Tips to Paint Luminous Shadows in Watercolor

Painting luminous watercolor shadows will change your painting from nice to unforgettable! Many people consider the shadows to be grey, and they paint them that way. They also end up looking opaque and dull. Why not incorporate your work with vibrant and fascinating shadows? When rendering a watercolor, there are two types of shadows to learn.

The first is a form shadow that is seen on the subject itself. An illustration of this would be the area on a person’s cheek, shadowing. This will have visible soft edges. Another example of a form shadow would be a ball’s darker side. One area on its top will dispense the light, and under this is a form shadow; one without rough edges will be noticeable.

The second variety of shadow is a cast shadow. As the name says, this type of shadow is cast onto the area beneath the subject matter. An example of this would be the shadow of a person running, cast onto the pavement, or the shadow of a bowl of vegetable casts on a table. This type of shadow exhibits clear edges, matching its subject’s shape. Let’s use the container of vegetables as our example.

There are broccoli, cabbage, and a sweet little potato in the bowl. Each vegetable piece will have a form shadow on the lower part of its body. This should gently mix into the lighter, upper section, without visible lines. Since we can’t see the bottom of the vegetable piece, only a part of the form shadow will be visible. One piece of vegetable will most likely be casting a shadow on an adjoining piece. This shadow is a cast shadow and will have a clear line along its edge.

I recommend using colors from each piece of vegetable in your shadow. In other words, if the potato is casting a shadow on the broccoli, include some yellow and perhaps a touch of green. (Green is the complement of the potato’s yellow, and blue is the complement of the cabbage’s white-green.) Include some blue. Let these colors run and blend on the paper in the area you have chosen as the shadow. Combine some Cobalt Blue (CB) and Rose Madder Genuine (RMG) for your blue. Use a blend of CB and AY (Aureolin Yellow) for your green. These colors are all clear and translucent and will give you cool, transparent shadows.

“Drop-in” a little CB (Cobalt Blue) if you’d like while this area is still damp. The bowl will be throwing a shadow on the table. Consider this shadow shape as a design element of your work. Using the same laws as above, “drop” in the colors used in your painting, holding the lighter yellow the furthest from your subject. The deeper blues will be near and below the bowl. This will help to floor it to the table.

Let the colors in your shadow blend together by picking up your paper’s corner and bending it this way and that. Once this shadow area is arid, gently wet the complete area with a flat brush of water.

Next, go back under the bowl with a blue line and taper it out into the rest of the shadow. Drop in a little RMG while wet for more attention. Let the shadow fade away the further it gets from the pot. You should have a wonderful still life full of transparent, vibrant, lustrous shadows!

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