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Shadow Shape Drawings

Caroline Buchanan Demonstrates How She Creates Shadow Shape Studies and Drawings with Watercolor

Shadow Shapes

You are asked to do a value study for your paintings. Sound familiar? You think you know what that is, so you sit down and draw the things that will be in your paintings and shade them-darks, mid-tones and lights. Is a collection of things a value plan? You aren't really sure.

If someone told you it isn't the shapes of the things in your painting, but the shapes of the values, that make it a stronger or weaker painting, would you agree? I have found that if students can draw only the shape's shadows and darks, leaving the white of the paper for the rest and eliminating the middle values, they suddenly start seeing the shapes of the values instead of the things-barns, roses, sky, children, and so on.

Light and Shadow
Let's try it. It helps, at first, if you choose something that has strong light and shadow. Take a Pitt Artists' Brush Nib Pen (or another felt-tipped pen) in one of the darker values. Draw the shadow shapes, the super darks, and leave the rest. No outlines. For example, here is a photo of an old boat and a shadow shape drawing (Example 1). Why don't you try to draw just the darks, looking only at the photo. You have to decide if the middle values are dark or light. There is more than one way that will work: Here is my two-value drawing, linking the lights and combining the darks, and the resulting painting.

see larger image

How can you use this way of drawing to work out a composition? Here is a photo I took of a Greek lady (Example 2). I decided I wanted to move her head against the dark of the door. I first did a trial sketch, using contours and shading, and discovered I didn't need the involvement of the table legs or all but one of the chair legs. Note that by drawing you discover what you want, rather than deciding ahead of time.

see larger image

Then, using the black Pitt pen, I reduced the sketch idea to black and white. I set her white scarf against the dark of the door on the right (the lightest light against the darkest dark is the focal shape). On the left, there is a dissolve or passage between the scarf and the wall. The shoulder on our left is in contrast to the wall, then dissolves into the table and the lower part of her body only to have her legs emerge as a dark against lights.

Her arm on our right merges into the darkened doorway. Upper right to lower left, there are two dark rectangles. Upper left to lower right, two light rectangles. There is a play back and forth of lights against darks and darks against lights, and passages of lights into lights and darks into darks. Now, do you see what we mean, that it is the shapes of the values rather than the shapes of the things? When translating it into color, the role of warm and cool hues set her forward of the door. But their values are very close.

Start shopping for shadow shapes and trying your own drawings-until you say, "It's not the shapes of the things that create a strong painting, but the shapes of the values..."

Materials List