Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Importance of Shadows in Landscapes

Recently, I have been reflecting on how important shadows have been in some of my landscapes and seascapes. Although a few scenes, either for reasons of the weather or for the perspective involved have few or no obvious shadows, most landscape painting and photography relies on shadows for drama, contrast, indication of light source, and pattern.
This will be the first of several posts about shadows, and I invite artists and non-artist viewers of nature to contemplate the subject with me. Today, the photos show a painting that originated from my interest in shadow patterns one afternoon, as well as one reference photo from the actual location. The rest of the scene evolved gradually, but the foreground shadows were both the starting point and my primary interest in the project. This is an 18" x 24" acrylic painting on gallery wrapped canvas adapted from a location on a private school campus in Jacksonville, Florida.
In early work, I sketched, then rough-painted indications of some of the darker value areas, as shown in a post about a year ago about the painting process. As the painting progressed, I wanted to create liveliness and interest in the shadowed grass, so tried to vary both the patterns and the colors in the shadows. One of the tricks my essentially mathematical mind played on me involved the patterns. Knowing that a nice balance of variety and related rhythms is most attractive to viewers, I painted in much of the grass and shadow area very quickly, trying not to think overmuch about what I painted where. Oddly, what I produced was a very regular, boring, repetitive pattern. Whoops--good thing that acrylics dry quickly and can be painted over relatively easily. In addition to the shadow patterns and variations in lighter and darker regions, notice the variety of colors--not corresponding to nature, really, but added for vividness and glow. This painting has a fairly strong palette to begin with, including the intense (and sometimes difficult to use) phthalo blue and a strong purple. All the darker tones in my palette appear in the shadows--purples, blues, greens, browns, and greys.
I am thrilled to say that our local son and daughter-in-law particularly liked this piece and accepted it as a second anniversary gift recently. Since it is among my personal favorites as well, it will be wonderful to be able to see it often.
Question of the day: Do shadows fascinate anyone else out there? There is so much one could say, both about actual visible shadows and about shadow as metaphor in life.


  1. Shadows have always attracted me, though quite honestly, I'm not the best at painting them. They grab my interest as I try to match them up with whatever is throwing them. Your post got me thinking about how impatient I am and why I bother doing art at all. Patience is a must for the artist and I simply am lacking.

  2. Sherry, I think you are too quick to find ways in which you are lacking. We are all lacking in some ways--we are human. You are constantly learning and growing as an artist, producing work that many of us find moving, interesting, and lovely. I wish for you in this new year a growing self-regard, a gentleness and appreciation for yourself just as you are. Cuz you are quite special, creative, and fun my dear.

  3. shadows are fascinating! i really like the 2nd painting! :)

  4. Thank you, Cher; I appreciate your response and encouragement. Have a wonderful 2012.

    You are more than welcome, Sherry.

  5. Lights and darks always fascinate me. I once walked into a feed store here in OK and saw a photo of a guy roping a calf. It was the shadows on the red dirt of the rodeo arena that drew me in. The feed store clerk thought I was crazy when I asked if I could borrow the photo. I painted that picture trying to capture the way the shadows played in the dirt. Yep, I like shadows.

    You have a great blog. Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment on mine.

  6. What a great story and example of noticing and and painting shadows, Lou! I appreciate your response to the blog and will definitely be back to your interesting blog soon.