How to Use Light in Your Artwork

By Alina Bradford

The way you light your subject determines if it comes to life or stays flat on the paper. This article will show you how to use light, shadow, and shading when painting or drawing.

If you have taken any painting or drawing class you know how important light and shadow can be in your artwork. But if you haven’t taken any classes don’t worry, many who take classes still can’t figure out shading. It’s that complicated.

Never fear, though. We are going to break it down in the next few exercises.

Exercise 1: Add Light

basketballball_on_court by Przemyslaw 'env1ro' SzczepanskiOkay, first you need to see how light effects objects. Take any lamp and set it on a table. Next, find some objects with simple shapes like a ball, toy blocks, a drinking glass, or a soda can. Tilt the lamp’s shade so that it casts a ray of light across your objects.Notice how a shadow is a darker range of colors than the lighted side, not just a black area. Also notice how objects cast shadows on other objects.

Adjust the lampshade several times and note the difference.

Exercise 2: Add Shadow

basketballball_shadow on_court by Przemyslaw 'env1ro' SzczepanskiNow, since you have your own little shadow show, I want you to focus on the shadows. Take a look at the different colors that the shadow has within it. Notice how a shadow somewhat mimics the object that created it, but that it is also deformed. See how shadows on the object itself are lighter toward the middle and darker toward the edges.

Exercise 3: Get to Work

Three Dimensional Ball Image by Alina BradfordNow, get out your medium and start to play.  First, just draw or paint the shadows. Next, just paint or draw objects with shadows cast on them. Now, draw or paint your total still life.

By now you should have a much better understanding of how light and shadow work on objects. I encourage you to try these exercises with many different objects, different spacing, and different light positions. And remember to keep notes! You will want to reference them next time you create your art.


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