How to properly shade a drawing by understanding light and darkness

How to shade a drawing

Knowing how to shade a drawing is one of the necessary skills in realistic-looking art. Learn how to master this essential skill. We need to have a basic knowledge of light and shadow before we can apply these concepts to the art of drawing.

Understanding light and shadow

Rays of light travel in a straight line. If this line is interrupted by an object, it creates a shadow.

The shadows are the result of three key factors:

  • The shape of the object
  • The angle at which the light originates
  • The intensity of the light source

The shape of the object

When the light hits a sphere, an elliptical shadow is being cast. When the light hits a cube, it creates a square shape.

The angle of the light source

When bright sunlight hits an object directly from above, it creates a short shadow.

Later in the day, when the sun is very low, the sunshine creates long, more interesting shapes of shadow, because the angle of the sun has changed.

Often it is those elongated shadows that are interesting for artists to illustrate to indicate the presence of light.

The resulting shadow is called “drop shadow”.

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The intensity of the light source

The properties of the drop shadow depend on the strength of the light source. Unfiltered light creates a drop shadow with a sharp edge. A filtered light source cast a drop shadow with a blurry boundary. Think of sunlight behind a layer of thin clouds that has the same effect as a softbox in photography.

The greater the distance of the drop shadow from the object, the softer the edge of the shadow becomes. Notice that the drop shadow is darkest directly below the object and then brightens as it moves further away from the light source.

Drawing shade

How to shade a drawing: Applying the Concept to the drawing

If you want to learn how to shade, you only have to think of the three areas of the shadow on an object.

  • The bright side (area of the object facing the light)
  • Form Shadow (self-shadow of the object)
  • Drop Shadow
How to shade a drawing

The bright side (Highlights and mid-tones)

The highlight is the brightest part where the light hits the surface of the object directly.

The mid-tones or halftones will always be brighter than any value on the shady side and will blend into the form shadow.

Form Shadow (Form Shadow, Core of form shadow and reflected light)

The center of the form shadow is the darkest part of the shadow.

The rest of the shadow is made up of dark tones that change from the center to the reflected light if the background reflects some of the light onto the object.

Drop shadow (Center of the drop shadow, medium drop shadow, and tail)

The darkest part that sits directly next to the object; the mid-tones, which makes up the most significant part of the drop shadow; and the lightest, softest tail of the drop shadow.

Practice material and recommendations

Learning how to shade a drawing step by step is part of many of our drawing guides. For beginners, the instructions on how to draw a sphere are most suitable because the shape is so simple.

How to draw a sphere
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