No Two Shadows Are Alike

Beginner Drawing Shading Tips

I am usually heartened when I hear disagreements about matters of art and technique. Maybe I’m just combative that way, but more likely, I think I take such debates as a sign that there are more artists coming to the table, that the field is growing and evolving, and that there’s no end in sight. This can only mean good things for someone like me, who spends her whole day looking at art.

Drawing study by Renee Foulks, pencil on paper.
Drawing study by Renee Foulks, pencil on paper.

One area in which artistic schools of thought differ is how to approach the matter of shading. Classically inclined artists tend to standardize levels of shading. Drawing light and shadow is codified and controlled. On one hand, this allows an artist to get a handle on shading shapes relatively quickly. On the other hand, this gives the appearance of those shadows a level of sameness from artist to artist. You can often recognize how someone was taught shading techniques because they employ them in a certain way.

Other schools of thought approach shading differently and allow for more variation and less segmentation in shadow areas. An artist who typifies this approach is artist Renee Foulks, who has a great deal of depth and little systematic transitioning in her shadows. The artist works a lot slower as a result of this, because she deals with shadow areas on a case-by-case basis.

A work by Yasuyo Tanaka demonstrating suminagashi.
A work by Yasuyo Tanaka demonstrating suminagashi.

And sometimes “shading” is nothing of the sort. For example, suminagashi is an ancient Japanese technique that produces swirling marble patterns by mixing water and oil. The results trick the eye with their subtle gradations, and I know several artists who are exploring this technique as a way to better understand the abstract qualities of shading.

Knowing these differing approaches exist gives artists a great deal of options in the area of shading. Drawing shadows in perspective correctly, learning how to use types of shading appropriately, and exploring the nuances of crosshatching are some additional steps to take in order to begin to achieve artistic mastery in drawing.

For more on the building blocks of drawing and how you can leverage those skills into incredible works of art, start with the digital edition of Drawing for Beginners. It’s a great resource for brushing up on key skills so that you take nothing for granted and reap the benefits of techniques that all great artists employ. Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

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