Saturday, February 4, 2012

Techniques for Painting Shadows in Landscapes

Today, let's consider shadows in landscape paintings once more, this time considering a few "how-to" techniques. (Scroll down a bit for earlier posts on this topic.) Of course, since painting is very individual and variable, I realize that my techniques and methods are only one way to approach this important element in a scene. I would love to hear from other artists who approach shadow painting differently--as well as from readers who might "see" them differently. I think shadows are fascinating to consider.
"Wooded Path" is adapted from some photos I took on the extensive grounds of the Kingsley Plantation, which I have written about in several earlier posts. This historic site is nestled in an immense preserve area just north of Jacksonville, Florida. The Timucuan preserve includes salt marshes, wooded areas, and Florida prairie, as well as other land and water habitats. The 16" x 20" acrylic painting on gallery-wrap canvas shows a bend in a path as it leads deeper into the woods. Unfortunately, I was not able to get a good, true photo of this piece (don't know why that happens sometimes). The photo of the final version, seen below an earlier view and a detail of the foreground, looks misty in the mid-ground, whereas the actual painting is clear. The work-in-progress took a better photo--hope you can see some value in the improvements in the final version in spite of the poor photo.
At first, the path was too uniformly dark and mid-dark in tone, so in the work-in-progress photo above, you see that I have lightened whole areas, especially just before the bend. Then I added some shadow areas gradually, being careful not to overdo either the amount of shadow area on the path or the darkness of the tones.
Linda Blondheim, in one of her excellent workshops, helped me see that the foreground shadow of the tree trunk was too dark as it moved away from the tree. Real life shadows tend to be darkest at their "source" (right next to the object casting the shadow) and then partially fade along the length of the shadow. Actually, I knew that, but had not been successful in my attempts to vary the shadow. It never looked right. Linda advised that I pull in other path tones and colors from the sides of the shadow edge as it moved away from the tree. To my eye, that worked like a charm, much better than my earlier tries at just gradually lightening the color I used for the shadow as it extended out.
One other change, made before Linda's workshop, was to revise the curve of the path in the foreground. Although not related to shadows, I thought you might like to see that revision, too. In the earlier version, it seemed like the perspective was off, like the path sort of spilled into the viewer's lap. The detail photo shows my sketched lines for revision, which led to an improvement in the composition, I think .
Question of the day: Do you look at shadows differently after hearing about the challenges involved in painting them?


  1. I think that despite reading so much on shadows and hearing the "word" itself crop up in many places in the art world, I still have a tendency to take them for granted and even still sometimes overlook them altogether. Something I'm working on...Anyway, I think this is one beautiful piece, Mary, and whether the path spills onto your lap or is off to the side, I think it makes me want to step into the piece itself. That is a wonderful thing!

  2. I'm so glad you look at this piece and want to "be there", Sherry. That is a high compliment, indeed. Yes, I have also had the experience of getting fairly far along on a painting without thinking about shadows. Then, when I begin to add them, it's amazing to see the added depth and enhanced feeling of looking at a real scene.

  3. Your revision is excellent, Mary. I am particularly fond of long shadows, just the word longshadow has a ring of intrigue to it.

  4. Hi Mary, Thank you for your kind words on my blog post and finding me through Carol's blog. I like the way you've handled the pathway which allows the eye to meander and wander through your bottom posted painting. Nice work and wonderful explanation to your followers.
    Love those shadows!

  5. Thank you, Carol; I'm pleased you think the revision works. What a cool observation you make! I've been savoring "longshadow" on my tongue and it's lovely.

    You are welcome, Linda; I truly enjoyed your blog and was happy to discover it and your work. I very much appreciate your insights and comments on the painting and my explanation.

  6. Mary, thanks for visiting my blog and helping me find yours. I like this painting very much and isn't it amazing how subtle changes can make such a big difference. The original painting was good; the final painting is terrific! Thanks for the information on the area (Bob and I stayed in Jacksonville one night on our way north via tandem bicycle last spring; we enjoyed the beautiful scenery as we rode north. Your explanation is most helpful, too.

  7. Thank you for your visit and kind words, Mary, and for your insights on the painting process. I'm glad you enjoyed the beautiful scenery around Jacksonville and on your way north. We find the variety of natural ecosystems in this area fascinating.