January 29, 2019

Achromatic, Monochromatic and Chromatic, Oh My!

Achromatic, Monochromatic and Chromatic, Oh My!
Value & Shape

Achromatic, Monochromatic and Chromatic, Oh My!

What does it all mean? Let's explore with a good understanding of 'value.'

Any 2D image, including drawings, paintings, or photographs, can be defined or described by shapes in various contrasting values. 'Value' is a characteristic of color. It refers to the lightness or darkness of any single color swatch.

Tonal relationships, especially with various values, help us understand what we see in the world around us. Our vision uses the contrast of value to determine one object from another, especially in a low lighting situation when we cannot see the 'hue' or color.

Underneath every great painting is a contrast of light & dark values. Otherwise, shapes blend together. In this example, the original painting has a full range of values. Values are reduced to a limited value scale in the second image, using only mid-tones.

Without a full range of values, shapes appear to blur together, leaving little information for the viewer to distinguish one from another. A more comprehensive range of values is needed to convey this particular scene on a bright sunny day.

'Value' defines shape & form, not the brightness or dullness of the color or the hue. It's the lightness or darkness. Value does all the work to distinguish shape & form, but hue gets all the credit!

Value does all the work but, hue gets all the credit!

When we first learn to draw, we ignore all of the other characteristics of color, except value. It helps us simplify the complex observation process, which allows us to focus on getting the shapes accurate before mastering color.


Achromatic literally means "no color" or "without color." Graphite or charcoal drawings are 'achromatic' or without color, i.e., grayscale in black and white.


Monochromatic uses 'mono' or one hue or color only. White is mixed with lightening or 'tint' the color, and black is mixed with darkening or creating a 'shade' of the color.

A monochromatic color scheme uses only one hue or color but needs a variety of lightness and darkness to convey shape to the viewer. Monochromatic color schemes naturally create harmony. They are soothing, elegant, and easy on our eyes.

Monochromatic color scheme


Chromatic means having color or multiple hues relating to or produced by color. 'Chroma' is the purity or intensity of color. It refers to the brightness or dullness of any color.

January 2, 2019

The Anatomy of Shadows

What lurks in the shadows? A higher contrast of lights and darks than any local color. Shadows tell us a lot. Sometimes the form or shape of an object is revealed more by its shadow than the object itself.

The Anatomy of Shadows

Form vs. Cast Shadows

In representational art, there are two shadow types: form shadows and cast shadows. The form shadow is found in a place where the object turns away from the light source on the object itself. It includes the core shadow and reflected light. (see the Anatomy of Light & Shadow).

Always make sure that every form of shadow has a well-articulated core shadow to tell the viewer where the object turns in space. Core shadows are an essential feature in creating the volume or structure of an object.

Cast shadows are created by the object, blocking a single light source or spotlight, which "casts" a shadow underneath or behind it. Every cast shadow can be broken down into three different tones.

The Anatomy of a Cast Shadow

The umbra, penumbra, and antumbra are three distinct parts of a shadow created by any light source after impinging on an opaque object.

The UMBRA (Latin for "shadow") is the fully shaded inner region of a shadow cast by an opaque object. It is the innermost & darkest part of the cast shadow. It includes the occlusion shadow, which is directly underneath the object. It is closest to the object, where the light is entirely blocked by the object itself.

The PENUMBRA (from the word "paene," Latin for "almost, nearly") is the partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object. It is the region in which some light sources are leaking back in due to reflected light. Light bounces off of other objects or even the surface underneath, and it starts to contaminate the shadow. It becomes lighter than the umbra region.

The ANTUMBRA (from the word "ant" Latin for "opposing") is the region from which the occluding body appears entirely within the disc of the light source. It is the lightest region of the cast shadow and has the softest edges of all three zones.

A great way to mentally check your drawing or painting is to use the "Shadow Checklist.' Make sure that the shadows have all of the following characteristics.

Shadow Checklist

Shadow Diagram

1. DARK - Shadows are "darker than," not just DARK or a darker version of the local color. Ensure the reflected light is darker within the form shadow, or the structure could fall apart.

2. EDGES – Shadows have softer edges, even more so in the cast shadow than the form shadow. As the cast shadow moves further away from the object, the edges become softer and softer.

3. ECHO - Form shadows echo or mirror the form of the object that they represent (i.e., a form shadow on a sphere has a round shape, the rounder the shape, the more concave the form shadow should be).

4. PASSIVE – Shadows are passive. They have little or no texture. Smooth out brush strokes or pencil marks compared to the lighted texture area.

5. ARTICULATED – Cast Shadows should have a definite shape and be well articulated. Sometimes an object's form reads more from its cast shadow than its local color.