The way a shadow is painted can make a painting just as easily as it can ruin one. Shadows shouldn't be done as a last minute afterthought — something totally separate from the main subject of the painting — but need to be considered as seriously as every other element.
There are many things to consider when it comes to painting shadows and it is not as easy as throwing down some black paint. Let's look at tips and techniques painters use to create realistic shadows that become part of the final painting.
Pure, straight-from-the-tube black is invariably too dark in tone and too consistent (or flat) in color to make a satisfactory shadow. Few shadows in nature are truly black, so you need to account for those colors when painting shadows.
What's a good approach to shadows?
The ultimate lesson in suitable colors for shadows comes from the Impressionists. They were not only masters at painting but at observing nature and the effects of light as well. Through this, they learned how to mix and use colors to create brilliant shadows.
If black isn't allowed on the palette, just what do you use?
A crucial part in painting a successful shadow is identifying what type of shadow it is because there is no such thing as a generic shadow. You need to know what the differences are between a cast shadow and a form shadow and how to approach painting them.
Wait, there's more than one type of shadow?
At what stage in a painting should you do the shadows? Painters need to make decisions about when to paint shadows in and there is not a one-size-fits-all answer.
Decisions, decisions... when should you paint shadows?
Just like other parts of your painting, the shadows need to have depth. Avoid painting 'flat' shadows, but think of them in the same way you do brighter portions of the painting.
What does a shadow need to be believable?
Create a gentle shadow in watercolor with the final layer of glaze. Again, this isn't done with black paint but a suitable primary instead.
How can a glaze create shadows?
Don't think that shadows do not apply to seascapes and other water scenes. Everything has a shadow, not only the rocks on the shoreline, but waves may too.
Pay attention to the angle of the sun.