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How drawing shadows and highlights makes work look professional

By Chameleon Art Products
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There's a good reason why - outside of a nice piece of flat design - nobody looks at 2D colored images twice. Anybody can do that. A quick Google search will prove it and you'll even wonder why you wasted your time scrolling through the bad examples. On the flip side, adding shadows and highlights to your work is going to leave a seriously good impression. So, here's how shadows and highlights are key to making work look professional.

Picking a light source is key

Those that choose to stick with 2D images without any shadows or highlights clearly ignore how much of an impact the light source plays on any piece of art.

Sphere overlay tint using a Chameleon Pen

The image above is the simplest way of showing you the impact light can have, rather than sitting here and explaining it all day.

On any piece of art you create, pick one light source that has an impact on the piece itself.

Depending on where the light hits it, you're going to be drawing light, highlights, reflected lights and shadows (along with cast shadows) to make it look realistic.

With the right tools, it's easy to draw shadows and highlights to make your work come to life.


How shadows and highlights are used in art

The light source determines where your shadows are going to be. That's why it's important that you pick that out first before you get carried away and realize you have to start all over again because the light source is on the same side as your shadow. Now THAT is amateur hour. 

Anyway, your artwork will vary depending on how high or low you place your light source. Either way, the principles remain the same. Let's run through them before getting into some examples.

Highlight: This part will be the lightest on your piece, as it's the area which receives the most light.

Midtone: There are usually three general areas of tone in an image - highlights, shadows (there are two main types) and everything in between. This "everything in between" is also known as the midtone. It shows the real color of the object as the highlight shows the brightest and shadows show the darkest. 

Form Shadow: This is one of the areas on your artwork which receives the least light because it's where the object has turned away from the light source. But it's not the darkest shadow you'll need.

Cast Shadow: This is the darkest area because it's where the object stands in the way of the light. As the name suggests, it's the shadow cast by an object. When you're drawing a cast shadow, don't forget to add a range of other shadows. You'll be onto a winner.


Examples of highlights and shadows

Now for the good stuff.

Candy drawn with a green Chameleon PenCheck out the example above of a piece of candy by Olesya Andreyeva

We love how she's used highlights, shading, and shadows to transform her drawing into something you want to pick up and eat.  

Notice how the light source has been taken into account and the darkest colors have been placed to help give the drawing a 3D effect.

If you compare it to the poorly shaded sphere below, you can see the clear difference. 

Poorly shaded 2D example

It's clear to see the glaring differences between the pair. One has been blended perfectly with the inclusion of highlights and the light source taken into account. With the other, you can see why Paul in our office isn't winning any coloring competitions any time soon. No clear light source, no controlled highlights or shadows and no real quality. 

It's just not professional. Unlike...

Sphere being shaded in with a blue Chameleon Pen Sphere being shaded in fully with a blue Chameleon Pen
Sphere cast shadow created using a Chameleon Pen  Sphere overlay tint using Chameleon Pen

Check out the above example, from an old tutorial on our old blog (RIP), which clearly demonstrates how to include highlights, shadows and cast shadows on a drawing to make it look realistic and professional.

You can see the natural highlights added first where the artist colors away from the light source to give it a true-to-life appearance with volume and form.

Then depth and shading are added by repeatedly going over the darker colors to add shading and dimension to the piece.

Dimensions and shadows are then added by dialing back using a Chameleon Pen, which features a unique Mixing Chamber, to dilute the nib. This revolutionary technology means that the tones can easily be made lighter and darker. That's important to create cast shadows as you need a lighter tone than the color chosen to give it a cast shadow effect.

Finally, for added realism, consider adding an overlay tint to make it look like the light is bouncing off your artwork to look even more professional.


Techniques to practice

Hatching: To create shadows with not much texture, then hatching is the technique you need. It involves drawing lots of thin parallel lines over and over again.

Cross Hatching: The close cousin of the hatching technique helps add more darkness and texture to your artwork. To achieve this, draw lines at an angle which intersect to create plenty of miniature 'X's.

Circular: This technique is more beneficial on much larger areas. Use darker lines and shaded circular interior and space them apart to create more texture. This means circles which are placed together create a much smoother blend.


Inspiring end results

Once you've practiced those techniques, you can start to apply them to your artwork and achieve professional-quality results.

Shading skin tones using Chameleon Pens example

Try out the techniques by practicing when you next have a coloring session. You'll soon be the master at throwing shade in no time at all. For more helpful tips and advice, you can download our free guide to different techniques to get the most out of your Chameleon Pens.

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Tags: shading

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