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About Traditional Art / Hobbyist Official Beta Tester GiraffeMeowFemale/United States Groups :iconninokuniii: NiNoKuniII
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Creating Contrast in Paintings

Thu Mar 28, 2019, 6:46 AM by GiraffeMeow:icongiraffemeow:

Lighting In Art Week

Shading is not easy. But here are some tips that benefited me a lot, and I hope they could help you to add contrast and depth to your paintings as well.

1. Have a wide range of values.
The second drawing here doesn't have too much value contrast, whereas the first one has a wider value range. Which one catches your eye more?
Watercolor Practice, Sculpture by GiraffeMeow Drawing 20190216 0008 by GiraffeMeow
The contrast between values add depth to drawings; it defines shapes and the relationship between light and dark. Lacking value contrast could make your drawing look flat (unless this is the style you are going for).

Here are some tips that could help you with creating values:
1a. Find/take good a reference photo
If you use a reference photo, make sure the lighting is good (e.g., if you want to have dramatic lighting in your painting, don't use a photo that's taken in a cloudy day with dim lighting). It would be best if you can find photos that have strong contrast in values. If you use a photo with a limited value range, it would be much harder (especially for beginners) to see subtle changes in values. 

For example, here are some stock image I found on DeviantArt (by Vinantiand, faestock, and  stock-werk respectively):
Warrior Portrait by Vinanti  Nightingale  Portrait 2 by faestock Statue 10 by stock-werk
I also have a pin board for statue images that have relatively strong contrast:…

1b. Lay out an overall value plan:
After you have a reference image, you can see values easier if you turn your image into black and white. You could try starting a painting with only two or three values to define the most important shapes and the overall light/shadow relationship, and then work on the details once the big picture is laid down.

At this stage, you can define the lights, the half-tone, and the shadow. The values of lights and the shadow will pin down the overall value range of the painting, so try to be bold about value range if you want the image to really stand out.

Here is a link to a more detailed shading technique/principle video by Proko (he is a great artist and teacher; I learned a lot from his course).

1c. Experiment with different shapes and values
You don't necessarily have to follow the reference image entirely. Instead, feel free to tweak the value range, emphasize the shapes you believe are important, and so on. You can compare your sketches and the reference image to decide what approach works better.

Another tip is to look at your drawing in thumbnail size (or from afar) or flip the image (either through a mirror or digitally) before you start working on details. This helps to make sure the overall structure/light and dark relationship look right.

1d. Be patient
Take your time when defining overall structure and values; it might be tempting to start working on the details, but a good underlying structure is the foundation of a drawing and will save you a lot of time later on!

Some examples of paintings with great light/shadow contrast by other deviants (by KoweRallen and Claparo-Sans respectively):
Portrait Study by KoweRallen [COMM] - Stained Memories II by Claparo-Sans

1e: Tips for watercolor
I find it hard to make the darkest dark in my paintings really dark with traditional medium. A lot of times I'm afraid to go dark because I cannot go back to light (especially with watercolor). I find these tips helpful:
i) Have a dark background (to make me not afraid to make the shadows on the figures darker).
ii) Scan/take picture of the image and adjust the values digitally to see whether 
darkening the shadows would make the painting looks better.
iii) This is a bit miscellaneous, but I find scanning my work make the contrast less obvious than taking a photo of my drawings under natural light. If I scan my work, I would usually edit it to make the shadows darker.
iv) Use artist grade watercolors pans or paint using tubes. Sometimes I want to make the values dark, but painting with student-grade pans makes it hard to have really dark values. You can try using student-grade tubes and only thin the paint with very little water. This might help you get darker values. 
v) Have multiple layers. If the first two layers didn't reach your desired level of value, feel free to glaze over the shadow areas using a darker value (after the original paints are dry). Make sure you are using watercolor paper (not regular print paper) so that the paper can take multiple layers! 

Here are some examples of watercolor painting by artists on deviant art (the first two are by 
micorland  MusaBalan respectively) 
Balazuc by micorl Istiklal Avenue, Istanbul/ Turkey. by MusaBalan
Watercolor Practice by GiraffeMeow

2. Use both hard edges and soft edges when shading.
Now that we have the overall light/shadow relationship established, let's think about the details. I see a lot of paintings with only soft edges for shading, especially in digital art where smudging tool is easily accessible. This could be the style that the artists are going for, but having both hard and soft edges would add to the contrast in a painting and make it easier to catch the viewer's attention. Usually I try to have the most edge contrast for the part of the drawing I want viewers to focus most on (such as the figure's face). In any case, think twice before smudging the edges!
in the following example, you can compare the original and more smudged version of the following digital painting:

Mature Content

Sculpture Study by GiraffeMeow
Untitled by GiraffeMeow

How do we achieve good edge-balance?
2a. Observe the reference image closely
Try to identify how many light sources there are and where the light(s) is coming from. What types of edges does the light create on the form? Which edges stand out the most to you or which ones you think are the most interesting? Why do they stand out, and do you want these edges to draw attention from your viewers through your painting as well, or do you rather prefer to have a different focus? Take a mental note of these points to help you make decisions when you decide how to treat your edges!

2b. Use a textured brush for smudging
When smudging digitally, you can try to use some textured brush rather than airbrush. That way you could have some interesting texture rather than a very smooth transition (which may look artificial at times). Of course some may prefer smooth transition, but it doesn't hurt to try! 

2c. Tips for watercolor
Plan out the types of edges beforehand. If you want a hard edge, paint when the paper is dry. If you want a soft edge, wet the area first, wait until the surface is moist but not flooding with water (it takes time and experience to learn the optimal timing) to apply darker color. If you want both soft and hard edge in the same shape, you could apply the color first, then use another brush that has moderate amount of clear water (not too much) to pull on the side that you want soft edge (while the original color is still somewhat wet).

3. Get familiar with values before adding hues.
Now we have talked about light and shadow in gray scale. How do we go from gray scale to color? My suggestion is to slow down at first. I find it harder to concentrate on values when I have hues. A good way to practice your values is to only paint in black and white (or monotone color), and 
then add hues when you feel more comfortable. This way, you can focus on one thing at a time.
Even within monotone color, you can either choose to use only a few values (for instance, black and white, no gray) or add more middle-range values. The first method forces you to have a really strong contrast because there is no middle ground. The second choice enables you to create more detailed and realistic drawing.
Example of each:
Fire Truck Urban Sketch at Boston Fire Museum by GiraffeMeow Charcoal Practice (Sephiroth FF7 Protrait) by GiraffeMeow

To make things fun, you could also add one other color (that doesn't distract you from practicing values). Because everything else is in grayscale, the color would really pop out, and you can find other creative ways to use the unique color.
Inktober 2018 #2 Tranquil by GiraffeMeow Inktober 2018 #4 Spell by GiraffeMeow

Here is a shortcut you could use to go from grayscale drawing to colored drawing:

3a. Add colored layer

In digital format, you could have a black and white layer and then add color on another layer (using different blend modes such as multiply, overlay, etc).
For traditional medium, it's much harder to do that. One cheat I found is to use non-water 
soluble ink for underpainting (other non-water soluble medium such as pencil would also work), and then add color (such as watercolor, thinned acrylic, or thinned gouache) on top of that. I learned this technique from an amazing artist called Ayami Kojima. 
Below is a study I did based on her work. The left one is non-water soluble ink for the base layer, and I layered (thinned) acrylic on top of that.
WIP Study of Ayami Kojima (Dracula Castlevania) by GiraffeMeow Dracula from Castlevania Study (includes tutorial) by GiraffeMeow

I hope some of these tips would be useful to you, and best luck with your art journey!


Do you enjoy drawing digitally or traditionally more? 

11 deviants said I like both!
3 deviants said Traditional!
2 deviants said Digital!
No deviants said Depends...


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GabyCoutino Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2019  Hobbyist General Artist
Nice gallery

Have a bunny
GiraffeMeow Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2019  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Lol thanks :P That's cute!
Euriidice Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2019  New Deviant Student General Artist
mate your painting are so beautiful! i can't wait to see more of your pieces <33
GiraffeMeow Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2019  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thank you very much! I also like the portraits you draw :)
Euriidice Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2019  New Deviant Student General Artist
thank you <33
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thank you for the llama :)
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Thank you for the favourite! ^^
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Nenril-Tf Featured By Owner Feb 6, 2019  Student Traditional Artist
Thanks a lot for the fav :)
If you want check out my gallery for more fan Art, Characetr Design and Cosplay :D

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Bluvianna Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2019  Student Digital Artist
Thank you so much for the watch!!
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