Skip to main content

Color Fundamentals

Lesson 12 of 22

Demo: Shadow & Highlight Placement

Mary Jane Begin

Color Fundamentals

Mary Jane Begin

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

12. Demo: Shadow & Highlight Placement

Lesson Info

Demo: Shadow & Highlight Placement

I can see it more in real life than I can with the pepper on the screen, but there's definitely some dark tones happening right through those sort of seams. I'll call them seams. It's tricky because this charcoal pencil has lost its sharpness. So maybe, if we can sharpen that. I don't know if there, I don't know if that sharpener fits this, we'll try it. Give it a shot. Is it okay if I get stuff on the floor? Absolutely. All right. Oh good, yeah, it fits. Perfect. All right, so I just need a little more of a point here because I've worn it down to a nub, and it needs to be more refined so I can use it with more dexterity. There we go. All right, just like home. I just threw things on the floor. There, so now, I'm gonna establish those seams. And the underside of the pepper, oh, the other thing I'll do too is I'm gonna throw, this is chalk so if I don't cover this up, my hand will smudge right across. So I'm gonna cover up the part that I'm not working on, and I'm going to establish...

what I see as the darkest shadow on our pepper here, which is underneath, and then there's this little bulb here. But it's darker here. But I don't want it to be as dark as the, as this fabric underneath, so I'm gonna push the shadow underneath that pepper to be a little darker than it actually is, and I might even darken up that fabric further. But for right now, I have to pay attention to the hierarchy of darkness. That red against that purple are two different values of gray. So I have to keep that established, otherwise, the form won't make sense. If they're too close, it won't be an interesting picture, and the form of the pepper won't be as convincing. So right now, I'm just toning what I see as the darkest value on that pepper so far. And it's on the bottom, naturally, it's on the bottom side of the pepper. And then I look and see some shapes back here, which are also fairly dark in value. And this is where I kind of have to put my mental value glasses on because that's color I'm looking at. And the screen helps me a little, but it's kind of not the same as when I'm seeing exactly. So I am relying partly on the photo, but I'm really relying on my setup. I also encourage people to work from life whenever possible because photographs can edit things out that's happening in real life, and sometimes it edits, the photograph doesn't tell you the things that are actually going on in the real world. So I tend to recommend working from life whenever possible, as opposed to working from a photograph, but the honest truth is, for the most part, we're, it's time. How can you, if you wanted someone to sit for you, it could take a long time, so. Using photographs is totally okay as a source of either inspiration or a source of information. But I say, take a lot of photographs. Don't just take one. Take like, 10. To make sure you've got as much information as possible. So you can see, I'm leaving this upper part, so far, relatively light. I think I will end up going back in and toning it because I look at the pepper and it's definitely darker than what's behind it and the same is true even on the screen. So, I'll get there. But I don't want this tonality that I'm drawing right here to be as dark as what's on the bottom. Because we know, intellectually, the light is coming pretty much from the top and right hand side. So we want to establish that in the form here. And again, I've drawn so many vegetables and fruits, I could do it from my head. But I'm gonna try to rely on what I'm seeing as much as possible. Again, I'll use the stump. Just move this out. I'm trying to keep the marks on the pepper as smooth as I can, yeah. I have a question that came in from Davo who said, does the color of the paper matter in relation to your color palette? So I guess is that color, is that the ground? Mm-hmm, this is function, good question. This is functioning as the ground for this piece. I could've done this on a white piece of paper. Then it really would've been about value alone. But I wanted people to see that the issue of temperature is existing here. The light is pretty cool. The object of the pepper is warm, and literally, the white chalk is cool and the black charcoal is warm. So I'm dealing with the issue of temperature even with a black and white image. But yeah, the ground definitely matters and always has an effect on what's on top of it, for sure. And the stump is a really good tool for smooth things, like a pepper. So I'm trying to use this, as opposed to just my finger. To get this down. And again, I'm paying attention, see, I feel like, yeah my pepper is too close in value to my, to my purple crushed velvet. So, it's the perfect, that purple is the perfect color, I love it. Let me just put the seams in. Make sure I have that right. And add a little more tonality. But I think what I'm going to do too is I'm gonna add a little more value to this. And I'm gonna let the texture of this pencil just live because it's like the crushed velvet. It's got that same texture. So again, I talked about your brush stroke, your mark making. You want to relate to what you're translating, and you want it to be varied for interest sake. So I'm just gonna let that sort of mimic the crushed velvet. But be different than the pepper. I'm gonna push that shadow. Because if I don't do that, the pepper and the surface that it's sitting on will look really too much the same. It'd be very boring and it'll be hard to distinguish. Where's the pepper and where does the crushed velvet start? (hums) And I'm not humming while I work because I usually do. But trying not to hum right now. Trying to do the talking, no hum. Okay, so that's starting to look more crushed velvety to me. And this I need to smooth out a little further and push the shadows of those, what did I call those? Creases or dents or grooves of the pepper. Okay, and this side is a little darker. I will get to those highlights. Trying to work quickly. That's why I'm making quick strokes. If I were trying to do a really detailed, noodley drawing, I might make smaller marks and move more slowly. But I want primarily to show you how this thing is gonna function in value, and then we'll talk about how it's gonna function with color. But this is important because when we work on the color, we cannot forget about the value system. And we'll compare the two, too. Okay. Can you tell us again, we're working in a beautiful, natural light, the space here. How do you deal with that changing light, again, even on the crushed velvet, on the pepper itself, in terms of where these, the shadows and the highlights and all that are coming from? How do I deal with that in my studio? Yeah, as things are shifting, do you often use a fixed light when you're working with still life? Or can you rely on natural light? If you're gonna work with natural light, you have to move really fast, because it's gonna change right before your eyes and be maddening. So in the classroom or at home, I tend to have a light set up, so that my lighting situation is stable and steady. If I'm working on an illustration, I'm working from photographs and drawings, so that doesn't really have an effect. But if I'm doing a study like this, I absolutely have to have, unless I'm doing quick gesture studies. But if it's something that's gonna take half an hour, an hour, couple of hours, I would absolutely have a fixed light. There's also, I'm glad you brought that up about light because there's some recommendations I'd like to make for people. For the light on the work itself, the light in the room you're in. And this is a common thing I talk about with my students. Invest in a couple of decent lights. And the kind of light I'm talking about, they're called artist lamps. They're not that expensive. You can buy them online. And they have a ring of fluorescent light, and the center is a ring, excuse me, a bulb, a yellow bulb. So it's cool light and warm light together. They cancel each other out and it's kind of a consistent light. It's called an artist lamp. I have two in my studio. The other thing is, give one on one side, one on the other side, it's not casting shadows on your picture. Because if you have a shadow on your picture, then it's affecting the darkness of the color you're seeing, and that can throw you off when you're designing an image. So I try to make it so it's fully lit, I'm not casting a shadow, and the light is neither too warm nor too cold. And it's not, as I said, it's an artist lamp, and they're totally worth the investment. But that's, I've been using artist lamp since I graduated from college many, many, many, many moons ago. And you can see, I'm also trying with this pepper, I'll put this down. I'm trying to keep the strokes along this sort of length of the form of the pepper. A, I want it to be smooth. I don't want it to have a lot of streak or line like the background or the foreground have. That's one thing. And the other thing is that when you make marks, when you paint or you draw, if your strokes move along the direction of the form rather than fighting it, but going with that flow, it feels more real and believable. It's more convincing. It's usually more interesting. And a lot of people don't think about, they think, oh, I'm just coloring it in. I'm just adding tone. Well, you're not. Your mark making is affecting the way the color hits that surface. So, think about the direction of your mark. I'm making little tiny circles and straight strokes, but I'm not going this way or that way. I'm trying to keep them pretty consistent. Okay, so we're getting there. It's starting to feel dimensional. The thing that I'm also using is the redness of this paper is actually starting to make that, I think, the pepper look like it's kind of red, as opposed to not. Now, let me just get my pencil and I'll sharpen it again. Okay. We do have a couple questions about the paper that you're using. And so, Amy Win asked, is that Canson paper? Is that what you mentioned? And if so, do you prefer the smooth or the textured side? Oh, great question, yeah. Because most people think the textured side is the right side, and maybe even the Canson people think so too. I'm working on the smooth side. The reason why I don't really care for the textured side is it's like, I'll just do this. It has this rigid, symmetrical little circles. You can see them, they look like fish scales. If you're drawing a small picture, boy, does that have an effect on the look of the texture of your, whatever you're drawing. And that drives me absolutely insane. But that, those little circley shapes, are just the texture of this side of the paper and I like the smooth side because I'm controlling the texture pattern, not the paper itself. But I would imagine if you draw a really large Canson, yeah, this is Canson, really large pictures, you might not mind that texture. Might work for you. That's really a matter of preference. I prefer, yeah, I prefer the smooth side. I'm almost getting to the finish of this. I want to make sure though that it looks, sometimes you have to look back and make sure that you're, that everything is working the way it should be working. I'm looking at my pepper. I want to push my value of my little seams of my pepper here, and I'm gonna hit that highlight again. I feel this should be a little smaller. This underpinning, dark shape. The other thing too, when you're working, whether it's tonal or it's a full color piece, you do have to step back periodically because if you don't, you can get caught in a web of being myopic. You're too close and intent on it. So I recommend that people do step back periodically and look at their, what they have achieved. Go take a break, have a snack. And then look and see. And sometimes you see a mistake. Something like, ah, that doesn't quite look right. That's not what I wanted. All right, so let's see how our pepper's looking there. So, the highlights, I now have to create the hierarchy. Which highlight do I want to push, and do I want to add a little more cool light on this pepper? I do. I'll do that with this, sorry about the squeak. I'll do that with this color here. Because there's cool white light hitting the top surface of that pepper, it's gonna feel different than as it moves around the form. And I'm using the gray just because it's sort of in this range of light on my chart. So it feels right to me. Smoothing it out. Make sure that feels right. I might even put a little on this top part, just to connect it a little more with the rest of this part of the pepper. And then, let's see how this is looking. Yeah, and then maybe a little, there's a little bit of that same kind of light. It's an edge lighting right along this part of the pepper as well. It's a cool light. Now let's talk, this is something I want to talk about in terms of light and shadow, and I've just established this really pretty quickly, is cool light, warm shadow. When you have a system, when you have light, it's either gonna be warm, cool or somewhere in between. And let's say it's cool. If it's cool, your shadows are gonna tend to be warmer. They don't have to be hot, but they'll be warmer. If your light is really warm, your shadows are gonna tend to be cooler. They might be neutral and cool, but they're definitely not gonna be the same. If you push it so that the shadows and the light are both the same temperature, it doesn't really make sense to our eyes. So we want to pay attention to how we're controlling the temperature of light and shadow, and I'm establishing that the light is cool and the shadows are warmer. And they're warmer because the black plus the brown is a warmer color. Let's just show it. That's definitely warmer than this color or this color. Warm, really cool, cool, and extremely opaque. So, opacity, this is also transparent. We talked about transparency and opacity. In this pepper, my shadows are transparent. You can see the paper underneath, whereas in the light, in the lit part, it's more translucent, and in some cases, it's solidly opaque. And those highlights, the focal points, it's solidly opaque. So that's a kind of important thing to remember. It works this way every time. This is like, it's like an art secret. You can't go wrong if you do this. The masters figured it out. Those sneaky devils. And so, I'm just borrowing from them. I'm doing what they did and going, yeah look, it's starting to look really dimensional. And I think it's pretty good. There was something else I wanted to mention about the pepper, and that is, so, opacity and transparency, opaque in the light, transparent in the shadow, warmth in the shadows, cooler in the light. Even though it's a pepper, it's the light that I'm trying to describe here. I want to add a little more tonality to this part of the pepper, to make sure it contrasts with what's behind it. Smudge it with my finger. There.

Class Description

This class will give you an overview of color principles and demonstrate how to apply them. Instructor Mary Jane Begin is an award-winning illustrator and author of children’s picture books, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate and professor in the Illustration Department. 

In this class she covers: 
  • The elements of color, including value, temperature, saturation, hierarchy, complements, light, harmony, and contrast 
  • The use of color complements in image making 
  • The relationship of color to the medium and expression 

Through a series of demonstrations, you’ll learn how to work with color and ultimately make better color decisions. This class covers color theory foundations that applies to all image making, in design, art, illustration, photography, and beyond.


Anna Kotzè

I really liked the informal demonstrations and I also liked the way she set out her pallet with warm and cold colors. This was not only an informative class but inspiring. The casual and relaxed working style, encourage playfulness. Thank you for an awesome class.


I’ve had foundations in many of the color instruction that was presented here so the information was a very good revisit. I also think it was explained better in this presentation than in the other training I’ve had. I enjoyed listening to the lecture, thankfully they weren’t drawn out until you want to stop listening. The demonstration was best after we moved off the charcoal drawing (although that was interesting to watch) because using the paints really brought home to me the application some of the lessons learned. I wish that part would have been more robust so that all of the elements in the lecture could have been directly called out in the demonstration. The instructor was most effective when not trying to multitask too much. Overall, I recommend this course.

Robin B.

I had previously learned basic color theory, but this instructor took my knowledge beyond with layered instruction about value-contrast-complements-hierarchy, etc., and she does it in such a fun way with her own examples of work and great stories! I like her poise and confidence and think this series is a terrific value.