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How to draw shadows and highlights using markers

Shadows and highlights are one of the killer features of any piece of artwork, so long as they're done right. If you're looking for that missing link in your work in order to take it to the next level, then learning how to draw shadows and highlights using markers is going to get you there. Let's take a look at how to do it, why it matters so much and then a shortcut on how to get super results with less effort.


Just jump into the right section for you by clicking the subheading below and let's get started...

  1. How to do it
    1. Pick a light source and stick with it
    2. Use your lightest colors first
    3. Shade from light to dark
    4. Use a small circular motion
    5. For every lighter area, find the shadow
  2. Why shadows and highlights matter
    1. A bad example
    2. Some good examples
  3. How diluter pens & blending can help

 

1. How to do it

a. Pick a light source and stick with it

The fundamental rule when it comes to creating good shadows and highlights is to have a consistent light source. Even with all the greatest pen work and brushstrokes in the world, including staying inside every single one of the lines all you budding colorists out there (Hi, Dave!), your skills will be undermined if your light source is inconsistent.

Unless you're being purposely surrealist, an inconsistent light source will leave the human eye disorientated and your piece below-par.

 

b. Use your lightest colors first

Start with your highlights and build into the shadows from there. Seriously, step away from the light. Head over to the dark side. At least, until you're onto your next highlighted area. Then start the process again.

The trouble with not following this method and working your way out of the shadows is that light pens can't color over dark pens. Starting with your lightest color first means that you can always go back over them. It's that simple.

 

c. Shade from light to dark

On that theme, when it comes to shading your piece with your pens, start in the light areas first. If you're using a Chameleon Pen, always remember that we do things a little differently from other big marker manufacturers.

Chameleon Pens come with a unique Mixing Chamber where you can create multiple color tones using just one pen. All you have to do is infuse your pen nib with its Mixing Chamber and it will dilute the color. As you shade, the pen ink will return to its natural darker shade over time. It speeds up your process because you can color towards the darkest point on any object without the risk of the gradient color becoming too light.


d. Use a small circular motion

To get that most consistent, flat, CGI effect color finish, use your marker pen in tiny, circular strokes. Lines and longer strokes will lead to traces of pen movement in your finished color, even with alcohol pens when using a range of colors.

Tiny circular motions will give a much more even type of coverage and an improved finish. Coloring in this way won't entirely remove streaks and pen marks from your work but with a bit of practice, you'll perfect your technique and remove unwanted marks. 

 

e. For every lighter area, find the shadow

Try to think of shadows and highlights working in tandem. Even in fun pieces like children's drawings or even some types of flat design, if there's a light source, every lighter area will have a corresponding shadow.

To ignore this is to run the risk of the overall quality of your piece being diminished. The reason? Your mind will be picking up on the fact that something isn't quite right with this picture.

coloring a shadow without a highlight looks weird


2. Why shadows and highlights matter

Like we've kinda said, shadows and highlights are the key to adding that level of familiarity to your artwork or coloring. They're also the way to add the extra bit of super-high-level quality that separates your next piece from anything else you've ever produced. And here's something to note:

Highlights are the lightest part of your drawing in which you still have detail and shadows are the darkest. They also work best when they correspond to each other.

A final golden rule to base your knowledge on is that warmer light sources create softer, more blended shadows. For example, a candle being softer than a fluorescent light in a long corridor.

a. A bad example

This example is from somebody we know who would rather remain nameless. Look how the shading hasn't been controlled and what an effect it has. (Paul, let us know if this was the image you wanted us to use, okay?)

Badly shaded Chameleom

b. Some good examples

These images are from Angela Kubera (check out her Instagram here) and Tyler Goodrum (check out his Instagram here), two of the amazing artists from Chameleon's creative community. 

Illustration by Angela Kubera (Theavies)

Image: Angela Kubera (Theavies)

Illustration by Tyler GoodrumImage: Tyler Goodrum

3. How Chameleon Pens and blending can help

In order to create convincing highlights and realistic looking shadows, it's best achieved by utilizing different shades of color. Even under the sharpest of lights, no shadows and highlights are truly clean from each other. Every shadow will creep in from the lightest point to some degree.

When using marker pens, you could buy a color for every step in this journey from dark to light, shade with each pen individually and go over with a blender pen to smooth everything out. Or you could use a Chameleon Pen.

Instead of having a pen for each color on the spectrum, you can add a diluter fluid to your pen or paper and bridge the gap using just one pen.

Take a look at this video our colleague Julia created to show you how one pen can be combined with a Mixing Chamber to create a gradient of colors. These tools and tips can then be implemented by yourself. Using a pen which can produce seamless color gradations and blending, like the Chameleon Pen in the video, can step your shadow and highlight game up a level instantly.

 

Keep the tips coming and stay inspired

Chameleon Pens is putting together a helpful guide for artists of all levels that is bursting with tips, advice and templates to use. Just like our monthly newsletter, it's going to be packed full of tutorials and be free for everyone who signs up to receive it. Sign up to the Chameleon mailing list and be the first to know when the guide is ready to download and get exclusive tutorials straight to your inbox, every month.

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