Diana De Santis: Cast a Colorful Shadow

It’s a misconception to think that shadows must be very dark and/or solid. Shadows come in all values?from just two or three shades darker than the local color of sunlit areas to several values darker than the local color in shade. In fact, shadows range from light and airy to dark and mysterious. By first observing carefully, then adding colors into your shadows, you can transform these often-neglected areas into a vibrant, dramatic part of your painting.


The Lavender Pickers (pastel, 18×24).

The long shadows I’m after are cast by side lighting, when the sun strikes an object at roughly a 30-degree angle. This type of lighting creates a strong, elongated impression of the form and colors from the objects in the scene are reflected in the shadows those objects cast. In addition, shadows also receive reflected colors from the sun and sky. These colors warm and lighten the shadow, producing a transparent quality. Afternoon shadows tend to contain more oranges and reds than morning shadows, and thus have a warmer look. You can use any combination of colors in shadows, as long as their values are correct.


The Work Shed, Florence (pastel, 12×9).

I use a direct approach to capture the drama of these shadows, usually using no more than three layers of color. I work on a Multmedia Art Board because it’s very light and acid-free. I prepare the surface with a mixture of pumice and gesso, adding enough acrylic color to tone the board to a midtone value. If I’m painting a landscape with people in it, I mix one part black acrylic and two parts cadmium yellow into the gesso to produce a nice earth green that’s great for fleshtones. For landscapes without people, I mix burnt sienna and orange into the gesso to produce a muted orange backdrop that works well with the blues and greens to follow.

Jan Kunz has written five art instruction books and completed three videos. She’s planning to open an art academy this spring in Florence, Oregon, where she lives. Lansing, Michigan, artist Thomas Nelson realizes most of his art falls under the umbrella of impressionism, but he tries not to use that label to limit his artistic outlook and growth. His advice to fellow artists: “Try to forget about style and technique as much as possible. Reach into your soul and find what it is in your life that’s most important to you and needs to be expressed. Make that the centerpiece of your work – the unique ‘thing’ your art is all about.”

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