Light and shadow in a drawing (Part-1)

Light and shadow in a drawing (Part-1)

While preparing for your NATA-JEE exam, you must get familiarized with adding shadows to your drawings.

Adding light and shadows to your sketches is one of the few aspects of art that is more based on science than being subjective. Unlike traditional drawing, it can be either right or wrong and not subjected to the illustrator’s imagination.

This skill comes in handy for someone preparing for the JEE- Architecture exam as it showcases how efficient you are in understanding the dynamics of light and its effects.

Importance of light and shadow in sketching


Understanding the dynamics of light and shadows while sketching are essential for a couple of reasons. 

Firstly it helps to create a sense of depth in the drawings.The brighter is the light; the lesser is the darkness and vice-versa. If you want something to appear behind an object, darken it, add shapes so that those sections appear to be in the front. 

This can be shown with the example of a simple sphere.

Here, the light appears in the front, and dark appears backwards. The stripes shown below the sphere, known as value scale, appear forward and slightly larger than on the dark end.

Secondly, using light and shadows in drawing helps create compositions that treat the eye and look realistic.

Source: MarkAcuna

Light and shadows are also used to help to express the mood by making the illusion of dark and light. Light coming down from the heavens could express illumination, holiness, or godly interaction.

Painters also use this to mark those areas of lightest light and darkest dark in an idea.

Two common sources of light

Let us first understand the two familiar sources of light.

1. Artificial light

This light has an artificial origin and is commonly produced by arc, incandescent, or other electronic sources.

2. Sunlight

This is a natural source of light that can be either indirect or direct. When placed in the direct path of sunlight, an object will be directly illuminated, and shadow will be cast on the adjacent ground.

An object also receives sunlight indirectly from the lighted air.

Different types of illumination

Before we dive into the details of light and shadows, here are some of the different illuminations that you need to know about:

1. Reflected light

Just imagine an object resting on a plane surface. The light from the table reflects on the object, making the shadow side lighter.

Similarly, if an object rests on a black table, the middle tone becomes a dark reflection.

2. Conventional light

Here, the object is lighted so that the casted shadow is of the same length as the height of the object casting it. The contrast of light and shadows is clear on any condition of lighting.

3. Diffused illumination

Here, a particular object is illuminated by light from different sources. The light source could be the same or many.

Say, for example, a flower vase placed on the table can be illuminated by light from the windows, television, chandelier, etc.

4. Front-lighting

If a light source is placed in front of an object, the nearer surface will receive more light than the rearer side.

This form of illumination is called front lighting.

5. Rear lighting

This is when a light source is placed behind an object. The frontal side falls in the shade and casts a distinct shadow towards the observer, while the rear side will be illuminated more.

How does light behave when it hits a form?

Now, this is pretty easy to predict if we are using a standard light source. 

However, most of the time, an object will be illuminated by light coming from different sources such as the television, reading light, sunlight from the windows, etc.

Source: RapidFireArt

To make something three-dimensional, you need to understand the various behaviours of light when it falls on the object.

If you are a beginner with drawing shadows, sketching them for an object illuminated by multiple light sources will be difficult mainly due to two reasons.

Source: MyDrawingTutorial

1.The light falling on the object is more confusing.

2. Shadows created from different light sources don’t behave consistently with the object we are looking at.

It would be wise to start drawing shadows by using a single light source and later move to more complex shapes created by multiple light sources as a beginner.

Shadows created by a single light source

One of the fundamental things that you need to note while drawing shadows is that light always travels in straight lines.

Any shadow which an object makes will depend on 

  • Type of light that hits
  • The intensity of the light source
  • The angle at which the light falls on the object

In the simple sense, light tends to produce the shadow of the form it falls on. If the light falls on an octagon, it creates the shadow of the octagon and similarly for a sphere.

To better understand the light logic, let us take the example of sunlight hitting a tree during midday. We naturally understand that the shadow that is cast will be short at this time of the day. 

However, when the sunlight is relatively low during dawn or dusk, you can observe that it makes a longer shadow, often the carbon copy of the entire tree with all the details.

Cast shadow

As mentioned above, the characteristic of the cast shadow will depend on the intensity of the light source.

Ask yourself this question – how will the shadow be with respect to the source of the light and the surface where it falls?

  • A hard light will cast a shadow with a sharp edge, while light from a soft source produces a shadow with a blurry boundary.
  • A cast shadow will appear from the object on a flat surface, while the shadow will be altered if the surface is irregular.
  • If the cast shadow is longer than the object, the edges of the shadow will be softer and vice-versa.

Once you are acquainted with the basics, you will be able to convincingly draw the shadow of an object to showcase the illusion of form.

When a light beam falls on an object, there are three areas of the form. These are:

1. Shadow side

This includes Reflected light, form shadow, and form shadow core.

The reflected light is the light reflected onto the object from the ambient light around the object or its surface.


Form shadow is made up of dark tones that blend away from the core shadow into the reflected light.

The form shadow core is the darkest region of the form shadow.

2. Lighted region

This includes Halftones and Highlight.

Source: Pinterest

Highlight is the lightest portion where the light hits the object, while Halftones will be lighter than any value on the shadow side.

3. Cast shadow

This is the darkest part that appears directly under the object.

Marking the shadow line

A shadow line is an imaginary line differentiating the dark and light side.

For creating a fabulous sketch, it is vital to ensure that you make a gentle transition between the light and dark themes and, at the same time, retain the light tones on the light side and dark tones on the dark side.

The problem most beginners face is that the darker side sometimes spreads unevenly. With time and practice, eventually, you will be able to restrict the shades and avoid irregularity.

Light side

The lightest part is the region where the light directly falls on the object. This will act as a compass to determine the angle where the light is falling from.

The halftones blend into the shadowed region and make it appear white. These are lighter than the lightest region of the shadow side.

The Shadow Side

Often you might have noted that the dark side of an object that is not facing the light reveals the mass and form of the shape.

Source: ranartblog

As mentioned earlier, the darkest region within the form shadow is known as the gorm shadow core. It falls under the shadow line on the dark side, where there is no light hitting the surface.

Reflected Light

White or shiny surfaces reflect most of the light falling on their surface. Shading reflective regions of an object can be appealing to many as it adds to the charm and sophistication of the object.

While teaching students at IGNITE, we often noted that they either focus too much on the lighted region or too much on the shadowed part.

One of the most fantastic things about the lightest region is that it could make your sketches resemble an actual photograph if correctly done.

Bottom Line

Adding shadows is a wonderful way to bring your sketches to life. It can help to showcase the depth, height, and other geometrical features, thereby bringing a realistic sense to your drawings.

In this article, we have shown you how to create shadows for your drawings.

At IGNITE, all our online classes are custom-tailored to ensure that the concept of light and shadows is well understood to even the average student.

All our teachers are alumni of elite architectural institutions in the country. A huge majority of our previous year’s students have secured top ranks in the ivy league colleges across the country.

Admissions are open for the Sunday batch starting June 20. Do contact us for more information.

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