Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Shadow Play - Some Color Theory

Here is my latest contribution in the "Sketching from Life" project on Wetcanvas. The subject was cutlery or utensils, so I decided to use this juicer-thingy partly because I just thought it would be fun to draw but more so because it was white. I set this little tool right on top of a white table and went to work. I haven't done a white on white drawing for a long time; but after enjoying this one so much, I'll probably do a few more and sooner.
I thought I'd share what I do while drawing with colored pencils to create shadows and to keep them as a glowing, lively part of the picture: I rarely use black or grey -- almost never for shadows.

In most of my drawings, I shy away from using greys and black and if so, only in the last phases of the drawing. For my taste, I prefer achieve a believable shadow by layering various complimentary colors to tonally achieve a grey, but becuase it is mixed with the eye, it becomes much more vibrant and believable. When I first discovered this, mostly from studying the Impressionist painters, it was an "ah-ha" moment and I saw a breakthrough in much of my own work.
Here are a couple of examples of where I might have chosen to use grey, but instead used various colors and their complements to create a more lively grey.
For the "Aviators", I combined lavendars, blues, pale pinks and warm yellows to illustrate the folds in the musician's jacket. This was an outdoor setting and therefore, the change in value range in the shadows was rather subtle; thus the use of mostly pastel or lighter values for my pencil choices.

Here, too, in "Early Autumn Meditation", I chose similar hues, but with more chroma or deeper values. The model was indoors, with natural lighting, but deeper shadows were needed, therefore, I chose pencils with deeper values. Under the chair, I used Indigo Blue and Dark Green (Prismacolor) to intensify and darken that shadow.
All three of these drawings (either from life or the reference photos I shot) were done in natural light, which can make a huge difference when learning to render shadows without greys; you can just see the colors in the shadows much more easily. That is because natural light contains all of the colors in the spectrum.
But eventually, no matter what light is present, with practice and more knowledge of color and color theory, you can apply this technique to any drawing you do. You'll be able to reference an "ok" or even poor photo and create some amazing drawings. (The reference photos I shoot are usually not very good; I just know how to draw them better!)
I can honestly say that my color theory class in art school was one of the hardest classes I have ever taken, and one of the most worthwhile. If you are interested on further study, read, read, read and then look at a lot of drawings and paintings (especially Impressionists such as Monet, Degas, Mary Cassatt, and if you really want to have fun, Seurat) on the internet, in books, museums, abd galleries.
Here are a few places to start:
  1. A thread on Wetcanvas discussing Munsell color theory.
  2. Fun and interactive site which briefly explains and demonstrates color theory (Iowa State educational site.)
  3. Color theory in a nutshell - great for printing and keeping!
  4. Color theory - some facts and thoughts on, simple and easy to read with some excellent examples.
  5. Another Wetcanvas site, ArtSchool and loads of info on color.


Serena said...

This post was very helpful...thanks, Rhonda!

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone! I'm originally from London but am living in Berlin at the moment.
Gotta love this forum!

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