Discover the Pattern of Light and Shadow

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In this chapter, you will learn very simple ways of establishing the shape of light and shadow areas in your drawings. You will also learn how to achieve the illusion of three-dimensionality. The techniques in this chapter are used to create a reductive or tonal drawing, as the shape or pattern of light is removed from previously toned paper. A beautiful oval-shaped vase is used for many of the drawing examples because it has a simple round form, which lends itself well to the principles being demonstrated here.

See the Value of Squinting 50

The Range of Tones 53

Tone: From Dark to Light 54

Set Up the Still Life 56

The Peephole 59

Develop the Tonal Range 60

Reflected Light 64

Texture and Nuances 65

Gallery: Examples of Light and Shadow 66

Vit v

Squinting, which is easy to do, is an important technique that helps you to view your subject in simplified shapes. Look at the picture on the right. We have purposely blurred the image to show you how details are no longer clearly visible. They become blurred, and you can see only large forms. If you squint at the image, it should become even more simplified.

In the initial stages of your drawings, try squinting as often as possible when you're looking at your subject. Eventually, squinting will become second nature to you. The reason for doing this is to concentrate your attention on the large shapes. Many beginners become overwhelmed by details, and details are not important in the first stage of a drawing. What is important is to map in the structure of what you are drawing. You will not find structure in details. The level of realism you achieve in your drawing is based on analyzing and drawing the structure of your scene or objects.

The painting here demonstrates how large shapes are an integral part of the work. Notice how the artist here uses just three large main shapes to define a young girl looking down: the side of the face, the head of hair, and the side of the body. Within the large shape of the head, there are three or four smaller shapes that define different sections of light on the hair. You can also find smaller shapes within the other two larger shapes. Basically, there is really no detail, and yet you can tell what the object is right away.

Lakewood, by Tim Lowly, courtesy of the artist

Squint at the image on the right. How many large shapes do you see? Do you see four large shapes of shadow? There is a large rectangle of shadow in the lower half of the image. There is a definite triangular-shaped shadow in the top-right corner. There is also a lighter rectangular shape of shadow joining the triangular shape to the rectangular shape in the lower half of the image. The bottom halves of four of the objects (with the bunch of grapes as one object) are all in shadow. This shadow is punctuated by triangles of light.

In this piece, the artist has drawn in the shapes as she sees them. In doing so, she has simplified the information that her eye is receiving. She has eliminated the details and concentrated on connecting the shapes of shadows together. The subject matter has been observed as a completed jigsaw puzzle. The pieces of the puzzle are comprised of the shapes of light and shadow, which fit together from the darkest shadow to the lightest highlights.

Here is the same subject as above, but the lighting has changed. Take a good look at this image and decide what shapes you can see in this jigsaw puzzle of light and shadow. When you think you can see the large shapes of shadow, make a sketch of these shapes. You can either outline the shapes that you see or simply fill in the shapes with a light or dark tone. We discuss tone on page 53. Keep it loose; it doesn't have to be exact. Over the next page you can see the sketches that the artist has made of this image.

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  • reece
    How to draw patterns of light and shadow?
    8 years ago

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