October 1, 2016

The Anatomy of Light & Shadow

Anatomy of Light & Shadow

You can create the illusion of volume in any two-dimensional medium with a basic understanding of how light and shadow work together, combined with a bit of academic knowledge.

One of the most important skills used in creating representational art or realism is to develop your own observation from life or nature (not using photographs).

Practice with a sphere, ping pong ball, or egg. If you are a beginner start with a single light source first. It will simplify the lighting conditions whereas multiple light sources or ambient lighting conditions make it more complex.

Light vs. Dark

Notice in a single source lighting condition, when LIGHT hits a sphere more than half of the object is light. This region is called the LIGHT SHAPE, the rest, including the shadow underneath, is called the SHADOW SHAPE. It includes the FORM SHADOW (created from the combination of a core shadow and reflected light) and the CAST SHADOW. These two major regions may be measured to capture or adjust the overall proportions of the object.

Observe each shape by squinting your eyes, it allows a smaller amount of light to flow into your vision. This reduces the amount of 'hue' or color that you see and helps simplify the shapes. Group the light areas and the dark areas, working from general to specific. As time allows, the LIGHT SHAPES and DARK SHAPES may be further broken down into smaller shapes.



VALUE is the lightness or darkness of a single tone.

TONE is a single color swatch by itself with a unique combination of characteristics. Each has its own hue or color, value, intensity (color brightness or dullness), and temperature. Note that tone is also sometimes defined as any color that has been mixed with grey. There is no hue or intensity in charcoal or pencil drawing only grey tones.

SHADE is created from any tone plus black (in a drawing it would be a darker mark or darker pencil). TINT is any tone mixed with white (in drawing it would be the white of the paper or the lighter tones).

A GRADATION is a minute change in value, over several tones. It allows us to visually make sense of what we see when LIGHT falls onto a round or curved object and the surface turns away from the light source. Soft lighting creates a gradual gradation. Harsh lighting creates a dramatic change in gradation.

A VALUE SCALE is a tool used to measure the lightness or darkness of any tone. It has a TONAL RELATIONSHIP, each tone relates to another, getting darker or lighter in equal increments. A complex scale may contain as many as nine to eleven distinct tones. Any scale can be simplified into six, five, or even three tones. The LIGHT SHAPE or DARK SHAPE may be simplified using only two tones until the shapes are clearly defined.

Value Scale in Six Steps

The Anatomy of Light & Shadow

#1. HIGHLIGHT also known as 'THE LIGHTEST LIGHT' is the lightest area of the sphere. The shinier the object, the brighter the highlight will be in relation to the rest of the tones.

#2.  MID TONE or AVERAGE TONE is located in between the highlight and halftone. It accents the form of an object, whether it is curved or round.

TONES: #1 Highlight, #2 Mid Tone, #3 Half Tone, #4 Core Shadow, #5 Reflective Light, #6 Cast Shadow

#3.  HALFTONE or 'LOCAL COLOR' is the darkest tone within the light shape. It is where the light itself fades into the shadow region and indicates where the object begins to turn away from the light source in 3D space.

#4.  CORE SHADOW follows the form of the object and darkens quickly. It is the area where light cannot reach the surface. It is counter-intuitive to shade an area in the middle of an object and is the hardest tone for new students to remember darken.

#5.  REFLECTIVE LIGHT is created from the light that bounces or reflects from the surface upon which the object rests. It usually complements the core shadow and rounds off the form. Be careful to not make it too light, think of the moon compared with the sun. It is always lighter than the core shadow but, darker than the entire LIGHT SHAPE.

#6.  CAST SHADOW is the shadow that is created by the object itself. It is “cast” underneath or falls behind the object. Cast shadows have three different characteristics than form shadows. 1) Cast shadows are always darker than the form shadows. 2) Cast shadows have harder edges than form shadows. 3) Cast shadows are darker in the area that is closest to the object that is casting it, tones become lighter as the shadow moves away from the object.

Light & shadow create complex TONAL RELATIONSHIPS. The secret to maintaining these relationships is to check them against a value scale. With a little practice, you will eventually learn how to CONTROL your tones and will no longer need the scale.

Tonal Relationships