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Shadows in Watercolor Paintings can make or ruin a painting.

In sketchbook work indicate them for future use.

Sketchbook for Watercolor in Plein Air painting is a must.


Portrait painting in Watercolor, Landscapes, Backgrounds, Flower Watercolor Paintings, Seascape Watercolor Paintings, Still Life Watercolors, even Texas Landscapes (it's not all desert as Hollywood cowboy movies portray it)

All the above, and others, need shadows.

This is another problem very common for beginners -  Not you,  intermediate or advanced painters  -  HUH!

You use Black or Gray for shadows as if shadow were in absence of color.  Could it not be quite the opposite?  Shadows are full or bright colorful luminous, transparent shapes.

All the surrounding "objects" reflect light, the sky is reflected, the flowers reflected light also the leaves and so on.  All these colors can be found in the shadows.





The complete understanding of seeing and grasping the characteristics of light when painting, cannot be overstated.

Keep in mind the following, shadows will follow the contour of the "OBJECT" they are falling on.  Shadows from a building will not be perfectly lined up with straight lines (unless it's built on a pool table).  See how many paintings with sharp edged shadows that you find. Novices do it all the time

Let's analyze the lighting on a Green Pepper and review some terms generally used when discussing light and shadow.




HIGHLIGHTA direct reflection of light are the White areas, hard lines to show a shine on the surface.

PENUMBRA - A partially illuminated surface very often perpendicular to the light source. It is anarea between the light and shadow. Shown as the lightest Green.

CORE SHADOW- An area that receives no direct light, but could well be illuminated by reflected light.Shown as Mid Green.

REFLECTED LIGHT- This is light that bounce's off an object onto another. None shown.

FORM SHADOW- This is the part of an objects surface that faces away from the light source consisting largely of the core shadow. Darkest Green.


Are you still with me?

One more shadow coming up.

CREVICE SHADOW - A very fine (small)warm shadow under either an object sitting or placed on a fairly level surface. Example - mug meets table, small warm dark line.

Keep this in mind when thinking about how light falls on an object. Light will abruptly change on a cube.

Light will have a gradual transition from light to dark on sphere, cone or sphere.

Think(there he goes again asking us to think). How could you paint an Orange colored plastic shiny ball in one hand and a similar colored tennis ball? So I would immediately know which is which -------Got any ideas

Here's one simple way.

On the paper shiny ball the highlight will be hard edged and curved, indicating shape, on the fuzzy tennis ball the highlight will be de-fused no hard edges. There will be a gentle transition from light to dark also will be following the shape of the sphere.


Not making it plain to the viewer where they might be in relation to the picture before them.

Make sure they can see the angle of the light and it's direction.

Is it supposed to be at eye level ,or above, or below, don't confuse them. Make sure they know their position relative to the scene before them. I hear you now saying to yourself, "I am not sure of all this thinking bit,justlet me paint".

Watercolor painting is one of the very best ways to stop the brain from, shall we say, rusting

You will always have to think, work, study, trust me there is no end. You may well be very pleased with your latest efforts, but that little voice will always say if you would have done this or that it might have been better.

You cannot expect to hit a home run every time you paint. Even the best of the best, that I have been around with, tell me they will place maybe two paintings out of three on the market. Tear one up.

Some time ago a great master once told me "anytime you see a really dark sky" I messed up the sky, and had to change the whole lighting in the picture.

Low and behold Jim is in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and there is a huge painting, by this master,dark sky, the whole bit, name and all, big (hugh price), and sales person remarks,  to me "this Artist......... knows how to paint dark skies - smiled and left.


What kind of shadow do you have or wanting to have? Ask yourself these questions

Is the light warm or cool?

Light source natural or artificial?

What month or time of day is it?

All of the above questions must be given some thought.

Generally speaking on few common characteristics that occur for shadows. They are NOT just black or gray, they can be transparent. The complement of the subjects color will be there even if just slightly, look for it.

Warm light expect cool shadows. Cool light expect the opposite - warm shadows.

As the shadows recede they will get lighter and cooler.






Top of the box is cooler (more towards Blue), then the vertical surface facing the light source.

Horizontal surfaces reflect the sky. That last five words are very important,do take note, a pond or other body of water will reflect the sky (color). Don't paint sky with say Ultramarine Blue and turn around and paint the water in another Blue. Yes,it is done all the time.

An argument could be made, that the bottom color of the pond etc. will also have some effect on the final color.


The cast shadow area was not painted in, it is very dependant on the surface color that it is resting on. This question comes up all the time how dark should the shadow be. Both the shadow area and cast area are about 40% darker than the area facing the light. Measure this with your value scale , remember the one you were shown how to make some weeks ago.

But the shadow side is subject to "reflected light", example, try placing a bright warm colored piece of paper near by the shadow side, it will receive a warm glow.

This may surprise you, none of this glow will show up on the cast shadow.

Write this down - Cast shadows DO NOT contain reflected light.

Reflected light can fill shadows with brilliant color, not always obvious. Make a point in looking for it. Look at the color around your subject, they will give you a hint about the possible reflected light on your subject.


Some Artist's may well claim to see the complementary color in the cast shadow, for sure you will see the surface color receiving the shadow.


These guys are not affected by the sky, therefore, they are.........very warm darks.

Can you now relate the box to say a floral?





Look at the Rose and read the instructions given below and it should make sense.

Think of it this way, Horizontal Surfaces (petals folding down, looking up at the sky, will be a cool Red.

Vertical surface petals, facing the light will be the lightest warm Red, hints of pure white might work well.

Cast shadow area, 40% plus darker than vertical petals.

Warm Crevice darks will appear where the cast shadow and the shadow (core form) edges meet.

Rose is complex in shape and forms, but still follows the same principles of light and shadows shown in the box image.

Within a Rose or any flower for that matter, shadow sides, cast shadows and crevice darks are every where.

Curved petals facing sun are warmest at the top, then cool if and when they turn from the light.

Reflected light may or may not be present.

Apply this knowledge to everything you paint. Observe a tree trunk in full sunlight, notice the varying temperature colors.

Literally, thinking is to be avoided.

Students will say I cannot put a shadow across the road, across the foreground or what ever, "it is not there".

Or I cannot put a shadow there, there is nothing in my picture to cause a shadow.

These are the pitfalls of literally thinking.

Shadows help break up boring areas, facilitate eye movement.

Viewer will believe them if the light direction is consistent.

Do your watercolor paintings look a bit "amateurish"?

Would you like to learn how to make your watercolor paintings look more "Professional"? In just six simple steps, you can create professional looking watercolor paintings!




Watercolor Basics

One of the biggest reasons that students fail in painting Watercolor is................. JUDGING YOUR EARLY ARTISTIC EFFORTS.



Watercolor for Beginners

Learn the basics of watercolor painting... from choosing the right paper and brushes to learning basic techniques of glazing and how to frame your work.



Watercolor Techniques

Learn just a few of the various techniques used most often by professional watercolorists to bring interest, texture and "life" to their watercolor paintings.

Each technique is fully demonstrated.


Painting Trees

Although trees are made up of many parts and endless textures don't let them become overwhelming, you cannot fall out of these painted trees. I know you can paint good looking trees with a little help. So lets see how you are going to do this without getting bent out of shape, irritated or what-ever you do when those Green Balls on sticks appear.......been there...done that.

Painting Landscapes

I am going to present to you a "non encyclopedia" approach and give you a no fuss, logical way to paint a watercolor landscape and have fun doing it. Before we start, get comfortable maybe a favorite beverage would be in order. Make your mistakes, goofs and failures work to help you in painting a watercolor landscape.

  • Four Seasons
  • Working With Fresh Transparent Glazes
  • Watercolor Painting in the Great Outdoors
  • Painting Clouds in Watercolor
  • Step by step Demonstration on Watercolor Winter Scenes
  • Demonstration of Painting Trees Trunks
  • Demonstration of Rocks and Sea
  • Demonstration of Watercolor Skies
  • Watercolor Landscape Painting Tips

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