Shadow shape

Shadow Shapes: Examples from Life Drawing

As a follow-up to the last blog, with examples from mastercopies of Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, with their corresponding shadow shapes, here are some examples from one of my Florence students, Randy, of shadow shapes from the live model.

In all three cases, we did not take the drawing further into the realm of a finished drawing, that is, put in the fall of light and big form modelling.  Rather, these drawings are sketches, which is to say: measured porportions, proper balance and composition, construct, well-articulated and refined shadow shapes, some modeling of structural half-tones in the lights, and some accents in the shadows.  This is the goal we are aiming for in a one-evening pose.

Articulating and Massing in the Shadows

The question has come up a number of times in class as to what constitutes a shadow and at what stage of the drawing should one differentiate between differing values of shadow.
The most important principle to remember is that shadow is where light from the single direct light source doesn’t reach.  So, if the light is coming from top left, it stands to reason that everything facing away from that light source does not receive direct light, and therefore it’s in shadow.  In this example, where light is from top left, all planes facing to the right and facing down, will be in shadow.  
Inside the shadows there may be some light bouncing back off a prop or another part of the body, back into the shadows.  That is called reflected light and is part of the family of the shadows.
Derek has kindly done a tracing for us of all the shadows in this Prud’hon figure and filled it in with a value #5.  This is the stage that every drawing should get to, before proceeding to the rendering of the lights and the variations of the darks.  The shadow shapes, and the light shapes are well articulated, and there is now a foil of grey for all the shadows and a base of white paper for all the lights.  There is no differentiation between lighter and darker shadows, bed-bug line, cast shadows, reflected lights etc.  All the shadows are value #5.
As for the lights, all previous marks, such as construction lines, centre lines, quarter- and half-way measurements are erased.

– Pierre-Paul Prud’hon

In reality, we are less likely to encounter a pose with so very much reflected light, and the following drawing, also from Prud’hon, is a more typical situation.  One again, we have top-left lighting.  Notice how all the shadows are facing away from that top-left.  Especially noteworthy is the lower part of the leg on our right.  It’s facing away from the light, but is getting a lot of reflected light.  According to our light logic, therefore, it belongs to the shadows and is treated as such from the beginning.  It’s worth noting, by contrast, the upper part of the leg on our left.  This part of the leg is a place that is receding in space (slightly) towards a locked knee.  It isn’t quite in shadow, but it is receiving much less light and is therefore part of the darker half-tones.

Pierre-Paul Prud’hon

Shadow Shapes


This iconic posterized image should be familiar to most people, and is instantly recognizable as Che Guevarra, despite being a simple pattern of light and shadow.  The original picture of Che has been altered from including all the finer shapes and subtle inuendos of half-tones and details in the darks.  In other words, the infinite variety of values has been reduced to simply two values.  Such an abbreviated value image, whilst recognizable in its major statement, is also devoid of much of the beauty and delicacy that comes with a well-articulated and intelligently-refined image.
The two-value image is graphic and basic. Yet it serves an essential function.  The precise articulation of the shadows pattern on the inside of the form describe changes in the topography, and thus forms the framework on which the rest of image will be built and elaborated.

Aside from the posterized versions of photos which I have just shown, we use shadow shapes to start our drawings and paintings. 
Here are some examples of portraits and figures in their shadow shape stage:

 – Academy of Realist Art, Toronto
 – Zdenek Sychrava

© Mandy Boursicot 2013