Defining Shadows

 Reference photo, blurred for simplification.

Reference photo, blurred for simplification.

Question:
 

A simple question. Say that you are including a tree in a painting and the tree has a shadow. How do you define the shadow? Is it a positive shape or a negative shape? I think it is important to give the shadow a label in regards to the composition. Thank you, George.

Lori's Response:

 This the the way we start to see shapes. Negative/Positive – Light/Dark. The large masses are almost equal in size here. This is not a very strong design. Also, part of the dark water shape is actually in light. Learn to see the difference between the boat's water shadow and its reflection.

This the the way we start to see shapes. Negative/Positive – Light/Dark. The large masses are almost equal in size here. This is not a very strong design. Also, part of the dark water shape is actually in light. Learn to see the difference between the boat's water shadow and its reflection.

 

This isn’t really such a simple question. First I need make certain you understand that I don’t think of things at all. Therefore it doesn’t matter if you are including a tree or a barn or whatever.

Next, I don’t think of shapes as either positive or negative. Maybe that is just a terminology thing, but if I use the term negative, some people translate that to “left over.” No shape is just left over. All shapes must be designed.

 Here we have separated what is in light and what is in shadow. The percentages are looking much better. This is a more accurate thumbnail of what is really happening in the scene.

Here we have separated what is in light and what is in shadow. The percentages are looking much better. This is a more accurate thumbnail of what is really happening in the scene.

Here is how I think: big shapes first. What is the percentage of one big shape to the other? If we are talking about light and shadow, then which of those shapes is larger and by how much? A stronger composition can be accomplished by making sure one or the other is significantly larger. A ratio of 60/40 is good, but a ratio of 80/20 is much stronger; a ratio of 85/15 is stronger still.

 Now we have an even bigger difference proportionally. There are dozens of ways to edit this. We could have made the shadow larger instead. 

Now we have an even bigger difference proportionally. There are dozens of ways to edit this. We could have made the shadow larger instead. 

With a bigger difference between the sizes of our light shape and our shadow shape, we find opportunity! Try keeping the shadow very silent with little to no detail. Add only a medium sized shape or two. Have fun making medium-sized and smaller-sized shapes within the light mass. That will give you some room to "play" in the water. And who doesn't enjoy playing in the water?

If you have a question you would like Lori to consider, email it to lori@loriputnam.com.