Lots of details on shadow side strategy

I was wondering what is the best procedure to do a shadow side that has lots of details…do you mix a shadow color for each color or do you apply a glaze of a general neutral shadow all over? In one of Ken Davies’ book he mentions that he applies a glaze of burnt umber and cobalt blue to the whole shadow and it appears to be a good strategy especially in a highly detailed shadow side. Here’s a work that I painted recently with this kind of challenge…as you can see there’s lots of colors to be mixed: the orange on the label, the yellow, the blue, the gray on the cow’s hind legs, etc.


Wonderful painting!

I do see what your pointing out on your painting, the shadow and light sides are beautifully quiet and soft but do feel like they need a little push in contrast from one another (clearer shadow shapes, darker shadows sides).

I don’t have a clear answer for you, but I can tell you what I do in this situation. In order to minimize back tracking, if I’m not sure on my values or color in an area and I know I’m likely going to go back and make adjustments I keep the drawing simple and blocky and stay out of investing much time in detail, then when value and color look about right I’ll move in with detail. With all that said, I still do more repainting of areas then I’d ever like to admit.

Glazing is a tricky subject and there are lots of varying opinions I’ve heard on when to do it and how to do it or if it should be done at all. I do subtle glazes on the shadow sides in my painting sometimes, for me its pretty unsophisticated and usually more of an end fix then a plan. Typically I’ve tried to hit it right the first time and missed or something is not working in the painting like its not dark enough in a given shadow or its too detailed and I want to sort of mute or unify the area, the color I’ll choose for the glaze is situational based on whatever I think it needs based off my set up or photo. I’ve had some good results with my glazes and few frustrating messes, you might be ahead to do a good deal of “how to” research and then some practicing on scrap canvas or panel to get a feel for it before you attempt it on something you invested a lot of time into.


Thank you Anthony! I appreciate all your helpful tips and advices! I agree with you that it might be a better strategy to worry more getting the shadow values right first and then add the details later. Also practicing on a scrap canvas or panel before investing in working on a very detailed piece like this sounds like a good game plan…as this painting seems to be taking forever to get right with lots of layers of fixing and correcting…on the shadow side of the canister I might have done like six layers already if I try to correct it that might be seven to eight layers and the painting might look too overworked!


What a great topic Jose! And yes–let me first second the comment by Mr. Brenny–wonderful painting!

In many cases, carrying a significant amount information into a shadow region can really “sell” it. The problem with it, as you mention, can be finding an the ideal strategy to manage that information so that it aligns with the overall intent and context of the work. This topic can be very complex as it can include considerations from perceptual constancy to dynamics of optical color mixing (and quite a significant bit in between.)

Let me start with my own default baseline and my reasons for it—In my earliest layers, I almost always try to capture as much information as possible that contributes to the global context within a general, and sometimes flexible, hierarchy of considerations. (1. spatial relationships 2. value relationships 3. all things color) . As such, I will add as much of the content (structure AND surface texture/detail) as the materials and my skill-set will allow. Sometimes this process may require a unification glaze over shadow regions at the end stage if there is problematic variations. However the glaze is customized to the context of the work.

The information in the shadow regions of these pieces began much like they are seen here in the finish.

Now it is important to remember that many work in a more “gestalt” manner–meaning that an artist will see that an entire painting evolves as a whole in regards to resolution. This is akin to what we used to see when hi-res images would load on the internet—starting at low resolution and refining with each subsequent pass. One of my teachers in college used to call this approach as following a “law of structural continuity.” (I know, pretty fancy right?) For a process like this, a general glaze over some content at certain resolutions can establish a useful dark over a good deal of info. However, I am interested as to what type of information first populates this region prior to such a glaze process and does it require any special anticipatory shifts to be better receptive to the burnt umber and cobalt blue?

Again—great topic. I hope we can explore this further.


While I’ve worked at it for a while I’d say I’m still definitely a person who still feels shaky on their method and technique. As far as fumbling on the early phases of my painting, sometimes is not having enough experience or a clear concept of what I want and how I’m going to do it, the larger plan is there, it’s just the subtleties and problems that pop up, sometimes I’m trying to do too much at once and I need more control.

I was taught an alla prima version of starting a painting in art school, a method of moving around paint into large out of focus abstract shapes and them more and more into focus and detail with each layer of paint after that, it can be a bit of a do it all at once thrill ride, there are definitely people who do amazing things with this method, but for me it’s very easy to screw up due to the tremendous amount of processes I’m trying to do at once. The last couple years I’m finding benefit in separating the processes a bit more and using some of the ani techniques, I tend to like an accurate, trust worthy drawing now and some solid smaller areas painted as far as I feel I can take them at the time to get my morale up and set a standard for the rest of the painting, I still mess up and find myself repainting areas many times, but this approach has definitely helped.


Thank you for all your motivational information, Anthony! Putting as much detail in the early stages of the painting sounds like an effective strategy, that was my intention when I began this painting…I think my failure/mistake was on rushing the painting too much(I think I got to dedicate more time on painting one subject more accurately before moving to the other…like instead of a day to paint the whole painting, maybe a day to paint half of the painting and if something is too detailed like this canister a whole day just to paint the canister!) and not establishing a right light and dark relationship on the subject(since I paint from natural light, I wasn’t able to identify the actual shadow on the canister…it kind of looked the same as the light part of the canister…my biggest struggle was trying to soften the transition from dark to light…it didn’t look as soft as it should look. On the later layers I tried to darken and unite all the colors and details in the shadow are and follow the strategy of applying one color to the whole shadow area-not burnt umber and cobalt blue mix but similar.