A Theory of Light and Shade ©Sheri Lynn Boyer Doty
Value is the term used to describe light, gray and dark tones.
Johannes Itten wrote “the contrast between light and dark is one of the most expressive and important means of composition.” Value contrast can be encountered in both colorful and non-colorful art renderings.” All neutral tones from white, black and all the gray tones between are called achromatic, meaning having no color. All tones that have some color are call chromatic. When investigating art in all its components, you must consider the relationship of value to other art elements, color, line texture and shape. All these elements must exhibit some value contrast in order to remain visible.
A simple Value Scale shows figure-ground relationships
Figure-Ground is the condition in which backgrounds tone or hue changes the visual impact of the figure resting on it. The same hue or value appears to be a different depending upon the contrast of tone or hue of the background upon which it is placed. Conversely, two different tones or hues appear to be the same when placed on contrasting grounds. Each will have an impact on how believable your art will be perceived by the viewer. Most people have difficulty perceiving “figure-ground” relationships. When the same medium toned figure is placed on varied light and dark backgrounds, it will be perceived to be as a different value.Example: When a medium gray is placed on a near black background, the mid-gray tone appears very light. When the same gray tone is placed on a near white background, it is perceived to be very dark. But when a mid gray tone is placed on a similar value background, the contrast is minimal. Note how the same mid-tone value patch looks different when placed on backgrounds of contrasting values.
Value describes volume and depth of space In Europe artists of the Renaissance were concerned with showing depth and volume in opposition to the artists of the Middle or “Dark Ages.” Men of the Renaissance considered their time period to be the Age of Reason and rebirth of artistic and mathematical achievements. Renaissance artists manufactured the term “Chiaroscuro” to describe how light and dark can imply depth and volume. The word Chiaroscuro is a combination of two Italian words that mean light and dark. (chiaro (clear, light) + oscuro (obscure, dark) Atmospheric or Ariel perspective was one of the artistic strategies used in the study of Chiaroscuro during the Renaissance. (Atmospheric or Ariel perspective is covered in depth in the section “Objective Color Harmony”.)
Chiaroscuro and the Illusion of creating intuitive space.
One of the most used and useful applications of value is creating the illusion of volume and mass on a two dimensional surface. When a mass is exposed to light, a solid object will receive more light from one side than another when that side is closer to the light source. A spherical surface demonstrates this as an even flow tone from light to dark. A cast shadow is created when the source of light is obstructed by the sphere. An angular surface shows sudden contrast of light and dark.
Intuitive Space is merely a trick the artist uses to create depth on a two dimensional surface.
“Intuitive space” is merely the illusion space created by using artistic methods to trick the viewer into seeing depth, volume and mass on a two dimensional surface. Intuitive space is sensed or ”felt” on a two dimensional plane. Intuitive methods of space control include overlapping, transparency, and other applications of spatial proportion. In a “Theory of Light and Shade” I will show how to create intuitive space by using “Light Logic”.
Light Logic refers to how light interacts with objects. Light Logic is the term Betty Edwards uses in her book “The NewDrawing on the Right Side of the Brain”
Light Logic and the Rendering of Three Dimensional Objects onto a Two Dimensional Surface.
You will make your art more believable when you keep these basics in mind.
A Light Source and Shadows
A light projected onto an object or figure creates lights, darks, and cast shadows. Your source of light may be the sun, the moon, a light through a window or an artificial light. When several light sources are present the light and dark tones vary and are less predictable. To simplify the study of light and shadow in this first section, I will use only one light source.
Two Kinds of Shadows
There are two kinds of shadows that occur when one light shines on an object, a cast shadow and a form shadow.
When an object blocks a light source it casts a shadow. A cast shadow is not a solid shape but varies in tone and value. The farther a cast shadow is from the object which casts it the lighter and softer and less defined becomes its edges.
A form shadow is the less defined dark side on an object not facing the light source. A form shadow has softer less defined edges than a cast shadow. Form shadows are subtle shadows essential for creating the illusion of volume, mass and depth. The changes in form shadows require careful observation – quinting at the subject to see value definition affected by figure-ground making value relationships clearer.
A Light Side and a Dark Side on Round or Circular Surfaces
When one light source is present, I was taught the dark side is “always”darker than the light side of the object and the light side is “always” lighter than the dark side. Establishing a definite light side and dark side makes round objects appear round and defines the form of an object accurately. Use this simple trick to make your artwork more true to life, separate light tones avoiding figure-ground confusion.
THE LIGHT SIDE IN TWO PARTS
The lightest spot or streak is where the light strikes the subject in exactly the middle of the light side between the shadow edge and the edge of the object. A highlight can be shinny and crisp on a glass or metallic surface, or fuzzy and muted on a dull or textured surface.
Light middle tones
Note, to avoid confusion, “always” keep the values on the light side lighter than the values on the dark side. In reverse, the values on the dark side are darker than the values on the light side. It’s the middle tones on either side that confuse the artist’s eye in value relationships
The Dark Side in Three Parts
Form Shadow in Three Parts
“Shadow edge” or “core shadow”
The edge where the light is blocked from the light source is the darkest value on the dark side. The core or darkest value blends into the middle tones from the shadow edge on round subjects.
Dark middle tone
The variable values blended form the shadow edge on the dark side. Again, the dark middle tones are darker than any values on the light side. The human eye can trick the brain into believing the lightest values on the dark side are the same as the darkest values on the light side. If the artist is confused about lights and darks, the rendering is less understandable.
If the object being painted is sitting on a white table, the light from the table reflects back onto the object and makes the shadow side lighter. If the object of the painting is resting by something black or dark, the middle values will become a dark reflection. The concept also holds true when the object of the painting is sitting on a colored surface. If the reflected light is reobject.
When the source of light is blocked by an object it casts a shadow. The length and shape of the cast shadow depends on the placement of the light source. Long shadows are cast from a side light source (as from the sun in late afternoon or early evening), and short cast shadows are cast from over head (as from a noonday sun). The shape a shadow casts depends on the shape of the object casting it and how close source is to the object.
CAST SHADOWS IN THREE PARTS
The vocabulary used to describe cast shadows in art come from shadow descriptions in astronomy. The umbra, penumbra and antumbra are the three distinct names given to the description of shadows cast by heavenly bodies. The umbra is the darkest part of a shadow considered the absence of light. The penumbra is a lighter outer shadow where the object is only partially obscuring the light. The antumbra is more obscure. When it is visible it seems to extend out from the penumbra in a lighter and less distinct way.
Light Source, Cast Shadows and the Axis
Cast Shadows The Sphere
The Cylinder and Cone
More on Cast Shadows
Too many complex cast shadows can be confusing. Such objects can be rendered by blurring the edges.
Daylight and Cast Shadows
Cast shadows of irregular shapes and in natural sun light are open for interpretation because of the constant changing sunlight: As you work on location, the sun will continue to advance and change what you are drawing. Note the place you would have the sun be positioned, and keep that constant to avoid a confusing spread of shadows. The nature of shadow is affected by weather, sunlight, moonlight, or artificial light.
Multiple Light Sources or an Undefined Light source
Multiple light sources or an undefined light source minimizes the gradation of values and flattens the sense of volume in three dimensional objects. Because of this lighting affect, artists such as Manet painted colors in flat areas neglecting the use of one light source to create shadows. An undefined light source causes a sense of shallow space. Some art critics believe this sense of shallow space to have paved the way for “nonrepresentational” uses of value and color.
Manet’s Painting, “The Railway” shows value contrast in composition, but the sense of shallow space is emphasized by a lack of a single light source.
Objects Have Light, Medium or Dark Values
Objects have an allover light, medium or dark quality. To make your representation more believable, you should take into consideration the light or dark value of each object. Before you render details, block in the value characteristics of each object. Using this strategy will save you time and achieve a more realistic result.
Value Schemes and Mood
You create a sense of mood or interest depending on the combination of values present in a work of art. When value contrast is limited to a small range of tonal variations the result is one of understatement and calm. “High Key” is the term used for a light value scheme. All middle tone values are in a “Medium Key” range.
And “Low Key” refers to an allover dark toned value scheme. Sharp value contrast evokes strong emotions in the viewer suggesting drama or conflict. Extreme value contrast in a value scheme refers to a style of chiaroscuro called “Tenebrism”.
Tenebrism – Violent Chiaroscuro
In the 17th century, a group of painters instituted the so called “dark manner” of painting. They were inspired by Michelangelo di Caravaggio. Rembrandt perfected this manner of Chiaroscuro. Tenebrism made value an instrument of strong contrast that lends itself to a dramatic and even theatrical style of using light and dark contrast. The tenebrists were interested in peculiar lighting causing mood or emotional expressionism. The deviation from standard light conditions into unexpected lighting locations creates unusual and special effects. This style is used today by photographers.
The analytical study of Chiaroscuro in the art of today
Using chiaroscuro to create excitement and interest in composition is a modern concept. Artists of the Renaissance were concerned with showing depth and volume on a two dimensional surface. The expression of light and contrast in old and new masterpieces reveal the continued importance of Chiaroscuro in art.
Notan is a Japanese word meaning dark-light. The principle of Notan is the interaction between positive (light) and negative (dark) space. This interaction is confirmed by the ancient Chinese symbol of Yin and Yang. This is represented by mirror images of one black and one white shape revolving around a center point. The positive and negative areas make a whole through a unity of opposites that are equal and inseparable. In Notan, opposites complement and do not conflict.
“An understanding of Notan traditionally has been and will be a requirement for mastery of any field of art. It enables the artist to compose a work in which all the parts relate to create a unity of visual organization, impression, or pattern. Notan enables the artist to achieve a Gestalt – or more simply to create a design.”Notan The Dark-Light Principles of Design by Dorr Bothwell and Marlys Mayfield
Lao-Tse wrote a poem that to me simply states the Essence of Notan:
Thirty spokes meet in the hub, but the empty space between them is the essence of the wheel.
Pots are formed from clay, but the empty space within it is the essence of the pot.
Walls with windows and doors form the house, but the empty space within it is the essences of the house.
The Principle: Matter represents the usefulness Non-matter the essence of things.
Poem taken from Johannes Itten’s book Design and Form, Revised Edition
Basic Course at the Bauhaus and Later, John Westly & Sons, INC, page 13
Value as Pattern
Controlled shallow space is illustrated by the early cubists such as Picasso and Braques. Their paintings are taken from realistic subject matter and abstracted into unified flat tonal planes. The planes are shaded individually with the semi-illusion of space with no light source. Later, each plane takes on characteristic value combined with other planes with the same style of value pattern. This produces a carefully conceived two dimensional pattern of light and dark values. The shallow space develops a three dimensional effect through the characteristics of the advancing and receding values.
Decorative Effects of Light and Dark Contrast
Artists using the decorative effects of light and dark contrast ignore the use of the conventional tools of light logic all together. When light effects appear, it is often based on the total design of the artwork.
Compositional Functions of Value
Today most artists use value as a vital tool in pictorial composition. Value contrast is an intrinsic factor in pictorial organization, in showing dominance in design, creating two dimensional patterns, establishing mood and producing spatial unity. The effectiveness of a work of art or design is in large measure based on the use of value.
Resource Material: Ideas for this section came from my own experience, education and observations; “Basic Perspective for Artists” by Keith West; “Perspective Without Pain” by Phil Metzger, North Light Books 1988; The Basics of Drawing by Parramon Ediciones Editorial Team’ Barron’s Educational Series 1994; The Practice and Science of Drawing, by Harold Speed, Dover, first published in 1917 by Seeley, in London, reprinted by Dover,1972; Art Fundamentals Theory and Practice – Second Edition WM.C. Brown Company, Publishers/Dubuque, Iowa 1968 by Ocvirk, Bone, Ssinson and Wigg; Design Basics Fifth Edition, by David A. Lauer and Stephen Pentak, Wadsworth-Thompson Learning
Sheri Lynn Boyer Doty CPSA -Biography
Sheri Doty received a B F A degree in 1972 from the University of Utah with a painting and drawing emphasis. Having experimented with non-representational styles during her student years, Sheri preferred classic realism as thought by professor Alvin Gittons. He and the professors, under whom she studied, emphasized strong drawing and painting skills. Sheri is a faculty member of Salt Lake Community College and Peterson’s Art center where she teaches Fine Art and Design.
Sheri’s paintings have earned her awards in regional, national and international art exhibitions and invitational shows including purchase awards and permanent museum acquisitions. Sanford Corporation has used her artwork to showcase its PRISMACOLOR colored pencil product line internationally. Sheri is a charter member and signature member of the Colored Pencil Society of America [C.P.S.A.].
Sheri’s artwork has been published in numerous books including The Encyclopedia of Colored Pencil Techniques by Quarto Publishing, London England;Most of The Best of Colored Pencil series by Rockport Publishers, Creative Colored Pencil Techniques by Rockport Publishers, Creative Colored Pencil Portraits byri’s art work is included is Rockport Publishers and The Best of Portrait Painting by North Light Books, Dear Sisters by Covenant Communications Inc. Sheri’s artwork is published on book covers, in newspapers, periodicals, and exhibit catalogues.
People have been known to say, “She possesses a unique ability to paint the breath of life into her subjects – a gifted talent.” Because Sheri expresses not only the likeness of her clients but also their lifestyle, her portraits are in high demand. Sheri has also has prints and greeting cards on the market.
“The art professors under whom I studied had us draw and paint from live models and “open air” studies, not from photographs. To truly see and paint a subject, I need to see it from all angles. The human eye sees so much more than what is pictured in a photograph. I am glad of the rich ridged training I received from my teachers. I have married the use of photography and live studies to create my paintings. I take my own photographs as resource material employing a variety of ways to recreate what the human eye sees. My paintings are not exact reproductions, but an interpretation of life from my view as an artist.
“Thirty years of study and experience in this field has taught me that talent isn’t the reason for success in any endeavor. The keys to success are desire, perseverance and determination. But most of all, I depend on Father in Heaven’s influence. When I pray about what I paint, I can feel His help and guidance.”