I love to share all I know about painting in my international art workshops, art instruction DVDs and Download teachings. When time allows, I also share what I hope will be an invaluable lesson for you here in my website blog. I want this blog to be a great resource and reference point for all artists to return to time and time again. Please do spread the word to your artist friends. It helps bring even more value to the time I dedicate to such writings This post is focussing on how to create shadows that dance with color

Bring your shadows alive with color

Shadows are fun to create and can bring a luminosity and depth to any painting – no matter what medium we use. At the end of this lesson, I hope I will have helped you to understand how you can bring your paintings alive with shadows – and I especially hope you will begin to see and observe shadows in nature in a totally different way – with an ‘artist’s eye’.
In my 25+ years of teaching painting, I find one of the most-asked-about subjects is “How do you create realistic shadows that glow?”
So let’s focus on shadows for this free art lesson.

Most of us begin thinking of shadows as being neutral in color, or blue or grey. Let me show you an example of a shadow that is cool neutral and dull. Next to this I will show you a shadow that is alive with color.
I will also show you a shadow where I have exaggerated the color. You will see how this example literally dances on the page and lifts the work beautifully.

Adelaide d’ Orleans. Watercolor by Susan Harrison-Tustain. Can you see the shadow on the leaf doesn’t dance with color? This is because the shadow is uniform in color & not transparent


The neutral shadow is cool in color temperature. It is dull and unnatural.

The more natural shadow (still life detail below) has color bouncing around inside it and gives a lovely example of how such shadows that are alive with multiple colors can bring life to a painting.


For the Connoisseur. Watercolor by Susan Harrison-Tustain. Can you see how the shadow on the books dances with color?


The exaggerated color in the last shadow is vibrant and brings a beauty to the whole painting. If you block the shadow out with your hand – you will see the painting loses some of the life-blood the luminous shadow brings. The shadow has such a great impact on the painting that the painting becomes more insignificant without it.

On Angels Wings. Watercolor painting by Susan Harrison-Tustain. Can you see how the shadows within the rose dance with color?

How to bring color and life into your shadows:

Firstly please note my paintings always have soft edges. This brings a greater naturalism to the shadow.
I give thought to the harmonious colors that look natural and in-keeping with the atmosphere I wish to portray in my shadows.
I often use orange, yellow a touch or red – as well as blue and green
When painting shadows, it is important to have some of my local color in the shadow or shadow mix of colors. ‘Local color’ refers to the color of the object before light or shadow affect it. For instance a green leaf has a ‘green’ local color. The local color of a red apple is red….
I always have a touch of blue in my shadow colors too. This can be introduced with any blue – but I prefer a transparent blue such as Phthalo Blue. I use a tiny amount as Phthalo Blue is a strong and staining color.
There are often times when I feel blue can be a little too strong and overpowering for a gentle shadow. In these paintings, I will use Sap Green or a tiny touch of Phthalo Green instead. I won’t go into the reason for this now as it will become too big a subject for one blog post. I will teach you the magic behind this choice in another separate post in the future….suffice to say green is made up of blue and yellow. The amount of blue in green is less and therefore using green will bring a more gentle and lighter shadow for areas where a lighter shadow is more in-keeping with the painting.
I digress – for now let’s get back to our shadow colors and mixes:
Firstly take some local color, then a touch of blue or green. I also add a touch of the complementary color of the local color.

These are Complementary Colors:

Complementary colors sit opposite to each other on the color wheel.
If we add the complementary color of the local color of a green leaf for example – we would add a touch of red to our shadow mix. Red sits opposite on the color wheel from green. This example is true of any complementary color. If we have an orange yellow fabric – we would add some purple to our shadow local color and then add a touch of blue. Voila! We have created a natural shadow color mix.
By adding the complementary color of your local color, and then add a touch of blue (via the addition of blue or green) – you will have a beautiful and natural shadow color mix.
But you can make your shadow color even more beautiful.
Instead of mixing all of your colors, you can lay some of them into the shadow area without mixing them. I often create a shadow color that has a combination of my standard shadow mix (as mentioned above) – and I also add some colors separately and allow them to stand proud – and remain unmixed. You can see this in the last example I have shown above. Can you see the yellow, orange and blue colors glowing from within the rose shadows?

This is how you too can create luminous glowing shadows in your work.

The wonderful thing about color is that YOU are in charge. The more you learn and the more you put the lessons into practice – the more you will come to delight in creating the right atmosphere and mood you wish to create. You will find you will soon be able to portray the emotion and evoke the feeling you wish to capture within your work by these new skills.

You can see these skills, color mixing – all I know about painting – in my best selling art instruction DVDs and downloads. We have now sold over 40,000 DVDs and Downloads to artists all around the world.
Click here to view free video previews and in-depth information on my teachings:
It is my pleasure to help you find your wings too.

Fly high!


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