Playing with shadows |

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Playing with shadows

Jo Quigley explains why shadows are such a vital element in your composition, and demonstrates how to paint cast shadows in acrylic


Carousel, acrylic, 30x30in (76x76cm)

As artists we are all unique, taking inspiration from many different sources and responding in many different ways. Yet despite varying subjects, approaches and styles, there is one subject we nearly all have in common and that is the light. Artists have long since appreciated the importance of light to transform a subject and many strive to capture its effects in paint.

Whilst changes in light affect the way we see tones, colours and textures, so too does it affect the way we observe shadows. It is important to remember that without light there are no shadows, therefore a painting without shadows will have no light. Hence in order to create the illusion of light, we must first understand how to paint shade.

So, if shadows are so important, why are they often the last and least considered element of a painting? One thing for certain is that the addition of shadows can either make or break a painting, so not giving them the attention they deserve can be a mistake. You only have to look at the work of the Impressionists, whose mission it was to capture the changing qualities of light, to see that there is much more going on in the shadows. In this article I am referring to cast shadows, as opposed to form shadows. Cast shadows are created as a result of an object obstructing the light, whereas form shadows are exactly that – shadows that show form, appearing on the object itself on the opposite side of the light source. Whilst they are both equally important, the approach to painting them is not the same.

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About The Artist

Let this month's issue of The Artist inspire and guide your next steps in drawing and painting a range of figurative subject matter in all media. From realistic still lifes in acrylics, watercolour landscape challenges suggested by Amanda Hyatt, David Parfitt and Paul Talbot-Greaves, through to portraits in oils and mixed media, our fantastic team of practising artist-contributors aim to help you develop your knowledge and skills based on their own experiences as professional artists and tutors. Check out the list of contents for more details of all the great articles in this issue, and look out for our latest sketching competition to enter on page 66, plus win £500 worth of gift vouchers to spend on art materials with Great Art in our PaintersOnline competition on page 6. See also pages 12 to 13 for the latest news on the Patchings Art, Craft & Design Festival (July 12-15). We will be celebrating the opening of our annual The Artist open exhibition there on July 12. We look forward to meeting our successful selected artists and visitors to the festival.