Learn to Draw - introduction of light and shadow




Light and Shadow

First came line, then shape, then perspective, proportion, and foreshortening. Now here's my favorite part of drawing: Light and Shadow. Without light and shadow even the most perfectly executed drawing with perfect perspective and right-on proportion is going to look flat. Light and shadow give a "real world" depth to a drawing and really makes it look three dimensional. The drawings that we create now will really POP out of the paper with light and shadow present in the drawings. We see shadows every day, but we really don't LOOK at them. We don't look at the shadow to try and figure out where the light is coming from, or how many light sources there are, or what the quality of the light is. How you draw your shadows will tell all of that to the viewer, and if the shadow is drawn wrong, the viewer will know that the drawing is "wrong" but they may not understand why.

Lee Harvey Oswald

Here's a classic example of "wrong" shadows: Look at this photo of John F. Kennedy's assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. People say this photo has not been doctored or retouched, but I think it has. Look at the shadows in the photo. Look at the shadow under his nose. This type of shadow occurs when the sun is very high in the sky (around noon) and the sun is shining straight down on the head. See that the shadow is directly under the nose and that the shadow is not off to the left or right of the nose. Yet, if this picture was taken around noon, Oswald would cast almost no shadow with his body because his body shadow would be directly under him. But, as you can plainly see, he does have a shadow. Granted, the shadow isn't very long, but it seems too long to be the same shadow that is being cast under his nose. Also, if we look at highlights in this picture we see that the highlights (or white areas) on his face are much better defined than the highlights on his right arm. Basically, there are no highlights on his arm, it's all one pretty even tone. That may be the hairs on his arm breaking up the smooth tone of the skin, but I'm not sure.  Further, his face has the three types of tone that we look for in drawing: Highlights (the whitest whites), mid tones (the middle, grayer tones), and shadows (the darkest areas). But his right arm only seems to have two tones: shadows and mid tones, no highlights. Also his head looks a little too big for the body - The proportions look a little off to me. This means to me that the body was photographed under different lighting conditions than the head. All right, I'm not trying to say who did or did not kill Kennedy, I just know that this photo has wacky shadows that are "wrong" which you can see if you look closely. When you draw, you should be very aware of your lights and shadows and keep in mind where they're coming from so you can keep them consistent throughout your drawing. Each plane or surface or element of an object might cast a shadow, and so you should keep the shadows all being cast in the same direction if the shadows are all coming from the same light source.

Finding the light source

For the most part, you can look to the shadows to see where the light is coming from. If the shadow is on the left of the object, the light is coming from the right. If the object has a smooth surface you can see a highlight reflected in the object. That's a dead give away as to where the light is. Just look for the highlight and that's where the light source is. The shadow will be shorter the higher up the light source is. The shadow will get longer the lower the light source gets.

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