Do Shadows Intimidate You When Coloring?

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

Have you discovered the value of adding shadows to your coloring projects? I know that when I started coloring the last thing I thought about was adding any shadows. However, as my coloring evolved and I wanted to create more realism, shadows became important to me. There were many times that I thought my work could stand on its own without any shadows, but I have to admit that I could see a major difference when I added them.

So why didn’t I naturally add shadows when I colored? I will tell you why. They scared me. I wasn’t sure for the longest time why they did, but I finally figured it out. The artist never drew in the area where I needed to put a shadow. What were they thinking, I’m not the artist so how the heck am I going to be able to draw shadows on my images? That put the fear of shadows into me. I was extremely intimidated at the thought of having to do this. The result of which was that I came up with my own late-night Top Ten list of reasons to fear coloring shadows. I bet you might recognize some, if not all, of these:

Kathy’s Top Ten

Reasons to Fear Coloring Shadows

  1. I don’t know where the light is coming from

  2. I don’t know how big to make my shadows

  3. Cast shadows done right look great, done wrong . . . argggg

  4. Shadows done correct require knowledge and understanding of “perspective”

  5. I must think about my shadows before I color to determine everywhere shadows needs to be added

  6. I don’t know what color to make a shadow

  7. I don’t know if the direction of the shadow must be consistent

  8. Photo references have been edited to remove the shadows I’m looking for

  9. I don’t want to ruin what I’ve spent hours coloring

  10. It isn’t part of the artist’s drawing--I have to create it myself

Here’s the good news, I have overcome most of my fears when it comes to shadows and you can too. You see, I believe it’s important to know enough about shadows to have a good understanding about them. But then, embrace this quote from Pablo Picasso,

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist”

and now go with your intuition! Yep, quit worrying about all the technical aspects of shadows, the perspective, the angle of the light and all those other things we're reading about.

Instead, when you are coloring try asking yourself a couple of simple questions to help figure out how/where to create your shadows:

  1. What is the brightest spot in the image? That is clearly the most lit area and therefore the light is coming from in front of that spot. You also know that the object that is most brightly lit is blocking light, so the shadow would go behind the brightly lit area. For example: if you have an image of a coffee mug that is brightly lit on the right side, the shadow is going to come out the left side of the image, or if you have an image of a beach ball being lit by the sun in the afternoon, the ball will be the brightest where the sun hits it in the upper left and the shadow will come from the lower right.

  2. What is the color of the surface the shadow is falling upon? It is that color that will be altered by the addition of your shadow. For example: there is a tall tree in a park, the sun is casting a long shadow from the tree, across the grass and onto a paved parking lot. Where the tree is shading the grass, the grass will be a darker green, but where the tree is shading the parking lot, the grey pavement will become a darker grey. If there is no surface, you are adding a drop shadow onto your white paper, it will normally be a neutral shade of grey.

  3. What direction does the shadow go? If the image being lit by a single light source, such as the sun, the shadows will normally go in the same direction, but multiple light sources can cast multiple shadows in multiple directions (i.e., an object being lit by the light from a window and an overhead light). Personally, at this stage in my coloring, I try to stick with single source lighting to simplify things.

  4. Does your photo reference include shadows? Oh, no, upon closer inspection you now notice that there is no shadow being cast from the image. How can that be when the image has highlights? The dreaded photoshopped image! Photo references are so important to help us develop our coloring projects. But beware, photos are often edited. To the casual observer, it may go unnoticed, but to someone trying to get the visual details from the photo this can be a problem. Just because a shadow is edited out doesn’t mean you don’t color it back

  5. How big do you make the shadow? That’s up to you. Remember that your shadow at minimum is adding depth to your image. But many shadows will also add to the story your image is telling. If you don’t want the shadow to become part of the story, don’t make it so big that it grabs the viewer’s attention and doesn’t let go.

If you consider these questions when you get ready to color, you will be able to add shadows to your project. As with all our coloring, shadows take practice. The more you study them, the more you will see amazing nuances that you can bring into your coloring projects. I don’t know that any two shadows are alike, and that is very freeing to me, as I don’t expect myself to replicate shadows.

When starting out, I would color my shadows with a light Copic marker or colored pencil. When I was happy with the placement and size, I would then build up my shadow color with additional layers of pencil until I could tell they were shadows. Today, I look at shadows everywhere. When riding in the car, when the light comes out behind a cloud and comes through a window. I even take pictures just to capture the shadow for an upcoming project. What used to scare me now makes me smile.

We are spending the month in the Practice Corner focusing on how to add shadows to our coloring projects.

Adding shadows to your coloring projects will not only anchor the image to the page, they can set a mood, tell you something about the time of day and add depth.

Time for me to get back to my practice. I'm off to practice creating different types of shadows. It's never too late for you to overcome the fear of adding shadows to your coloring images.

If you are reading this after we moved on to the next technique, you will be able to find the Practice Technique Pack for Shadows here!

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