Question: "What are your biggest struggles or fears when it comes to making art?"
Reply: "To understand light and shadows, especially in still life"
In My Own Work
Let's start with the very beginning...it's a very good place to start.
- Shadows will always fall on the side of the object that is opposite from the light source. Highlight and shadow placement should be consistent throughout your piece, so if the highlight is on the upper left-hand side of one object it should roughly fall in the same place on every object in the scene. Likewise, the shadow will always be on the (opposite) lower right-hand side. Things like reflected light and overlapping shadows can be worked in later once you feel like you have a handle on things.
- There is no standard color for shadows, colors should be determined on a case by case basis and will vary greatly depending on the subject in question. For example, the shadow on a tomato will be very different from the shadow on a blue vase. Furthermore, shadows tend to be more muted and less saturated in color. Additionally, shadows are generally cooler in comparison to areas not in shadow.
- Highlights and light areas can be left the white of the paper or with a subtle tint of color. I will sometimes mask out my highlights so I don't forget to leave white areas and absentmindedly paint over them.
Due to the fact we are attempting to render a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional surface (the paper), things like depth and contrast between light and shadow areas often need to be intentionally exaggerated. In other words, they need to be designed or engineered to create the desired effect. The intensity of this effect will be tailored to your individual preferences and you will develop an eye for it over time. Do not simply copy the values from your reference, especially if working from a photograph. Doing so will tend to make your paintings look flat. (Don't worry, you are not alone, I have a habit of doing this too!)
As you begin to develop your understanding of painting light and shadow, I suggest starting with just three values and in greyscale, adding color often complicates the issue (it is easy to get distracted trying to color match rather than focusing on the value range.)
- Lightest areas (leave these the white of the paper, if you're not sure, leave it white, it is much easier to add more paint later than trying to lift it off once it's dried).
- Middle values - various washes that are about 30-60% pigment to water.
- Darks - these should be the areas of darkest value and strongest paint concentration.