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.

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

Classical Order of Light


In addition to light and shadow to describe a three-dimensional object, we use a range of values from light to dark to describe the volume of the object as it turns towards or away from the light.  If there is more than one object, or if it is a complicated subject, such as the human form, then it’s more than likely one section will be closer to the light source than another part (a model’s chest, for instance) would be closer than his foot) and hence the light hitting the closer section would be brighter than the light hitting the further section.  We would then replicate the quality of this diminishing light in our portrayal of that model.

To this end, we use a nine-step value scale to describe different tones in the light and dark, and create the illusion of form and volume, and recession into space.
– Academy of Realist Art
In this system, the number 1 value represents the lightest of the lights, which will be the white of the paper, and the other extreme, the number 9 value, represents the darkest of the darks, which is the blackest that we can achieve with the medium we are using (this can vary depending on whether we are using oil paint, printer ink, charcoal, pencil, etc.)
In the sphere with light hitting at 45 degrees, we can render the whole volume of the sphere with different tones as follows:
– Classical Drawing Atelier, Juliette Aristides

Even though the eye can distinguish many more values than can be represented in pencil, it is enough for the artist to use nine values, as the viewer will read our smaller range of values in the same way as they would read a much greater range of values in nature.
In our nine value scale, the lightest values, 1 and 2, will represent the lightest lights.  3 and 4 will represent the middle lights.  5 and 6 will represent the darkest of the family of the lights, those halftones.  7, 8 and 9 will represent the shadows, that is, the light shadows, the middle shadows and the dark shadows respectively.
A later blog will deal with the nature of different shadows.  For now, it’s worth noting that reflected lights belong to the family of the shadows and will most likely be the lightest of the darks.

© Mandy Boursicot 2013

Light and Shadow

The knowledge that we seek to increase, to inform our understanding of visible reality, is based on the physics of light, the examination of human anatomy, the study of perspective, the conceptualization of bodies in space and in motion, and the mathematics of geometry.  These are widespread fields of study, and the artist may only need to consider very narrow and specific portions within each discipline.  This blog will aim to cover those aspects that relate specifically to purposeful application by the artist, and these will be covered in due course.  For now, we will start with the foundational groundwork .
First, in order to have a common understanding, it is necessary to have a common vocabulary, to discuss both the most basic principles and finer points.
Light and Shadow
Classical Realists are concerned with the creation of an illusion of reality, specifically the illusion of a three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional surface. In order to achieve a masterful drawing, the realist needs to understand and apply the principles of the Classical Order of Light.
Without light, nothing is visible.  What we aim to create on paper is our closest approximation to what the eye sees.  We therefore need to understand how light works, and how we, as humans, see.
We need to turn to the study of physics to understand exactly how light works, and in future posts, we’ll be examining different aspects of the science of light.  For now, we’ll be looking at the Classical Order of Light.

– Classical Drawing Atelier, Juliette Aristides
Light travels in straight lines and when it hits an opaque object, such as a sphere, it will not pass through that object.  Indeed, a part of the sphere will receive light and a part of the sphere will not receive light. 
That part of the object where direct light cannot reach is the shadow.  Specifically, it is the form shadow (the shadow within that form).
Additionally, that form, our sphere in this case, is casting a shadow on another form, in this case, the ground plane, and that is the cast shadow.
These concepts are so essential to grasp and remember, it is worth repeating and internalizing them, so that we won’t confuse the shadow area with other tones on the light side that might describe undulations, furrows and other details.
The part that receives light from the direct light source belongs to the family of the lights.
The part that does not receive light from the direct light source will belong to the family of the shadows.
If in doubt about what one is seeing, it is worth testing whether a “darker” area is shadow or light.  One should first identify where the light source is located in relation to the object one is observing and use a process of logic to arrive at the right answer.  If the light source is in the top left, then it stands to reason that whatever is facing away from the light source (to the right, and downwards) would be the form shadow.  Any plane that is facing away from the light, a down plane, would most likely be part of the shadows.
A form shadow will also have a bed-bug line or terminator.  This is a boundary that completely “fences off” the perimeter of the shadow from the light.  We can look for such a bed-bug line to determine whether that is shadow or not. 
A cast shadow will be on another plane where there is an impediment, obstructing the path of the light from falling on that other plane/object.  A cast shadow will have its own outline or perimeter clearly visible.
The third test one could apply is to actually place something solid like a knitting needle in the area which one is testing.  If a cast shadow from the needle is visible in that area, then it is not part of the shadow.  If that area is indeed part of the shadow (no light is falling there in the first instance) there will be no cast shadow visible from the needle.

This photo illustrates that the shadow being cast by the knitting needle doesn’t continue into the shadow below the bottom lip.  This means that entire area under that lower lip is shadow, albeit very light shadow, including reflected light.

© Mandy Boursicot 2013