. Don’t give up! If you are genuinely eager to learn, you’ll be able to do it.
Stay tuned for more next week!

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