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Cat. No. 1319 Arset el Mellak, Marrakesh detail

The Secret To Painting Luminous Shadows

The problem of dead shadows

One of the common problems beginners have is to paint shadows so they look ‘dead’. If you look at these shadows they just look gray and somewhat muddy in feeling.

This is often caused by painting them too dark or using a grayish mix of opaque paint. This is one of the most common mistakes beginner make.

How to create luminous shadows

Cat. No. 1319 Arset el Mellak, Marrakesh detail
Cat. No. 1319 Arset el Mellak, Marrakesh detail

If you find you have this problem, here are three things you can do to fix it.

  • Paint thinly. In the closeup of my painting shown above, you can see the grain of the linen showing through in the shadow area of the ground. This demonstrates clearly how thin I am using the paint in these shadow areas.
  • Avoid painting the shadows too dark. Instead paint them in a middle or light gray value. If you compare my shadows with the darkest darks in this painting, you can see how light they really are.
  • Don’t use just one temperature of color. In the detail above you can see that I have two colors in my shadows. A warm color and a cool color.

Using these three tips you will end up with much more luminous shadows in your work and avoid that dead and muddy shadow look.

The end result will be a painting full of life and vitality.

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