f your drawings’ perspective seems off, the problem might be with shadows which make your art look flat.
Understanding how light works and behaves in contact with objects will help you improve your perspective-drawing skills and take your art to the next level.
In this article, we discuss shadow drawing basics and share some tips on how to use shadows to improve your sense of perspective.
#1 Know Your Pencils
Sketching shadows is an intricate endeavor, which is why having the right pencils for different shadowing is one of the most fundamental sketching tips.
To check the graphite’s hardness, look for a letter on the side of the pencil:
- the letter “H” indicates the hardness
- the letter “B” indicates the blackness (a darker mark means a softer lead)
When starting to sketch shadows, it’s best you use H pencils for foundation and then move on to finish the drawing with the darker B scale.
#2 Learn Light-Shadow Interaction Fundamentals
There are seven elements of the interactions between light and shadow, as this sphere-on-a-table drawing shows:
- highlight: the reflection of the light source on the object; its position depends on your point of view. Highlights have a lighter tone than direct light, but keep in mind that their intensity depends on the object’s material
- direct light: area of the object facing the light, with the lightest light on the form
- halftone: the tones start darkening to a neutral point between light and shadow
- reflected light: the light that, after reflecting on the table, changes its direction and is then projected on the object
- shadow: the neutral tone between the lightest and darkest tones
- core shadow: the contour of the shadow, usually of the darkest tone because no light touches this part of the object
- cast shadow: the silhouette the object projects on the surface; it can change in size and shape depending on the angle of the light
#3 Identify The Materials and Textures
Light behaves differently on skin, metal, or wood. Thus, start your sketches by defining whether the texture is rough or smooth and if it absorbs or reflects light.
Materials that have reflecting and smooth textures generally have higher contrasts and prominent highlights. On the other hand, an absorbing and rough texture has low contrasts with little to no highlights.
#4 Use Basic Perspective Principles to Cast Shadows
With a few simple lines, you can draw cast shadows of rectangular objects effortlessly. Start by drawing:
- a rectangular form using a 2-point perspective
- the horizon line
- the light source (above the horizon line)
- a line down from the light source to the horizon
To cast the object’s shadow, draw three lines from the light source outward and over the rectangle’s top corners closest to the viewer. Then, draw three lines over the bottom corners of the rectangle starting from the point where the horizon meets the line going down the light source.
Intersections of these six lines result in a defined shape of the object’s cast shadow.
When drawing cast shadows of spheres, start by defining the horizon line and the light source, and drawing a line to connect the two. Then, draw a circle and a square around the circle.
Next, draw two lines from the light source outward and over the top corners of the square surrounding your circle. Do the same from the intersection of the light source line and the horizon by drawing two lines over the bottom corners of the square.
Use the line intersection to define a basic shape for a cast shadow that is, for now, rectangular. To create the elliptical shape of the cast shadow, draw four lines from the light source over the midpoints of each square’s side. These intersections define the shape of your sphere’s cast shadow.
#5 Use Different Types of Edges
Using diverse sketching techniques to define object edges will help emphasize the perspective in your drawings. Some of the basic edge types are thin, hard, lost, and undefined.
Thin and hard edges create solid borders, whereas lost and undefined edges are used when the object and background somewhat blend together.
For practicing these edge types, draw complex objects with multiple plains to get a better sense of which areas are in focus, and which are backgrounded.
The human face is great for trying out different edges, especially the nose as it can cast many different shadows onto the face. If you’re not that great with drawing noses, here’s an easy nose drawing guide by BIOWARS to get you started.
Combine different types of edges to emphasize the perspective of your work and create a sense of depth.
#6 Think About the Propagation of the Light
With opaque objects, the light can’t pass through and it casts an even shadow. With translucent or transparent objects, sketching shadows can be tricky, as light passes through only partially.
In areas where the light passes through, the colors of the object can become more saturated. When drawing transparent objects, such as glass, the light jumps from one place to another, distorting the background, with the cast shadow having interesting highlights and overall silhouette.