- Lesson details
Light and shadow planes are important concepts that allow an artist to communicate the form and structure of an element in a scene, as well as the direction of the sun. In this lesson, Ben shines a light on the techniques used to render these planes accurately.
Landscape painting in a studio compared to painting on-location are completely different experiences, each with their own set of challenges to face. Painting landscapes on-location means you’re faced with constantly changing natural lighting, as well as nature, but the experience itself can really make your inspiration flow.
In this painting course, Artist Ben Fenske teaches you the fundamentals of landscape painting through a series of lessons. These lessons include easy to follow instruction, analysis of famous landscape paintings, and demonstrations shot on-location, to help you better your painting skills.
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and a little bit about form, in this case three principal planes.
So let's talk first about sunlight and shadow
and identifying a few subcategories of sunlight and shadow.
And try to keep this very simple.
Okay so I'm just going to imagine
a tree sitting in a field and imagine a few branches here and there.
A few sky holes. Okay.
So I’ve got my tree outlined.
I'm going to paint a sunny day effect.
on a sunny day. Let me just imagine the sun is somewhere up here.
On a sunny day everything falls into two categories, one or two categories.
It's either everything is either being touched by the sun's rays
or it's not been touched by the sun's rays and that's it.
There's a strict line.
It's either in - something is either in the sunlight or it’s not in the sunlight.
So that's an important division and distinction to make and it's important to start to see
that in every object in the landscape.
Is it either in sunlight or is it not in the sunlight?
So let's look at those two categories
broadly first. So after I've outlined the tree,
I'm going to start thinking about two categories that those two categories shadow and light.
And it's going to be difficult sometimes because, especially on a foreground tree, you will have
some - you have little bits of leaves that are in the light, mixing with little bits
of leaves that are in the shadow.
And this is where simplification comes in, you either have to decide
okay I'm going to put every all of those those little bits.
I'm going to actually just forget about those for now.
And is this mostly light or mostly shadow?
So I'm going to simplify this tree and I'm going to make a distinction between light
and shadow. So what's getting actually hit by sunlight
and what's getting hit by shadow.
And I’m gonna find a shape, a sort of two-dimensional shape.
There's a bit here of light.
And I'm just going to - I'm going to suggest a little bit of shadow with my brush
here. So I've got a big division of light and shadow,
here's a little shadow chunk in the light shape and that I've got mostly shadow
here. It’s something difficult to do outside,
especially on a foreground tree,
but you have to make that distinction: light or shadow.
Okay, there's another type of shadow that's called a cast shadow.
That's when an object casts a shadow onto something.
In this case, there's a tree, the sun is hitting it.
It's casting a shadow onto the field
below it and to the side of it.
So this is called a cast shadow.
And cast shadows follow the form
of the object that they’re cast upon.
In this case, we have a flat field, a fairly level field.
So it's not - it is revealing that form of the field. Okay,
so this is all everything I've scrubbed in here is shadow.
It's all shadow. Cast shadow, two different types of shadow so far. Let's look at
the light. So far I've got a a light shape, a sort of two-dimensional light shape
that I haven't touched yet.
I've got the field is in sunlight.
and at this point I've got light and shadow separated.
I need to start talking about subcategories.
And I want to introduce the three principal planes in landscape.
The first plane is the upright plane or vertical plane.
And that is represented here by the tree itself.
So when you're looking at a tree you're looking - it's almost like you're looking at a
wall. A wall is a vertical plane or an upright plane.
So you're not looking at the top of the tree if you're standing in a normal
vantage - from a normal vantage point,
you're not really looking down on a tree.
You're not looking - you're not laying on the ground looking up at the tree.
You're looking at the side of the tree.
Then so, in this case,
we've got the side of the tree but the whole thing is basically the side of
the tree. Part of it’s in shadow part of it’s in light.
So that's the upright plane or vertical plane.
The next plane is a flat plane.
That one is pretty easy to understand. In this case
it's the field. And it's both the field in sunlight and the field in shadow.
They're both flatline planes. Okay I’m gonna introduce a third plane and this is the slanted plane and
it often comes in the form of a hill or mountain.
So if you think about walking up a hill or a mountain,
it's anywhere from - let’s think of the slanted plane as roughly 45 degrees. So we've
got the level surface, that is our first plane, we’ve got the completely vertical surface
as our upright plane, and a slanted plan is somewhere in between those.
So anything from you know 25 to
anywhere around 45 degrees roughly. So a fill, a mountain.
So three plans and all three of those planes can either be in shadow or light.
So let's put a little bit of shadow on this mountain, let’s put a few facets
on this mountain. And make a few
areas of shadow. So maybe there's a very - maybe the sun is here and it's not
quite hitting this part of the mountain.
Actually, not yet. I'm not - I’m not going to do that.
Let's keep that in the light.
Okay, so for this scene we have everything divided either into a slanted plane, the mountain
and the hill a flatline plane, and an upright plane or vertical plane.
Something out let's go through,
I'm going to paint each of these and just talk about what you might expect from
these planes. So let's talk about the upright plane in shadow, the upright plane in shadow
is generally the darkest thing in the landscape. I said generally because there's one exception coming
soon here. So the upright plane, generally
very dark relative to the other planes. Upright plane in shadow.
Then there's the flat plane in shadow. In this case it's a cast shadow.
That's generally going to be a little bit lighter than the upright plane.
And the reason for that is that shadow receive their light not from the sun but
from other light sources, in this case the ambient light of the sky.
So there's the big dome of the sky
and there's light come in from all points of that dome of the sky.
That's - that is where the shadow parts of the painting receive their light.
So if it wasn't for the ambient light of the sky, these shadows would be
pure black. But they're not your black because there's light everywhere outside.
So for that reason the cast shadow, or I should say cast shadow on a flat line plane
is generally lighter than an upright plane because it's receiving more ambient light from the sky.
There's more light coming down this way
then there is coming this way. Okay,
let's look at the lights now.
The upright plane or vertical plane in light is one of the darkest things in the sunlight
in general. So it's in the sunlight
but as far as the sunlight category goes, it's one of the darkest things.
So that is the upright plane in sunlight.
You can see we have three distinct values so far.
Let's paint in the flatline plane in the sunlight.
The flatline plane is generally the lightest plane, the flat line plane in sunlight is the lightest plane.
Let’s paint that in. Okay so that’s the flat line plane.
In the sunlight family.
But distinctly lighter than the upright plane. And this is a normal situation for over the
course of most of the day.
So the sun will come up, let’s
just think about the Sun for a minute.
Here's the horizon. When the Sun rises here’s the dome of the sky, sort of
schematic version. The sun rises above the horizon
and cuts across the landscape horizontally like thism
these rules might not hold true.
In that case, the upright plane might be expected to momentarily be lighter than the flat line
plane. But by the time the sun gets up
to here, these rules start to hold true.
And most people that I know don't wake up until the sun is about here.
So they never have to really even think about that until the sun starts going down
over here. Okay, so flatline plane, upright plane.
Let’s think about the third plane,
which is the slanted plane.
The slanted plane in the sunlight is going to be slightly darker than the flatline plane,
slightly lighter than the vertical plane.
So they're all in the sunlight family
and all just slightly different values. And the same for a mountain, a mountain is a
slanted plane. You might be able to start seeing a hill, you might be able to
see the top of the hill for example, a little bit of the top plane of
a hill. In that case it’s again the flatline plane. So it's this plane.
Now. you're seeing it up here.
And let’s paint the mountain then and the mountain is a slanted
plane. It's being affected in this case by aerial perspective a bit.
Okay, so three planes and two categories either light or shadow.
Let's look at a few subcategories now.
One subcategory might be a half-tone,
although in landscape painting we don't really deal much with half-tones.
There's not a lot of modeling that goes on within a shadow mass or a light
mass. But there might be a little bit of variation in this light mass
and you can think of that as a half tone,
although if you look at the great landscape paintings there these two masses are
very simplified. There's not a lot of modeling that goes on.
But maybe a little bit, maybe you see a little bit lighter as it - as the
tree rolls around towards the sun
and maybe a little bit darker
as the tree rolls towards the shadow.
But it's something probably to be avoided.
Too much modeling in the - within the mass.
So I would generally try to avoid half-tones.
There is another category of light which is a highlight.
And those I think are very useful to landscape painting because you have the brilliant sunlight,
if you're facing towards the sunlight you can often get or you can often see
highlights on leaves, on water, on grass, especially in the foreground. So a highlight is a
little detail after the big masses have been figured out,
but it is an important detail and you might get a few highlights here and there.
And what a highlight really is, it’s
it's a reflection of the sun on the leave.
It's that leaf is acting like a little mirror
to the sun. Another important plan is the under plane.
In this case we're not seeing much of an under plane.
But we can maybe suggest a little bit of an under plane here.
So again that say it's a horizontal plane,
but it's underneath an object.
So it tends to be one of the darkest plans.
So three planes and two categories of light or shadow, general categories, and then a
few subcategories. This sounds very simple.
But it's something that's actually pretty difficult
to understand and to be able to do in a painting.
And just actually it's difficult to see outside sometimes because there's so much detail,
so much information outside and you have to sort of see past that and see to
the bigger forms of things.
And the more I paint, the more I realize how important
these basic things are so if you get these in the right order
your painting will have structure.
And keeping these things in mind will give you a solid painting.
Okay. So now that we have some of the theory behind these planes and these categories
of light and shadow, let's look at a model and see how they work under different
So let's take a look at some of the major planes of the landscape and how
light and shadow work on them.
Okay, let's take a look at the model here.
And we're now - imagine yourself looking into the sun.
So the sun is at your face. What you're seeing is lots of shadows in the
upright planes. This is the upright plane there, almost all in shadow in this effect.
We've got cast shadows coming towards the viewer.
This is a shadow cast onto the flatline plane
by the tree and we have flatline plane in sunlight.
We've got our slanted plane back here, the mountain or hill.
And the same thing happening here on the house.
I have a slanted plane,
which is in a raking light,
but it still sunlight. We've got a flat line plane in sunlight, our cast shadow,
which is on the flatline plane, and then the vertical or upright plane.
And let's just take a look at
the types of values that you would likely see in this scenario.
So the darkest thing would be the vertical plane and shadow
and a second darkest thing would be the flatline plane in shadow or cash shadow
in this case. So darkest and then getting a little bit lighter
and then jumping to the slanted plane in sunlight and then finally the lightest thing.
Throughout most of the day is the flatline plane or ground plane in sunlight.
Another category of light to think about is reflected light.
And this reflected light is is going to be within the shadow.
Let's introduce bit of green grass and see what the fact that has on the white
house. So you can see that the the green is reflecting back into the vertical plane
of the house. The sunlight is coming down here, Illuminating this green grass that is now
reflecting back into the house, the shadow of the house and the whole house now looks
green. So it's a white house,
the local color is white,
nut now as a painter you see this as a a type of green.
Okay, let's see what happens when we introduce another color.
In this case let's imagine a very warm piece of earth represented by this red.
So now the shadow of the the house becomes almost completely red.
Let's think about what happens for example,
if we build a little barn next to this house
and paint it red. And we might get some of the reflection from the side of
the barn. And some of the reflection from the grass.
Sp now you have a gradation going red to green.
So most of the time on a sunlight effect the shadows will be illuminated by
the sky, which is mostly a cool blue color.
But because of reflected light
those colors can change. So keep that in mind.
Try to imagine
what's Illuminating the shadows. This has an effect even on the lights.
Let’s see what this looks like.
So here you can see there's a subtle
green reflection back into the white of the house.
But if we look it's more apparent in the shadows.
So I hope this helps to clarify the concept of light shadow and planes.
Let's take a look now at some paintings and see how those artists dealt with this.
and also identify some of the principal planes of the landscape.
I'm going to look at an image here.
This is a sketch by, I believe this is an Isaac Levitan sketch.
Let's take a look and just identify sunlight and shadow first.
In this case, in this painting we're looking into the sun
and all of the upright planes, meaning the side of the house, is facing us.
And the sides of the haystacks
and the sides of the fence posts. They're all in shadow.
There's no sunlight hitting those planes.
They're also casting - this house is casting a shadow towards us and that is a little
shadow right here. This is a cast shadow.
It's a shadow being cast towards us by the house.
Here we have little cast shadows of the fence,
little bits of shadow down here. We can see sunlight.
This is all sunlight. This whole area is in sunlight.
This area's in sunlight. This is all sunlight, sunlight.
So in this painting we just have mostly upright shadows, upright planes, and shadow. A
few casts shadows and everything else in sunlight.
We also have slanted planes.
That would be the roofs,
slanted plane. And you would expect that those roofs to be receiving less sunlight than
for example, something like the flat plane in sunlight.
So here we have a case where the flat plane in sunlight is lighter than the
slanted plant in sunlight, which is exactly what you'd expect in this effect.
Okay, let's look at another image.
Here we have another image,
we have a similar effect of light, we have looking again into the sun.
Let's just identify light and shadow first. So we have sunlight.
This whole area and then next to it a big piece of shadow.
Okay it’s very subtle. Subtle differences in the background but distinct, it's very distinct
this sunlight and this shadow are very distinctly different.
Yet they're very close together in value.
This probably could be considered a vertical plane or an upright plane or a slanted
plane. So we don't really know, it's probably - it's almost looks like a vertical plane, somewhere
between a vertical plane and a slanted plane.
Let’s look down here. We have these little pieces of sunlight here, here, here.
Tiny little flecks of sunlight, sunlight, sunlight on the trees, sunlight all around the edge of
this tree. And then everything else in the tree, we have about 95% of the trees
in shadow. Big shape right here.
So that's an upright shadow.
Here we have a cast shadow.
It's on the flat plane, it’s on the flat line plane.
And it's a cast shadow.
It's a shadow that’s being cast by these two trees.
Casting a shadow right here towards towards us.
Let’s identify a few more things.
Flat plane in sunlight, a little bit of a this could be a flat plane in
sunlight or could be considered a slanted plane in sunlight.
This is probably a slanted plane in sunlight right here.
Sunlight on this snow or glacier and again,
this could be either slanted or flat line playing plane, probably a slanted plane. So we have very
clear sunlight and shadow break up in this picture.
And then very clear distinctions between the upright planes and the flat line planes.
In this case almost all the upright planes are in shadow because we're looking towards the
sun. Let's look at another image.
Okay, let's look at this painting.
We have a lot of shadow in this painting and a little bit
of sunlight. So everything in this painting, the
whole foreground, this is all shadow.
This is all shadow. little bits of shadow in the trees, shadow, shadow, shadow bits and
trees. This is a shadow.
Here this is a reflection of a shadow, this shape.
So it’s not actually a shadow it’s just a reflection of a shadow.
And it looks like in the distance the sunlight and shadow are starting to converge, can’t
really distinguish what’s what back here,
but it looks to be a like - it looks to me like there's a lot of
shadow back here. Shadow bits everywhere in the background. And then this disorder.
Orange shape here. This is all sunlight hitting the tops these trees.
This must be either the end of the day or are very beginning of the
day. So it's either early morning or or late evening picture.
So all this orange stuff is sunlight.
One interesting thing about this painting is we can see all the value variety within the
shadow. We have a snow affect here.
So we have a white local color or white object
like snow. So we can see how light it is even in the shadow.
We could compare it to the sky and see if the snow is lighter than sky or
darker than the sky. I think in this case the snow is darker than the sky.
But it’s lighter than some of the things in sunlight,
which is interesting. So this is not receiving any sunlight and yet it's lighter than
some things that are. And that's due to a local color difference.
Okay let’s look at another image. Okay,
here we go. Okay, this picture is great because we have very very clear separation between
light and Shadow in the background.
These are extremely distinct angular shapes.
So we have these purply shadows back in this mountain and then in between this
purple stuff we have lots of sunlight.
And in the foreground too, most of the foreground is in shadow.
All this stuff is in shadow.
And we have some light shapes in the foreground or middle ground.
So he have a big shape of light.
Here this is all light.
This tree is mostly in light.
This tree we have light around the edges.
And light around the edge of this tree as well.
Let's look at some planes now.
So the the back mountain could be thought of as a slanted plane.
So here we have slanted plane in sunlight, slanted playing in shadow.
This middle ground hill. This is all a slanted plane.
It's all in shadow. Here we have an upright, this tree and part of its in shadow.
So this part of its in shadow
and part of it’s in sunlight.
So upright tree, upright plane, sunlight and shadow in both of them together.
We could probably say that this is a flat line plane
all through here. Flat line plane all in shadow, more upright planes, the trees we might start
to see a little bit of top plane on some of these bushes or shrubs.
So upright, upright, upright vertical planes, top planes are flat planes.
So this picture has got sunlight, shadow, and represented and all three of the major planes
represented. And let's see if we can -
yeah. Let’s look at another image.
Okay, this must be a end of the day picture.
And it looks like the sun is at our back
and something behind us is casting a shadow and almost the whole picture is in shadow
except for there's a little shape of sunlight back here, this back hill.
It looks like this is all sunlight.
Sunlight, sunlight. So everything in this picture is in shadow except for this shape of sun
back here and maybe a few touches of sunlight
here and here. So mostly shadow, little bit of sunlight.
So we’ve got vertical planes, upright planes, the trees.
We've got our flat line plane.
It's in shadow. We have more vertical planes,
slanted plane, and it looks like this might be a slanted plane or hill back here
that's in sunlight. Let's look at one more image here and just identify what's in sunlight,
what's in shadow, and let’s Identify some of the principal planes.
It looks like a sort of middle of the day picture.
We're looking slightly into the sun.
We see big patches of shadow.
This whole cliffside which is a - it's a vertical or upright plane.
It's all in shadow. And it's casting a little bit of shadow onto the water right
here. So upright plane, flat line plane both in shadow.
We see a little house back here.
And that's all in shadow, this side of the house.
And that's a vertical or upright plane.
We see in the trees
e see about sunlight, patches of sunlight, and mostly shadow though.
So we see a lots of shadow.
Same thing back here some patches of sunlight.
but mostly shadow. The flat line plane,
this is the flat line plane,
and it's almost all in sunlight.
Another flat line plane here sunlight. Here we have a little bit piece of a cliff side
and that is a vertical plane in sunlight,
more vertical or upright planes in shadow. When we get to the background the shadow and
the sunlight merge, and we can't really tell what's - can't distinguish anymore between sunlight and shadow.
We can look at this wave,
we could say that the side of this wave is we could call that a
slanted plane. And we can see that it's darker than the flat line plane in
this case because it's reflecting the sky differently.
We could see that all of the vertical planes in shadow are clearly darker than the
flat line planes in sunlight.
Here we have little pieces of vertical planes of trees.
little pieces of sunlight around them sunlight, sunlight. Okay,
let's look at one more image.
Another picture here. I think this is an Edgar Payne.
And we see lots of shadow.
We see a series of trees going into the background.
We see lots of shadow.
And we see just little bits of sunlight.
So here little bit of sunlight.
A little bit of sunlight and notice how distinct they are. The shadow and sunlight are
so distinct. It's so clear.
You can look at this painting
and the artist here interpreted all those things
and categorized all those things and made a decision and he said he was outside,
he saw the tree, and he said the shadow starts right here and everything in this
shape is in shadow. This is all shadow now.
And this is a little piece of shadow.
And so these are all decisions that this artist had to make and he decided to
make very very clear distinction between sunlight and shadow.
Let's look at a few of the different planes
and so here we have mostly lots of big -
lots of upright planes. So everything in the tree is an upright plane, both the shadow
and the sunlight. So upright shadow, upright light.
Here on the flat plane we have bits of sunlight, mostly sunlight.
And then we have some of the cast shadows from the trees.
So the tree is casting a shadow onto the ground right here.
Two uprights, flat planes. We don't really have maybe the mountain in the back is a
slanted plane. We can barely see it back there.
So upright shadows, upright light.
Flatline plane, shadow - or sorry light here -
and flatline shadow. Okay. So
I hope that you're starting to see the differences between the three principal planes.
And the difference between light and shadow,
let's move on to aerial perspective.
your assignment is to go outside on a sunny day and divide everything up into light
and shadow. So that's everything that's either being hit by the sun or not being hit
by the sun directly. What you're going to need is a small panel and one or
two brushes, one brush just for shadow and one for light. You can do this with
just black and white pant.