Use of the colour wheel for lighting and shading
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By Incantata   |   Watch
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Published: April 11, 2016
I want to talk about some simple things that even professional photomanipulators don't give enough attention sometimes.
It's the reason why our work can be perceived as wrong a bit , especially by traditional artists. People who are not artists usually say “something's wrong”
                                                          

Our theme for today is colour of light and shadow.



I want to point out – there are many colour schemes and rules for that (it would be better to write an individual tutorial on that),
some are better for realistic works, some for surrealism, some for abstraction etc. It depends on your idea.
However, today we'll talk about the basic rule that must be followed in any professional work, no matter what your idea is.

The first very common mistake is gray shadows, or shadows with the same color like lighting (light and shadows are warm, light and shadow are cold) -
Why is this mistake is so common in the modern world ?-  both photomanipulators and some artists use photo references, the problems come from photos.
Unfortunately photography cannot reproduce real colours of life around us – the colours of shadows especially! In the photos all shadows lose natural colours and become grey or turn same color like common lighting (pictures only in warm color scheme or only in cold scheme).  Also if the shadows are grey we often tone them the same colour we tone the lighting by mistake.
It doesn't matter how many colours you've added to the picture later, if colors of light and shadow are not opposed, your work will make a weird impression.

 about the colour – main mistakes are using black or grey colour for shadows, same color tones for light and shadow, and missing reflected light in the shadow area of the object.

 Colour of shadow is formed from                                                                            

the colour of surface + opposite colour to light colour + original object colour. (the last element was discovered by impressionists and used for that technique)
                                                                                              

Color of the shadow should be opposite  to color of the light

I suppose everyone of you is familiar with the colour wheel. Johannes Itten's colour wheel mostly used by traditional artists,  rgb colour wheel  suits us better.

Itten and rgb wheel by Incantata

Generally, in the case of “light and shadow colour” everything is pretty easy:

 Complementary colours harmonize,

                                

So, if the lighting is warm: yellow, orange, red, - the shadows should be cold: blue, purple or cyan.


On the contrary, if the lighting is cold: cyan, blue etc,-  the shadow should be yellow, orange etc
.


Complementary colours harmony by Incantata
In the picture you may see examples of complementary combinations of light and shadow:

color schemes by Incantata


Options here  are (so you can find not only correct color for shadow and light, but also additional  colors for your scheme):
other harmonies by Incantata

1  “tetrad harmony” and most convenient (as it also helps to define suitable colors for reflected light and additional colours),
2  “equalaterial triangle harmony”,
3. 4. The other two  schemes show alternative and split harmonies, where one colour is used against several contrasting colours. This combination gives a lot of contrast to the image but it's less intense than a complementary scheme or may be achieved by using oppositional colour and (or) closest colours to it, they complement each other.  This combination is a bit less intense. There are some other schemes (but these are more convenient to use for light/shadow colour)

   

The second very common mistake is missing reflected light in the area of shadows in works



In the picture – a sketch of a ball, we are already familiar with, where we can find the positions of shadows and reflections.


structure by Incantata

Reflected colour (colour reflection) and reflected light without expressed colour characteristics are called reflection.
If the reflection falls onto the dark area of the object, it will become a part of a chiaroscuro. In this case the reflection will look like a not intense light spot in the shadow area,
formed by the rays of light reflected from surrounding objects. Drawing reflection as part of chiaroscuro is most important for traditional art.
An examples of reflected light: cyan, red and purple surfaces may give cyan, reddish and purple reflections to the sphere in the aria of shadow
In the picture   a b c you may see the same complementary combinations but taking into account the colour of the surface – as you can see, light reflected from the surface was added to the picture. The colour of reflected light consists of the colour of the surface and color of the surrounding objects. (But keep in mind – black colour devours almost all light, on the contrary white colour reflects)

reflected light by Incantata
Reflections on transparent objects have more contrast and a reflection on the surface. The colour of reflected light on transparent objects also consists of original  object colour (intensity of native object colour depends on transparency of the object)
In the picture a and b you can see a smoky semi-transparent green gem, lying on the coloured surface.
a) is a wonderful gem, but it's incorrect as reflected light from the surface is missing and no contrast lighting scheme is applied to light-shadow. In the picture b) you can see another one that is more correct.


Exampletransparent and semi-transparent objects by Incantata

Bastet and Sekhmet Museum




1. gray image base
 Bastet and Sekhmet base by Incantata

2. wrong scheme. cold lighting source and wrong blue-cian shadows
 Bastet and Sekhmet Museum 2 by Incantata

3. Correct scheme: cold source of light and warm yellow shadows.  reflected light from walls

  Bastet and Sekhmet Museum 3 by Incantata

4. wrong scheme. warm lighting source and wrong warm (yellow-orange) shadows
 Bastet and Sekhmet Museum 4 by Incantata

5. Correct scheme: warm source of light and cold blue shadows. also reflected light from walls 
 Bastet and Sekhmet Museum 5 by Incantata

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Comments87
anonymous's avatar
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wobblyhands's avatar
what shadows are opposite to highlights?? That doesn't sound right. I tried it but it looks off. The jump in hue change is huge. It only seems to work for specific colours and lighting. Like warm lighting, cold shadows and cold lighting and warm shadows.  Most common that is the only one that turns out right for me is yellow highlight, orange base and blue shadows. Doesn't seem like it should always be followed.
If warm is on one side and cool colours on the opposite. What the heck is like a cool red or yellow? or vice versa warm blue and green? I don't get how to choose and reflect colours onto surfaces either. I see artists have warm shadows and warm lighting & cold shadows and cold lighting. But the colours are just usually a small shift randomly around the colour wheel. I'm stuck on greyscale.
I can't afford or borrow books. Where else can I go on the internet that explains stuff like this. I have the patience and really want to learn this. AHHH
BloodyScales's avatar
BloodyScalesStudent Traditional Artist
Very informative and well-explained! I have a lot of difficult at shading and picking colors, and this adds a lot to my studies Love 
orchidkitty's avatar
orchidkittyProfessional Digital Artist
Wow, this was an amazing tutorial O:
Thank you for writing this :heart:
farbasta's avatar
farbastaHobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks alot for this , thats helped me alot Peachy Rose 
silkrapture's avatar
silkraptureStudent Artist
This is an AMAZING tutorial. I had many years of art but I'm quite rusty and this was a fantastic refresher!
A follow-up I would love to see would be one on how to add the right colors (light and shadow) to the gray image you start with.
Freiha's avatar
FreihaHobbyist Digital Artist
Only 82 comments here? Man, this deserves more! This is gold! This is what I've been searching for for months! :woohoo: :dance:

Thank you so much! That's exactly what I need :huggle:
Energiaelca1's avatar
Energiaelca1Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you very much Lilia
mawsouth's avatar
mawsouthHobbyist Traditional Artist
always been unhappy with my landscape attempts as the shadows are never "right"
now i know why..
many thanks for this instructive tutorial
Incantata's avatar
IncantataProfessional
very glad, that this tut is useful!
Rowye's avatar
RowyeProfessional Digital Artist
Amazing tutorial Lilia, this explains a lot. :) Looking forward to try this more consciously in the near future! :clap:
Incantata's avatar
IncantataProfessional
thank you so much my friend! this info also for me was very useful and i hope will useful for my friends:)
Rowye's avatar
RowyeProfessional Digital Artist
I've started putting it in practice already. :) Also reading this very popular color book now, trying to get a whole new feel for the topic.
Mocris's avatar
MocrisHobbyist General Artist
Great! Thank you very very much!
Lolita-Artz's avatar
Lolita-ArtzProfessional Digital Artist
thank you!!! its so usefull :)
adrianamusettidavila's avatar
adrianamusettidavilaProfessional Traditional Artist
Really great!! As a traditional artist sometimes I see beautiful works of digital art, full of creativity and work with mistakes like that, it's a shame. 
Lights and shadows are difficult to understand and explain, you explained it perfectly!
kimsol's avatar
Fabulous ... thank you so much for taking the time to put all of this together... :heart:
SilentPlea's avatar
SilentPleaHobbyist Digital Artist
Excellent tutorial! :love:
LoloAgain's avatar
Wow! You opened up my eyes. Awesome tutorial. Very well put together and I appreciate the visual examples. 
SoulcolorsArt's avatar
SoulcolorsArtHobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you, very useful.
EligoDesign's avatar
EligoDesignHobbyist Photographer
thank you for this great tutorial. i have a solid education background in traditional art and remember the lessons we have about complementary colors and shades. we have used this techniques not just for the shadows outside the objects but also the inside of the objects, for example to color a red apple or a red cherry. i have a bit problems with it in PS to chose the right blending but i'm slowly figuring it out.
Thystyn's avatar
ThystynHobbyist General Artist
Thank you, I had no idea shadow worked like this, so this will be a very helpful tutorial for me.
anonymous's avatar
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