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How to Paint Shadows

Tips and techniques on painting shadows.


The way a shadow is painted can make or ruin a painting. Shadows shouldn't be done at the last minute as an after-thought, as something totally separate from the main subject of the painting, but need to be considered as seriously as the other elements. This compilation of all my articles on shadows will help you on your way to painting successful shadows.

Avoid Black for Shadows

Pure, straight-from-the-tube black is invariably too dark in tone and too consistent or flat in color to make a satisfactory shadow. Mixing a chromatic black is already an improvement, but using a complementary color will produce a more subtle, natural effect.

The Colors the Impressionists Used for Shadows

The ultimate lesson in suitable colors for shadows comes from the Impressionists, who were masters at observing nature and the effects of light. If you don't allow black on your palette, just what do you use?

Understanding the Two Different Types of Shadows: Cast and Form

Crucial to painting a successful shadow is identifying what type of shadow it is, not to simply paint a generic shadow. You need to know what the differences are between a cast shadow and a form shadow, and how to approach painting them.

When to Create the Shadows in a Painting

At what stage in a painting should you do the shadows, and do you leave the shadow area white until you get to it or paint the shadow on top of other paint?

Tips on Painting Shadows

Read various tips on how to paint shadows from fellow artists. If you've got a great tip to share, use this form to submit it.

Adding Shadows by Glazing in Watercolor

Create a gentle shadow in watercolor with the final layer of glaze, which isn't done with black paint but a suitable primary. The multiple layers of color blend together to look like the dark tones of a shadow.

Painting the Sea: Shadows on Waves

Don't think shadows don't apply to seascapes -- not only do rocks on the shoreline have shadows, but waves may too, depending on the angle of the sun.

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