Friday, December 26, 2008

Drawing Shadows, Drawing Light

Because paper is white, the substance of drawing is shadow.

Shadow is what we look for when we draw. Once we establish the outline, we begin to shade the drawing. Only at the end of the process are the illuminated areas revealed.


The drawing at the left is a 20-minute study of a costumed model with a brush and black ink.

What if we could reverse that thinking and explore the structure of the light masses from the beginning? The second study uses brown paper and white gouache to define the areas touched by light. After a quick line drawing, I painted in the light shapes, in this case ignoring or downplaying variations in the light.

The shadow side of the form had to take care of itself, unless I placed a patch of light behind the model to define the shadow side contour.

This is a very good exercise for any painter or any student of composition, because the light masses should really concern you more than the placement of darks.

8 comments:

Dianne Mize said...

What an excellent little exercise! And it works to help solidify and simplify light and shadow. I did this with my adult students back when I was teaching. It was fun to watch them exclaim over the almost magical results. An interesting little discovery on my part was that students who "got it" improved leaps and bounds in their painting.

Pat said...

The arm on the left drawing is just this simple white shape! That's awesome. Simplifying is easier said than done. I guess it helps to focus on the overall impression light and shadow gives.

Caleb Cleveland said...

Gorgeous exercise. I'll have to do this one myself, though I'm a little scared at what the results will be!

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I got into Notan having read Arthur Wesley Dow's book on Composition. I find the notan exercises where you have to simplify and identify the shapes for just two values (dark,light) and then three values (dark, light and an inbetween midvalue grey) to be an excellent exercise in really looking intensely at the subject matter to understand how it works - and not so easy!

dt said...

Oh, this is going to take some work. Not as easy as it looks. I acquired some gouache and used a few sheets of my kids construction paper and spent a couple hours painting cats on the couch. I think just starting out it might have helped to have a higher contrast model. Anyway, some interesting results, and it got me started with gouache.

Deborah Secor said...

You said that "the light masses should really concern you more than the placement of darks"...and I just HAVE to ask why?

Equally as much, certainly.

Very important concern, yes!

But MORE? Why?

I've been fighting with defining art concepts all day in my book, so I may look at this in the morning, slap my head and admit to being an idiot, but at the moment I really would love to know why...

Thanks!

James Gurney said...

Deborah, it's a good question. In traditional painting, the light masses attract the eye more strongly than dark masses. Our eyes instinctively orient to the light, like a moth to the flame. I know this invites even more questions, but I'll try to tackle it in a future post.

Julia Lundman said...

This is great. I've found that in painting, you really only need maybe two values in the shadows. It seems that is enough and that any more complicates the darks and tends to push the lighter darks into the "light" category. So, keeping darks simple seems to work best, at least in my humble opinion.

I love this exercise. And of course, you do it very well, as always! it's a joy to read your blog. :)