- Lesson details
In this continuation of his landscape drawing and painting series, world-renowned artist Steve Huston covers the application of the laws of light for landscape. Steve will show you how to find shadow shapes on forms within the environment and how to simplify your forms into two value ranges: light and shadow sides. Using an example of large boulders, Steve will demonstrate how to lay in forms, create dark core shadows, and use lines and gradients to complete the effect.
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Steve Huston covers the application of the laws of light for landscape. Steve will show
you how to find shadow shapes on forms within the environment and how to simplify your forms
into two value ranges, light and shadow sides.
Using an example of large boulders, Steve will demonstrate how to lay in forms, create
dark core shadows, and use lines and gradients to complete the effect.
you render with it, what it means when you put a dark mark down, when you put a light
mark down. They going to have specific meaning in terms of the environment, whether it’s
a mountain far away or a tree close up, whether it’s a still life or a figure. Laws of light
is crucial to understand. It’s going to be the basis of rendering and making it make
sense. We’re going to touch on it here in a simple quick way to give you an in on how
to sketch out your landscapes so that you can then paint out your landscapes.
For a more fuller understanding of that, go to my Laws of Light lecture
in the figurative section, and there I break it down very carefully.
Here we will give a nice simple overview that will get you started.
What I want to do now is look at laws of light in a simplified way. I did a fuller lecture
earlier. You can look that up for a full explanation of laws of light. But the thing with laws
of light is there are physical laws. We can go in a laboratory and work those out. As
opposed to most things we do in art, we’ll come up with convention. We’ll think of
the thumb as a spoon shape or the thenar eminence as an egg shape. That’s just a convenience
to give us control of the information. In this case this is actual science. It’s nice
to understand it because then we can use it and abuse it as creative fellows and ladies.
So what we’re going to do now is we’re going to do a little landscape scene. I’m
going to talk about laws of light, and all we have to worry about really is the light
side and the shadow side. I’m going to have a two-step process. I’m going to draw the
shape of the form that I’m interested in. In this case they’re going to be very simple
egg-shaped rocks. Shape of the shadow, shape of the shadow on the form. Shape of the form.
There is a rock sticking out like this. There is another rock sticking out like this.
There is a little rock here. We can do 68 rocks or one rock, whatever we want. We’ll do
a few so we’ll have a situation here.
So here are our rocks. So what I want is I want that shape of the form, shape of the
shadow on the form. That’s what this is right here. As soon as I get the shape of
the shadow on the form I’m going to give it a value. There we go there.
Shape of the form, shape of the shadow on the form, a sign of value. It doesn’t have to be dead black
or dead brown, I guess in this case. In fact, we don’t want it to be because we want to
have that shadow breathe. It needs to allow ambient or indirect secondary light to come
in that we’re going to talk about here in a second. So there is my shape. We can do
this for all of our 67 little rocks or however many we happen to have. What I’m going to
do in my mind and that means for a talk like this on the paper, I’m going to figure out
what is in light and what is in shadow. If I can understand that then I can control it.
In this case I can control it with value, and later I’ll control it with color, of
course. So with each of these here is my shape.
See how simple this is, how easy it is. Now, it’s only simple and easy when you have
a simple and easy form. If you have a very complicated form it can get a little tricky.
If you’re doing a human figure with this stair steps of form, this anatomy that has
insertions and origins and Latin names, all that kind of nasty stuff. It can be very confusing.
So that’s why we’re going to start out with a real simple statement. Let’s get
even simpler than that. Let’s get a little picture down here where we’ve got the simplest
possible shape, a little spherical form sitting on a table.
Now, what I’m really interested in as I do this—well, really interested, I’m interested
in a lot of things. Shape of the form, shape of the shadow on the form, and I need to know
the direction of the light. Where is that light source coming from. The light source
is arbitrary. It happens to be coming, in this case, from the upper right. It could
be from the lower left. It could be any direction we could think of. We need to establish that.
Because as we look at that form, we’ll see all these subtle tones and they can fool us.
So what we need to know is that tone a darker light side, or is it a very light shadow.
Is it on the form? Is it off the form? We need to know and assign it. What I’m going
to do then is if I reference where the light source is, and you can see my little directional
arrow here is what I use. It can be anything you want, but even a little mark like that
just to kind of remind you on your piece.
So that means everything that turns up and to the right gets lighter. Facing that light
source. Anything that turns down or to the left will get darker. We’re going to have
the form by its own character face the light source.
And then it’s going to turn away at some point and become shadow.
Then that’ll be true for each of those forms. You can see
now this stair-stepping of form, this action of stair-stepping, and I can get a complex
of forms and get it under control. I’m just going to do simple shape by simple shape by
simple shape, assigning a shape to the shadow
just like I assigned the shape to the form and then applying a value.
The light side is going to have a beginning—or I’m sorry, the shadow side is going to have
a beginning to the shadow, and it’s called the core shadow edge, the form shadow edge.
I won’t get into the nuance of that, but it’s the beginning of the shadow. The reason
we want to know the beginning of the shadow other than the obvious design statement of
catching the shape of the shadow to render it, is that the beginning of the shadow is
a corner. The beginning of the shadow is a corner. You can see that with this little
surface construction line or series of construction lines that I did, it shows where the form
simply is in light and in shadow. Notice it looks like a box when I do it that way. I
drew a simple shape. Now, the shape I drew is not box-like at all, but my thinking is
box-like, and I call that box logic. You want to render your values like you would a box,
box-logic. Not the beautiful, subtle gradations that show that rolling rock or that rolling
rib cage, but that simple this is the light side. This is the shadow side. Everything
in the light side goes light. Everything in the shadow side goes shadow, and the two separate.
Notice what we have here. We have a flat piece of paper, or we have a flat canvas. We have
no true form on this. We’re creating not form. We’re creating the idea of the form,
and so we want to start with that simple this is light, this is shadow idea. Then we’ll
add a little bit or great complexity to it as we feel we need to or our style demands.
So the corner—as soon as I get that shape of the shadow. As I soon as I fill in a value,
and it doesn’t even have to be a perfect value, just a relatively darker value. I’ve
got the idea of that shadow shape, and I get box logic. And it does this. We have a flat
piece of paper, and I give the shadow shape a darker value than light shape, and we get
that. Different value, different plane. If I make them the same value. No matter how
carefully I do my line drawing, if I make the shadow side the same value as the light
side it looks like this. The construction lines, the line drawings might say box, but
the illusion, the feel of it, the truth of it says flat. It looks flat. We lose the illusion.
So we want to feel that difference in value, and what I call that is different value, different
plane. Every time I want to show a plane change as in this plane against that plane, every
time I want to show the plane change I’m going to show a value change. Different value,
different plane. So we’ve assigned that. I’ve got the corner. Then we’re going
to have the end, E-N-D, end of the shadow. The end of the shadow we’re going to call
the cast shadow, or we’re going to call the end of the shadow. The cast shadow or
the end of the shadow is where the form ends—it’s always hard to enunciate—ends on the form,
or if it’s a full enough, big enough form it may block another form from receiving light.
And so that cast shadow might well extend onto a neighboring form or series of forms.
Notice, now here is the end of the this shadow. There’s the end of the shadow. Now, notice
the little construction line our ant would be crawling along, fall off the edge, hit
the beginning of that next form and walk right through that shadow. Notice that the shadow
doesn’t necessarily give you, in fact, in the beginning it’s not going to give you
any sense of form at all inside. It doesn’t need to. What it needs to do is just show
where it begins and ends. Where it begins—and you can use a loose technique, hatching. You
can use a carefully rendered technique or a fairly rendered technique as I’m doing
now. I establish that change. The most important thing is to show where it begins and ends,
not what’s inside of it. If we just leave it like that at the finish of our painting,
leave it like that even at the finish of a rendered painting like a Rembrandt will do,
it will look fine. What the audience wants is this idea. They’ll take care of the rest
of that for you. If you want to show a little bit of information I can do a little bit of
mark inside the shadow, just a line or two, to mark this subtle line, mark where that
rock ends in shadow and that next rock begins in shadow.
Notice by doing a little wobble, a little imperfection to that rock it can be a little
more sophisticated. Notice how I can add secondary forms on this by doing the same process, beginning
and end of the shadow. Now we’re feeling that like so, and we can keep adding and adding
and adding those little stair steps of form. Beginning of shadow, end of shadow. Now typically
in a law of light, let’s come down here and do it here. In my fuller lecture on laws
of light I talked a lot about reflected light. We’re not going to talk as much about reflected
light. We’re going to talk more about the value. Reflected light simply says that this
light hits this and washes it out in light, doesn’t hit it over here. It stays in shadow.
But not only is that light source hitting the ball, it’s hitting the table and all
the other objects in the environment, so it is bouncing light back into reflected or secondary
light back into the shadow and affecting the rendering of the shadow in ways that we don’t
really need to get into here. I don’t need to deal with that very much or at all in landscape
drawing or painting and landscape work, and I’ll tell you the whys in a bit. But, I
don’t really need it. It’ll be fine like that. Lay it in.
All the audience wants to see. Notice we’ve done all this work over in the shadow side,
we haven’t done anything in the light side. The only thing the audience would like to
see and doesn’t even have to see but would like to see is a little bit of half-tone.
In the light side you either have half-tone or you have highlights. Half-tone and highlights.
If it’s not a highlight like a wet spot on my nose, it’s a half-tone.
Everything that’s not a highlight is a half-tone. Half-tone is where--let’s go back to our little ball here.
Half-tone is where the form slowly turns out of light and drops into shadow with or
without a cast shadow. The half-tone is a darkening of that value in light as it slowly
rolls away from the light source. It is marked by gradation.
So, corners and gradation. Corners and gradation are the only thing you need.
Corners give us the form. Gradation controls the subtlety of the form.
So if this was not a truly boxy rock but a slightly or greatly rounded rock,
then I would add a great amount or slight amount of half-tone, of gradation.
Notice how I do gradation with whatever tool I’m using. I could use a stump.
This is a stump. It’s a dirty stump, but that’s a stump there.
Or, I could use a paper towel or a rag, or I could use my finger.
I could use the pencil or the chalk or the brush,
whatever medium I’m working in, whatever tools I’m using to manipulate that medium,
I’m just going to run along the border between the two values and blend them together.
Gradate that—I shouldn’t say blend them together—gradate them over.
Let’s do it again. Here’s my shadow shape. I’m going to now go along the border of
that and do it again. Now, this isn’t blending quite as well as that is, is it?
That's because I need to add a little bit more load of pigment, whether it was wet oil paint or
my water-soaked watercolor or my chalk. I need to load up the page or the tool with
more pigment and put it down, and now I can come back again.
I could be very painterly with it.
You could do it with hatches or crosshatches.
You can do both. You just move right along there.
Now, notice what’s happening here. If you look at this, that’s not as satisfying.
Let's do one more here. It’s not quite as satisfying as these others...
...because it’s so soft that we’ve lost the corner. We’ve rendered that away. The corner
is shot, and now it’s just a slow gradation over, and we never know exactly when the shadow
starts. So the rule of thumb I always use on this stuff is I can render as much as I
want, but I don’t want to render so much that you don’t get a feel of where that
shadow begins. Where the shadow begins is your corner, whether that corner is a rounded
corner through gradation or stays as a boxy corner doesn’t matter. It still needs to
be a corner. So if you render so much that you lose that corner, you’ve lost most or
all of your form even though your values might be right on the money.
Remember our rule here. Different value, different plane. Same value, same plane. If I make those
values, the value in the shadow and the value in the light the same, it’s going to look
flat. If I make them different but I round them off too much, it’s going to feel like
a fake ball, like a cheap computer graphic version of a ball. It’s not going to track
perfectly. What I need to feel—and I can fix this now—I need to feel that corner,
that border slightly stronger. See how that’s slightly stronger now despite all that gradation?
Slightly stronger than the surrounding value, and that will separate it out. So that’s
our basic strategy. So let’s do another sheet, and we’ll do this again now with
our new understanding and take it a little bit further.
What I’m going to do is sketch out my little landscape. I’m going to have a series of
rocks. I’m going to lay them nice and lightly. I would do this if I were doing mustangs in
the plains, a forest of trees on the mountainside, a figure on a couch or on a beach, whatever
it was. I’m going to draw my little environment here. I’m going to use nice light lines.
Then I’m going to come in and I’m going to find all of my shadow shapes again.
Shape of the form, shape of the shadow on the form. Knowing that my rule of thumb is different
value, different plain, I’m going to establish a series of forms here lightly.
By starting lightly I’ve got more control of my medium. I’m easing into a finished idea.
If it's wrong at any stage I have a better change and easier time fixing that idea.
Now, I’m keeping in mind—I should put this over here—that my light source is coming
from this direction. Each of these forms is strong enough that they’re going to cast
a shadow onto the next form. I’m just going to apply a value.
Notice it doesn’t have to be real strong.
In fact, I would argue it shouldn’t be real strong in the beginning.
This will cast a shadow onto this, and this casts a shadow here. I don’t want it real
strong in the beginning because I want to be able to change my mind. I want to be able
to start to talk about something, and then as I get more confident I get stronger and
stronger with my statements and my ideas, and I can get stronger and stronger with my
style, my values, my rendering technique and push it. The other reason I don’t want to
get real strong in my values is because of aerial perspective. This is the big difference
between doing a still life or a figure in a close environment, something that’s within
10 to 15 of you and something that you’ll be dealing with many yards or maybe many miles
of space, this aerial perspective. Now, there is linear or sometimes called Western perspective.
That’s the vanishing railroad tracks. For you guys going back in space like this. Things
get smaller. They get foreshortened. They get shorter, smaller. They converge to a single
point on the horizon. There is a mechanics to that. That’s not what we’re talking
about. What we’re talking about is aerial perspective.
Aerial perspective is when the forms start to go into an environment, say a sky at a
beach going into the blue sky. Things get bluer as they go back closer. So the beach
is yellow. The sailboat or the row boat close to the shore is just slightly bluer.
The sailboat or the big yacht way back is quite blue, and then the mountain range is almost dead blue,
way away, 50 miles away. Also, if the blue sky is a middle value blue as it usually is,
those things will not only get bluer as they go back in space, they will get more middle
value. So if the sky is a number 4 value, it will start getting closer and closer to
the number 4 value.
We’ll see that more clearly, and I’ll explain it more clearly when we do a painting
talk with full color. But for now, what we want to know is as things go back into the
environment, they take on the value of the environment. So if we have a fairly light
misty sky, which we’ll do now, we will have a value where things are getting lighter as
they go backs towards it. Let’s say they go back to a number 1 value, the paper white,
then they’re going to get closer and closer to that value so it’s a London fog. That’s
different than this little still life, little ball on a table.
Let’s do a quick little version of this ball and table. This tabletop is only two
or three feet across, maybe. That environment is maybe five or six away, the wall in shadow
behind is five or six feet—not much space there. Could be inches, could be a few feet.
If this is not in shadow it’s getting very dark. This is getting very dark. We’re having
strong reflected light. So this is going to be the two things that are different generally
between a landscape and a still life or a figurative painting where you’re dealing
with miles of space as opposed to inches or feet of space. The little egg or ball on the
table, the figure on the couch, that kind of thing. They are going to have a potentially
very dark background, a potentially very dark shadow, and potentially very strong reflected
light. We’ll see a strong core shadow or beginning of the shadow. You can see where
the core shadow, beginning shadow gets that name, core shadow; you get a core of darkness
because of that reflected light bouncing into it. It gets very strong and can be actually
super strong. We’ll make this slightly stronger.
You’re not going to see those things near as much. All things are possible in nature,
of course, but generally you’re not going to see that. When I do that very strong, and
let’s push it even stronger, very strong accent of value and very strong reflected
light. Things bouncing into each other. Secondary light bouncing into very strong dark shadows.
That’s going to look indoor. The darker I make it the more indoor it’s going to
look. The heavier gradations, these dramatic shifts of value, dramatic gradations of value,
that’s all going to make it look indoor, and it’s going to make it look very close
to us. We’re going to feel intimate with it.
In a landscape you don’t get that as much. You’ll get things that are out in sunlight.
If I’m looking at you under stage lights and I’ve got my eyes wide open as much as
they’ll go wide. If I go outside in the sunshine, even those these are bright studio
lights, I’ll be squinting like this. Because the candle power of the sun is way over the
top of what most lighting situations can be. So we have this incredible powerful light
that infuses everything in light. You squint when you look at the black asphalt under a
car. You’ll squint at the shadows of that black asphalt under the car on a sunny day
because the candle power of the sun infuses the world with light, and things look relatively
darker and relatively lighter, but they’re way up in value, way up here, and that’s
where landscape painters will tend to render them, paint them. That’s the way we’re
going to draw them. In indoor painting we have a weaker, lower range of values, so the
candle power is not as strong. So those shadows look very, very dark and are very dark to
our eye. So we can get away with a fuller value.
So you go look at your favorite painters. Go look at Corot, a Brown School painter,
I call them, where they work out of a brown environment. The shadows all go to brown.
Look at how dark he makes the shadow of the leaves, the shadow of the trunk. Same with
Courbet. They get very, very dark. They look like they’re stage settings for a play.
They look indoors.
Now, compare that to a Sorolla or Monet’s cathedrals, Monet’s Poplar paintings, Sorolla’s
kids at the beach or sailboats in the harbor, Edgar Payne’s outdoor paintings. Look at
those and you’ll see bright color. You’ll see the shadows don’t often get very dark
unless they’re just little tiny areas, a little crevice in here. Maybe they’ll get
dark where two forms pinch together strong. But you won’t get big fields of dark like
you will in these indoor school of paintings. So if you’re want your paintings to look
like they have an airy outdoor environment, bring that value up. If this is one and this
is 10, don’t make your shadows eight, nine, ten like you might if you’re a Rembrandt
or a Caravaggio. Put them up in here. Make them four to six, say.
That’s what we’re going to do here.
Also, as that aerial perspective kicks in, so the whole environment is diffused in light.
It gets up in value, so we’re going to start from there. Then as things get farther from
us they’re going to get even lighter if we’re going into a lighter environment,
or they’re going to go into even a more middle value. I’ll show you that in another
lecture, if we have a middle value environment. Today we’re going to have a light, misty
environment. By the way, we’ll put up a little shot of a couple landscapes in the
mist, and you can see those trees as they get further from us take on the color of the
fog. So basically fog is just a cloud on the ground, so that white or light gray cloud
comes down, and when you’re closer to it you see the full value of the tree. As those
trees go back in that landscape they take on more of the value, and of course the color,
but for us today the value of that cloud form. They get faded out and then within a hundred
yards, say 200 yards they’re gone completely.
So that’s what we’re going to do here. So here’s our rock. So we’re going to
start with our rock, a couple of rocks here that are closest to us and make them a little
darker. Notice I’m thinking of my light source, and that’s what allows me to make
these things up. Or, if I’m looking at my lovely reference it is what allows me to make
sense of the reference. As things turn up towards the light they’re going to get lighter.
As they turn away from the light they’re going to get darker.
Now, we’re going to make this one darker too.
There is my shadow shape on and off the form.
core shadow. Look here: See how strong the core shadow is? Let me make it even a little
more strident. Here’s that core shadow, a band of darkness because of the reflected
light. We’re not going to get much of that. We want to bump it just a touch so we know
where that corner is by just that much.
Then we’ll go here. This isn’t too much farther from us.
These are on a line this way. Let me do this way—if it’s going back in space
then they’d start to fade out quicker, but it’s moving along the picture plane this
way. It may be just slightly going back in space. So we’ll make them just slightly
darker. Or, they’re in the picture plane, but we want this one to be more important,
so we’ll pretend there’s a little aerial perspective. Make them slightly lighter, I
think I said slightly darker, slightly lighter.
Notice how I’m stroking in the direction of the form,
direction of the border between the values I should say, which is describing
the form. There’s that box logic. I can use a paper towel or a stump, which a stump
is just rolled up paper rolled up into a pencil form for you. I have all dirty stumps.
Here we go again.
Now, in these sketches it’s quite all right to have a line, but I’m
going to keep it all nice and light. I can always go darker. Don’t set yourself up
for trouble. Don’t do anymore than you have to until you’re absolutely convinced you’ve
made the right move. It is the value. It is the shape. It is the position. It is the proportion
it needs to be. So you can see these are still slightly ghostly, kind of a sketched line.
Then we have our shadow shape here. Now, none of this, I’m sorry to say, is brilliant
work on my part. But it gets the point across.
When I have things that separate and I don't have a value change, I use line.
I can do that in my pencil sketch, my chalk sketch,
my pastel sketch. I can also do it in my painted sketch.
Go look at Sargent. See how much line work he uses.
Now, I’m staying fairly light. You can see how these are about the same. This is getting
a little lighter. Now, here’s one back here. Here’s our ghost. There it is.
Now, look at that and squint at it. When I do my work I look at the piece I’m doing, the work
on the table, the work on the easel, and I squint at it to see if it groups. When you
squint you’re not letting as much light in, and you’re going to see more value.
You’re going to see the simple things and not all the details, and you’ll get a sense
of that value. Is it light enough? Is it dark enough between light and shadow? Is it dark
enough between the rocks that are closest to me and the rocks that are farther away?
Squint at it. Then if you have a reference, squint at the reference; the model, the landscape,
the photograph, whatever it is.
If you squint at this you’ll see we barely see that rock. It fades in the distance. Now,
I can come back and kind of redesign a little bit. This isn’t so much laws of light as
making the laws of light work for us. I want to make this shadow shape a little truer to
my reference or a little more interesting. A little more sophisticated. Not a perfect
or fairly perfect kind of discus shape of rock, but an imperfected… Is that a word?
I don’t think that’s a word, but it is now! An imperfected piece of rock. See how
you can amuse yourself when no one is around? Isn’t that a nice thing?
Here’s our little striations of rock, you know, kind of the rippling surface. Their
little shadows or middle half-tones, I don’t care; I’m going to treat them the same.
Now, I really wish this would come at me a little stronger, so then I might well go to
my still life strategy and go ahead. We do have light and shadow and we do have bouncing
light, all those things in nature whether indoors or outdoors, just what shows up to
our eye, the limitations of what our eye can see, the power of the candle power that the
light source is putting out. Maybe I’ll pop that stronger.
Maybe I’ll even put a rock here.
For some reason it’s in shadow. Maybe it’s a dark piece of rock, or maybe
it’s cast in shadow from a tree over here that we don’t see. You can always find excuses.
Notice what happens here. We start to get stronger value here. We’ll see this first
in our composition, but also it’s going to start to set these back. It’s going to
start to get a subtle gradation of it fading away going back in.
Line is just showing the topography here.
We could add values to these little furrowed shapes, whatever they are,
but we don’t need to do that, of course.
Okay, so these lines need to be lighter because they’re farther away. Notice now I can come
back and do my line work. Let me switch tools. I’ll even use a slightly darker lead or
chalk I should say. Maybe I will let the line have kind of a staccato, a dotted line just
hinting at what is in there and even let it kind of break off. I can let it be kind of
a wandering nervous line to show the imperfections of the rock.
We want to get light and shadow. We don’t want to make a big deal about the core shadow,
but we want to hold the border slightly. We want the values to have a strategy of reducing,
maybe if I have another little rock formation here or series of them. They’re line.
They're not even tone.
Notice my line work is doing the work is doing the work of, here’s maybe the rolling dale
as it goes back in space. I’m just picking up the line. The line shows the border, the
separation between planes that may or may not catch a value change because it’s a
sketch marking out the information. As I draw, the drawing could be a finish in its own right.
But in this case, we’re just working out the idea. What’s light? What’s shadow?
So remember what we have here. Different value, different plane. Same value, same plane. If
I make them the same value they’re going to seem flatter. If I make them different
values they’ll have more form. I can use that as a strategy to compose, to design.
I can use it as a strategy to create form, the Chiaroscuro. Light and shadow, rendering,
creating the idea of form through light and shadow. Each form then gets that two-step strategy.
So we’re going to stop there, and I’ll see you on the next lecture.