What is the Value of Coloring a Shadow?

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

As an adult colorer we get very excited about coloring a cute image or something that we think would be gorgeous. We spend a lot of time picking out the pretty colors we want to use. We get excited about all of the art supplies we can use to color it. We may even take a class to learn the blending techniques to make the cute image look even cuter. We tend to get so wrapped up into the image that we forget about it being an object that is in 3D space. We finish coloring it and think, “hmmm why does my image look so flat” or “why does mine not look like the teacher's finished project?” If you have a flat problem, I would probably diagnose it as suffering from a shadow deficiency or, what us normal people would call "No Shadow” disease. There is no need to fret because the cure is not only painless, it’s cured with a quick treatment.

Before diving into shadows, we need to understand a bit more about shadows so we can create them better in our coloring. Shadows happen because something is blocking the light - simple enough, but understanding how the light is blocked creates different types of shadows. A regular old shadow is simply that an object is in the direct line of the light source creating darkness directly behind it. A cast shadow is similar but it is shadow that is created by one object onto another object or reflective surface. Let’s imagine looking at a woman who is watching the sun rise in the morning on the deck of her house. We see one side of her face being illuminated by the rising sun and directly behind her (on the side of the house) we would see her shadow. When we look closer at her face we see a cast shadow that her nose is casting onto her cheek, that cast shadow is not as dark as the shadow behind her because not all of the light is blocked, just enough to be noticeable. These minor details of shadows are not the focal point of the image but if they were not there we would say something is just not right. Her face would seem flat, because there are no indicators to tell you where the light is hitting. Shadows help tell the story.

When we want to color realism shadows need to be a part of the picture. Even if it is just a simple shadow to show the object is touching the ground or a table, it helps to put the image into 3-D space for realism. Without using any scientific jargon on every element of a shadow and the mathematical equations on the amount of light shown in each part of the shadow, I will just keep this explanation to what I understand as a colorer wanting to create realism. In art, many artist discuss how light creates highlights, shadows, halftones, core shadows etc. The list keeps going on but for a simple girl with a color marker in her hand ready to color something - I understand that to make a realistic shadow comes down to value. Yup I said that weird word that took me years to understand what all of my art teachers meant. Value is the tonal darkness of a color. It seems weird to say because what does that really mean, but I think it is easiest to understand by looking at a shadow.

In all shadows there is a very dark area that is practically black where there is no light at all that is the core of the shadow. Then as light seeps in more and more that darkness gets lighter and lighter, or as my art teachers would say the value gets lighter and lighter. So as we color a shadow it is really just deciding the value you want or need. When we color there are basically two types of shadows we usually would color for realism drop shadows and cast shadows. Actually there are three but I will talk about the third a little later. A drop shadow is a shadow that can bring the object higher than the other objects in the image. You see this most often in word graphics or when people color greeting cards they will add a drop shadow to the letters to make the letter appear like they are popping off the paper. Then there is a cast shadow when an object is blocking the light from hitting an object behind it. Cast shadows are seen most often in the images we color. Understanding what type of shadow you are creating takes the fear of messing it up and secondly it will make your image come to life.

Are you ready to try something fun? Of course you are!

Grab a flashlight and any object on your desk and head to a dark room in your house. Now hold the flashlight far from the object (turn it on of course) and notice the cast shadow it makes on the table. Then move the flashlight closer and closer to the object while watching what happens to the shadow. Notice where the shadow is the darkest and where it starts to get lighter and lighter.

Now look a little closer - do you see a reflection shadow? Yeah, that is that third shadow I mentioned earlier that helps add realism. A reflection shadow is created when the light bounces off an object and it creates a mirror image of the object. It is details like this that are so subtle but will take your coloring to a whole new level.

Shadows add so much value to your coloring. Shadows will never be the star of the show but you will never win an academy award without one.

Here's what we're practicing

now in the Corner . . .

Even though we are currently focusing on coloring glass in the Practice Corner, did you happen to notice the cast shadow under the jar and the reflections under the bottles? Subtle as they are, they add to something to the story. If you want to learn more about illustrating glass come hang out with us in the Practice Corner for the month of June as we guide you though practicing this technique.

If you are reading this after June, don’t despair, you can still explore and practice creating glass with realism by purchasing the "Glass" Technique Practice Pack here!

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