Light and Shadow in Art – The Fundamentals of Light, Part 1: The Science & The Basics Made Clear

light and shadow in art

The Science & The Basics

I’m not sure many people fully appreciate the nature of what artists attempt to do each time we set out to render light and shadow in art. I know I haven’t fully understood it, let alone appreciated it, even as I am in the middle of rendering.

As I continue to really dig into what Light is, I am awestruck and so thankful to all the scientists and artists who came before me—the giants upon whose shoulders we stand—because the subject of Light is huge, and I am glad they already figured all this stuff out for us 😅.

It is difficult not to get philosophical here because what we are really doing when we render light is re-creating the properties and behaviors of light in a 2D space—and those behaviors and properties encompass several sub-branches of modern Physics, including: Quantum Physics, Modern Optics, Geometric Optics, and Physical Optics.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the fact that different aspects of light behavior and properties come under several different categories of Physics that are each quite involved areas all their own.

That was my not-so-subtle warning that The Fundamentals of Light gets quite technical.

The understanding we gain for our art is totally worth it, and we need three things for sure: 1) Patience, 2) Plenty of visual examples, and 3) More than one post to go through the massive amounts of information.

For any of you who are much better scientists than I, please forgive any inaccuracies in my scientific understanding or explanation. I endeavor to be an expert artist, not physicist 😋 , but I do try to be as accurate and as clear as possible. If I get something wrong, please let me know in the comments and I will do my best to make corrections.

I hope you will hang in there with me as I break down the technical bits (that’s the patience part), I hope the examples and information I share help your practice, and that you’ll find it useful enough to look forward to the future posts in this series. Since this is the first, let’s start digging into to the science, shall we?

The Science—What is Light?

To understand how to render light and shadow we must grasp the concept of what light is and how it behaves.

Light is a type of energy created by the emission of photons within the electromagnetic spectrum. If that sounded like gobbledygook, fear not, I shall explain.

A photon is a “small bundle” of electromagnetic energy and the basic unit that makes up all light. Thus, photons are the building blocks of light.

Electromagnetic energy describes forms of energy that are reflected or emitted from objects as electrical and magnetic waves that can travel through space. The Electromagnetic Spectrum shown below describes these energies as frequencies and wavelengths.

Electromagnetic Spectrum

The light effects we paint represent a fixed and narrow range of the Electromagnetic Spectrum called the Visible spectrum, which is a narrow group of wavelengths between approximately 380 nm (nanometers) and 730 nm.

As illustrated in the diagram above, The Electromagnetic Spectrum contains several other forms of light, however most of them are at frequencies we can feel but not “see”.

All light has both a frequency and a wavelength, and all light can behave as both a particle and a wave depending on the situation. In fact, both light and matter have particle-wave duality in their properties and behavior. It’s important for artists to understand this duality because it affects our thinking and problem solving regarding light at different stages during rendering.

When we begin to invent our images we must also invent our lighting. When we are mentally calculating the direction of our light source, its reflections, and fall off, it is helpful to think of light as particles, or rays, that travel in straight lines.

This helps us figure out how much of our object will be lit, how to place the form shadows and cast shadows, and where the bounce light will land. When objects are opaque, I have found considering light primarily as rays helps me best determine how to render the light.

When objects are translucent, transparent, or have variable reflectivity, things start to get more complex because light is not simply being absorbed and reflected but also transmitted through the object. Transmission of light through objects gives us more to consider and calculate because it gives us more to paint, like subsurface scattering, refraction, and more reflections.

Let me put your mind at ease and say it is not necessary to do any complex mathematic calculations to paint these effects, just some additional concepts to understand and visual calculations to make.

When we think about reflection, refraction, and absorption, it helps to think of light first as a particle or ray (for determining the light’s intensity, direction, and bounce) and then as a wave—for determining which wavelengths are reflected off, absorbed by, and/or transmitted through the object and the ground.

That was a huge mouthful, I know. I will be going over all of these more nuanced areas in other posts in this series.

Understanding the particle-wave duality of light begins to give us a clear view of how light’s behavior changes as it interacts with different materials. Watching the videos below helped me gain a clearer understanding of this concept, and I hope you find them useful, too.

As we bring together the elements we need to understand, we start to define the contours of The Fundamentals of Light so that we can start filling in details and particulars—and don’t worry, there will be photographic examples and demos so all of this becomes more clear.

Properties of Light & Matter for Artists

I know this has been a little science-heavy so far, and that’s intentional. It is how I make sense of complex topics, and I hope you find it helpful. Now that we’ve covered the basics of what light is, I’ll change things up a bit to keep everything digestible. I’ll cover a little science and do some explaining, and then use photographic examples or demos to clarify how the information helps in creating art.

Next, let’s dig into the properties of light, but first I want to give you a list of all the properties to keep in mind whenever it’s time to render light. This is a list according to me, and they’re based on my experience rendering light in both 2D (Photoshop) and 3D (Maya).

Light PropertiesMatter Properties
Number of SourcesForm/Shape
Type of Light(s)Local Color
Size of Source(s)Material Type
Distance from object/picture planeDensity
Angle/Height of Source(s)Reflectivity
Temperature/ColorTransmission
Exposure/IntensityRefractive Index
Fall OffEmission

Some of these are straightforward, so let’s talk about those briefly. The number of light sources is an important consideration because we need to know how much light information we’re working with. More light sources in a scene makes for a brighter image, but how each source affects the picture plane depends on all the other properties on the list.

The size and angle/height of each source are also straightforward properties and they ask questions like: Is a light source large, small, or medium? Do several small lights make up one larger source because of how closely grouped they are? Do these sources sit high or low on the picture plane? Are they even visible in the image, or are they shining from somewhere out of frame?

Under properties of matter, shape, form, local color, and material type are the most straightforward. We must know what shapes and forms make up the volume of the objects we’re rendering, and we need to know what color and material type they are. After all, there is quite a difference between painting a shiny chrome ball and painting a shiny colored plastic ball. Sure, they’re both shiny; but one is metal and ridiculously reflective while the other is plastic, softer, and much less reflective.

The Two Ways Our World is Lit

Despite all the science, properties, and moving parts involved with understanding how objects are lit, there really are only two ways anything receives light in our world: directly or indirectly.

Objects are either lit directly by a light source or indirectly by reflected light when the rays from the source bounce off some surfaces and objects to illuminate others. This kind of indirect lighting is also called Ambient Light and it is much weaker in comparison to direct light. Most lighting schemes will involve both direct and indirect lighting.

Next, we’ll go over the categories that light sources fall into.

Properties of Light – Types of Light Sources

There are 3 types of light sources:

  1. Key Light
  2. Fill Light
  3. Rim Light

Key Light

A key light is the strongest light source in your scene. It defines the emotional impact of the scene and is the primary descriptor of forms and drama. When you decide how to “key” your scene, you are choosing the overall mood and tonal range that will define it.

Fill Light

A fill light is not as bright as a key light and is often softer and a lot darker. Fill lights support your scene and subjects by adding light and color information in the shadows, which can illuminate an area of interest you wish the viewer to see or just provide added interest or balance to your scene. Fill light can be ambient (reflected) light, as I’ve done in my examples below, or it can come from an additional light source(s).

Rim Light

A rim light travels the outer edges of objects. Rim light helps define shapes, add dramatic appeal, and can be a helpful tool for adding compositional information and/or emotional impact.

No matter what kind of mood a story or scene calls for, any lighting scheme will have at least a key light and, likely, some combination of all three light source types.

Okie dokie, how’re you doing? I know this has been a lot to get through, and I hope you’re still hanging in there with me. Deep breaths, we’ve got this!

Now, it’s time to go over some terminology to help keep things clear as we continue to move through the Fundamentals of Light.

Defining Terminology + Sphere Tests

Think of this as the glossary section of this post. Here I’ll define the frequently used terms that will show up quite often from now on in both my writing and the call-outs in demos and examples.

Light Source

Anything that creates and emits light. Light sources can be natural, like the sun, moon, and fire, or artificial, like lamp posts, flashlights, and device screens.

Light Direction & Angle

The orientation of a light source relative to the picture plane. For example, low and out of frame on the left, or mid-level and in frame on the right.

Exposure

The intensity or strength of a light source. A high exposure light source makes for a brighter, “high key” scene, while a lower exposure light will make a scene appear less bright. I tend to use exposure and intensity interchangeably.

Center Light

The area of a form receiving most of the light; the lit side of a form.

Highlight

The brightest area on a form. This is usually a small area that is receiving the most direct light and reflecting a bit of it back.

Half Tone

The area on a form that has begun to turn away from the light source, resulting in a transition area of light to shadow. This area is receiving some light, but not nearly as much as the parts of the form facing the light source more directly.

Reflected/Bounce Light

Light that bounces off a surface and then lands on another form or surface is Reflected or “bounce” light. Reflected light is much weaker than direct light and can occur on any part of a form, except occluded areas.

Terminus/Terminator

The point at which light cannot land on a surface. This is where the shadow side of the form begins.

Shadow Core

The darkest part of the form shadow. The shadow core on a sphere typically looks like a dark band right next to the terminus, a clear separator between the light and shadow. The core shadow is also the part of the form shadow least affected by reflected light.

Form Shadow

The areas of a form that are in complete shadow and receive no direct light.

Occlusion Shadow

Occlusion shadows are the darkest areas in shadows and on/within forms where absolutely no light can reach. When something is occluded it is completely obstructed or blocked, so when light is occluded you have complete darkness.

We see occlusion most often in narrow areas right beneath forms before the cast shadow begins, and with narrow openings, cracks, and crevices of surfaces/forms. Occluded areas are not sufficiently open enough to the environment to receive any light, so there is only shadow.

Cast Shadow

Cast shadows is created when an object’s form blocks light. Objects block light adjacent to themselves and in the shape of their contours. There are three distinct parts to a cast shadow, the Umbra, Penumbra, and Antumbra. Much of the time, in art, we are only painting an umbra and penumbra. When multiple light sources of different intensity and direction/angle are involved, we begin to see examples of all three parts of a cast shadow.

  1. Umbra: Umbra is Latin for “shadow”. The umbra is the innermost and darkest part of a cast shadow, where the light source is completely blocked by the form creating the shadow. [i]
  2. Penumbra: Penumbra is Latin for “nearly” and “almost”. The penumbra is further from the object and lighter than the umbra. Further away from the object light from the source and the environment can influence and brighten the shadows.
  3. Antumbra: The antumbra is the lightest and softest part of a cast shadow. The technical definition is confusing and unnecessary for our purposes, but if you’re curious click here.

Now, I’m going to show a few sphere test examples to visually illustrate the terms above so we can make practical sense of all you’ve been reading.

Basic Light and Shadow Demo 06-add highlight-reflected light
Basic Light and Shadow Demo 07-Sequential

The Distance of Light Sources & Why It Matters

Each property of light plays a role in affecting the mood of our scene and the light effects we paint, including shadows. The appearance and quality of shadows is determined by the light and forms that cast them. How near or distant a light source is to an object has a significant impact on the appearance of an object’s form shadows and cast shadows, so let’s get into that next.

Distant Light Sources (Sunlight, moonlight, spotlights, etc)

We can group lights into categories based on their characteristics, like size, distance, and how intense they are to get a starting place for how those lights would interact with the objects in our scenes.

Distant light sources are things like sunlight, moonlight, and powerful spotlights like those in stadiums and theaters. Distant lights tend to:

  • Be neutral lights.
  • Cause soft-edged form shadows.
  • Create cast shadows that are the same size and shape as the object because their light rays are parallel.

As one example, we know the sun is a huge, very distant, powerful light source, and from observation we know that light from the sun strongly illuminates everything it reaches. That means light is bouncing around everywhere in our atmosphere and reflecting a lot of light, so we can expect brighter and more colorful shadows when the sun is involved.

Playing with exposure also makes a big difference, so an overcast grey sky lowers the exposure, diffuses the light, and makes the sunlight seem much less energetic than a clear and cloudless sky, and creates lighter, softer, and less colorful shadows.

The Sun is also larger than our Earth, and any object we would light with it, so we must also consider the sun as an “oversized” light, which we’ll get into in a minute.

Nearby Light Sources

Nearby light sources are things like lamps, candles, device screens and monitors, lighters, matches, lanterns, etc. Nearby light sources tend to create:

  • Larger cast shadows because the light rays are no longer parallel.
  • Shorter and sharper (harder edged) cast shadows the closer they are to objects, longer and softer cast shadows the further they are from objects.
  • A higher terminus and a larger form shadow.
  • A more active or energetic feel and added tension to a scene.

When nearby light sources are also quite small (like candlelight or a lighter), they tend to cast hard edged cast shadows. They present an additional composition challenge because they can become distracting if not handled carefully. Nearby light sources tend to become a focal point in a scene, so it’s important to be mindful of that and use it to your advantage for your chosen lighting scheme and compositional design.

Oversized or Diffuse Light Sources

Examples of oversized or diffuse light sources are the entire sky on an overcast day (sky light), light coming through large windows, and any light that is scattered by being translucently covered or blocked (like a paper lantern, a light sheet or cloth, an umbrella, or frosted glass covering for light bulbs). Oversize or diffuse light sources tend to:

  • Cause an object’s terminus to move further away from the light source (the larger the light source is larger relative to the object).
  • Create softer edged shadows.
  • Make environments and characters feel softer, warmer, and more friendly.

In the case of light sources that are larger than the objects they illuminate, the light rays are travelling out in random directions, reflecting off the atmosphere and other objects and surfaces, and filling in the shadows, which softens them. Shadows become softer edged because light does not reach each part of the shadow area equally, and because the object blocks (occludes) part of the light area behind it.

Ambient Light

Ambient light is created when light from a source is reflected off the ground, other objects, and the environment. It is possible for objects to be exclusively lit by ambient light, but a key light (which is usually a direct kind of light) is still needed to emit the light that will be reflected.

Terms like indirect light, reflected light, and bounce light all mean the same thing: they are all ambient light. Ambient light is most noticeable in shadows because of the contrast, but it is present whenever and wherever reflected light lands on an object or surface.

Light rays lose most of their strength and brightness (90%) with each bounce, and they are bouncing around multiple times. This loss of strength is why ambient light is generally weak and cannot reach into occluded areas.

You may have come across the term ambient occlusion, especially as it relates to lighting in 3D modeling apps like Maya and Zbrush. In drawing and painting, if zero light can reach an area, I simply refer to this as an occlusion shadow or an occluded area.

For a bit more on ambient light and ambient occlusion, here’s a video by Marco Bucci (awesome artist!) that I found helpful.

Light Direction & Angle: How They Affect A Scene

In any lighting scheme, cast shadows are a compositional and mood element that should be considered and planned. Choosing the light’s direction and angle is an important step in setting the emotional tone of a scene as well as defining forms and helping viewers to understand how to react to what they are seeing. Cast shadows can add drama and mystery to a scene, particularly when the object or character casting the shadow is off camera.

Different light directions and angles offer a variety of mood options, and I’ve listed a few here:

  1. Direct Overhead Lights:
    • Tend to read as unnatural.
    • Can help create tension and drama, and how much depends on the light’s exposure and temperature.
  2. Angled Light from the side:
    • Defines form.
    • Reads as active and energetic.
    • Adds dramatic tension.
  3. Frontal light (slightly to the side and above, not directly in front):
    • Comfortable way of positioning light.
    • Keeps an object/character from being in too much shadow.
    • Good at defining form.
    • Reads as soft and friendly.
  4. Under Lighting:
    • Is the most unnatural of all the lighting directions.
    • Feels dramatic in spooky, creepy, threatening, and unnatural ways.

How you choose to render your light will always depend on the position and point of view of the audience, and the message that needs to be conveyed.

The Fundamentals of Light—Breaking Down The Parts

Even though we learn in steps and stages, I find it helpful to get the “lay of the land” because it provides a road map, and it’s nice to at least have some idea of what we’re doing, right? With that in mind, I have listed the major headings that are part of studying The Fundamentals of Light and broken out some detail for the area we’ve covered today.

Deep breath…

  1. Properties of Light
    • Light Sources
    • Types of Light
    • Terminology & Sphere Tests
    • Fall Off & Form Changes
    • Exposure
  2. Light & Surface Color
  3. Reflections
  4. Translucence & Transparency (Transmission)
  5. Light & Materials
  6. Atmospheric Effects & Atmospheric Perspective
  7. The Human Experience of Light
  8. Rendering/Visual Styles

Next Time: The Fundamentals of Light, Part 2!

Take a moment to think of your absolute favorite treat for relaxing and pampering yourself. See it, visualize it in your mind’s eye. Now…get yourself that treat! You have just made it through a massive amount of information in a relatively short(ish) amount of time.

Congratulations!

Thank you for hanging in there with me. I’ve tried to keep things clear and concise, but I know this was a lot to take in. I commend you, I thank you, and I am sending you virtual high fives and fist bumps!

We need some forms before we render light, so if you need guidance in that area I have some posts covering Form and The Fundamentals of Art to help.

The next couple of posts in my Fundamentals of Light series will cover exposure and fall off, and then absorption, reflection, and refraction of light wavelengths.

If I’ve confused you, if you have questions, or if I’ve gotten anything wrong, please message me in the comments and I’ll do my best to clear things up.

I hope you’ll join me for those as well.

Take care, and happy drawing everyone!


[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umbra,_penumbra_and_antumbra

Art reference 2021: How to create your own delightfully useful art reference boards

Art reference_How to create your own awesome art reference boards

Hello fellow artists, and welcome to my article about art references!

Access to useful art references, learning where to find them, and knowing how to create and use them are essential aspects of our art craft.

I’ll try to cover all the bases, including:

  • What art references are.
  • Why it is artists need and use references.
  • How artists’ options and use of art reference have evolved.
  • Sharing the way I learned to create reference boards.
  • A few alternative ways for creating your own references.
  • How to use references.
  • Where to find art references.

What is art reference?

Art reference comes in several different forms, but it’s essentially a tool to help us study and understand our subject’s shapes, forms, and other characteristics.

As a tool, art reference comes in two forms: three-dimensional or two-dimensional.

We can always draw what’s in front of us (Yay! 👏🏾).

Drawing from life is an essential skill and one of the art fundamentals. Having physical access to our subject–being able to touch, hold, and see it from different angles, gives us the best opportunity to understand all of its forms and characteristics.

But, let’s face it, much of what we draw is make-believe or not easily accessible. For example, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never caught any dragons, cyborgs, or fairies hanging out in my neighborhood. Likewise, when I needed to learn how to draw a pumpkin, I couldn’t just pop down to the store and easily buy one because it was springtime in Texas–not a pumpkin in sight (but plenty of lovely bluebonnets).

This is where two-dimensional references come in.

When I was learning how to draw a mushroom, creating my own reference board allowed me to study and learn about many different kinds of mushrooms I didn’t know existed. Another benefit of reference image hunting is that it allows us to see our subject through the eyes of the people who took the photographs, and that often inspires ideas we might not have thought of on our own.

To be clear, I’m not discouraging drawing from life—quite the contrary. If I had a woodland forest with creatures galore in my backyard, I’d happily hike there for hours to draw the references I need from there–but…I live in the suburbs, so that’s not a thing. 😜

Why do we use art references?

Early in my artistic journey, I heard foolishness and dribble around using art references for drawing. Many people believe the rather silly notion that all artists should draw with nothing more than their “innate” skill, a few tools, and imagination.

Poppycock and utter nonsense!

Can we draw from imagination? Of course, but there’s so much more to being an artist. Our imagination and desire to create are the starting point and our sustaining thread. However, just because I can flip on a light switch doesn’t mean I’m qualified to perform electrical work. Likewise, buying food at the grocery store doesn’t mean I can cook edible meals. I’m sure you get the idea.

If you have no experience or familiarity with a subject–if you haven’t even seen it–how could you possibly draw it? Being naturally inclined or gifted at something doesn’t magically bestow omniscience upon us–we must still earn the knowledge, do the work, and use the tools. Art references are essential tools that help us create.

A necessity, not “cheating!

You may have also heard that using references is somehow “cheating” at art. 🙄

That is a load of hooey and rubbish! I call shenanigans!

We use books and other visuals to help us learn literally everything. When you cook a new dish for the first time, do you wing it from your imagination? Probably not. I bet you use the lovely cooking reference called a recipe, right? I don’t think anyone believes they’re “cheating” at cooking because they use a recipe. I used DIY YouTube videos to learn how to install a toilet myself and save money. That’s not “cheating” on home repair.

If anyone has ever dimmed the light of your confidence by suggesting it would be “cheating” your art to use a reference, I hope this puts your mind at ease. If you’re using references to help you study, practice, and create, you’re doing right by yourself and your artwork. Keep it up!

The evolution of art reference

We’ve all seen the paintings, drawings, and period pieces that give us an illustration of what it was like to be an artist in centuries past.

There were no smartphones, computers, or internet for easy access to online drawing tutorials. The creation of artwork couldn’t rely on stunning photo references in books, websites, or an app. Everything was analog and by hand for every person and every kind of job. When royalty or a noble family commissioned a portrait, they did not send a photo or two to the artist. Instead, they had to stand or sit, for hours at a time over several days or weeks, to acquire their likeness from an artist’s brush.

The two types of art references still existed even then, but artists couldn’t always create photo references to use in the studio. Leonardo Da Vinci mastered anatomy in the 15th century by dissecting more than 30 corpses and meticulously studying what he found through drawing. Two-dimensional reference had to be created through study from observation first and then taken into the studio and combined with the artist’s skill and memory. I’m sure imagination played a role, but that creativity was undeniably and greatly supported by robust study and drawing practice first.

The proliferation of the camera, and the use of the Camera Obscura as a drawing aid, didn’t come until after Da Vinci’s time. More widespread and commercial use of the camera began with the Daguerreotype and calotype processes around 1839. Still, it wasn’t until the invention of photographic film and the Brownie camera in the late 1900s and early 20th century that artists’ ability to create and access photo references really began to take off.

Since the first 35 mm cameras were made available to the public in 1913 and 1914, there has been a prolific expansion of photography and images. In addition, photographic device technology has advanced dramatically, taking us from the 35 mm camera to camera phones in less than a century.

Since the 1980s and 1990s, artists have had amazing access to make, find, and use reference photos. With the creation of Photoshop in 1988 and Google in 1998, we’ve gained an ever-growing and evolving slate of options for image access and manipulation.

I have found the Photoshop and Google combination particularly helpful and convenient. In addition, there are several ways to create reference images, and I’ll get into that below. But, first, I’d like to share with you the process I learned for making reference boards.

How to create your own art reference boards

With the extraordinary amount of information available globally and through the internet, you would think a simple Google search would provide an extensive library of DIY reference creation tutorials. Unfortunately, it turns out that’s not the case, so I decided to make my own.

More ways of creating reference materials

Reference boards are a great resource for the needs of our artwork, and they are only one of many ways to create and access reference resources.

You’ll remember earlier I mentioned there are two types of reference, two and three dimensional. So let’s talk about the avenues available to us under each type.

Two-dimensional art reference

From collage and studies from life to digital media, there are many 2D reference creation options.

Studies from life and figure drawing

Making drawings of subjects from observation is our most foundational and vital skill as artists. While it’s our most accessible and low-tech reference creation method, it is also, sadly, limited by our location and means to travel.

I live near a major American city, but it doesn’t boast high a high-quality zoo, aquarium, or natural history museum–ideal places for life drawing. Like most artists, my access to a live human model is modest at best, and requires that I drive a good distance from my home, pay a nominal fee, and hope I arrive early enough to get a good spot due to limited seating (and parking).

What we’re able to study from observation in our own neck of the woods depends greatly on the nature and infrastructure of the area and our own circumstances, schedules, and means.

Thankfully, the gaps in reference access can be successfully bridged in other ways.

Photography and found images

These days, it’s a relatively simple thing to get a disposable or one-time-use camera to take reference photos–though it’s also much less necessary now that most people have a camera and mini-computer in their pocket with smartphones.

With touchscreen technology and high megapixel cameras, our phones help us create reference photos at all the different sites we travel to throughout our days. Still, no one’s neighborhood has enough references for creating all their artwork. Found images, primarily from magazines and books, and the Google image search tool come in handy here.

Images can be studied directly from books and magazines to create drawings and studies–and nowadays, we even have e-books and digital copies of magazines, making things quite convenient.

If you’re on a budget (aren’t we all?), there’s always the option of visiting the library to study from their materials, take photos of the reference materials with your phone, check out the materials to borrow for a while or even make photocopies.

Collage (old school)

However you choose to create your reference photos, a useful way of compiling them is to create a collage–a one-stop-shop for all the images you’ve gathered to help your artistic vision.

It’s a little messy and time-consuming, but with a large piece of drawing paper or poster board, a pair of scissors, and some glue or tape, you can easily create a helpful art reference board the old-fashioned way.

Digital collage

The demonstration in my video above shows how to create your own digital collage using Photoshop and Microsoft Paint 3D. Other applications will allow you to do the same thing, like the site Canva and other digital painting apps (especially those that use layers).

3D modeling software

It probably seems odd to put “3D” anything on a list of two-dimensional reference resources, but hear me out. Technically, everything we do on our computers is flat and 2D. It’s all “real” but still rather intangible and amorphous. This is true of the models we can create in applications like Zbrush, Blender, Maya, and 3D Studio Max.

These tools give us the illusion of depth to manipulate data in the form of digital clay, and that is extremely helpful when it allows you to create your own “3D” reference. It’s a step up from a photograph because you can virtually rotate the model and view it from any angle, and that is immensely helpful. The drawback, of course, is that there’s quite a learning curve to sculpt anything useful in these applications, so, depending on your needs, it may or may not suit your process.

Here are a few examples from a Maya build I did to create a digital illustration.

Three-dimensional art reference

Let’s get “real”! Anything you can touch and feel, move around, and manipulate with your hands is three-dimensional. I know what you’re probably thinking, “Thank you, Captain Obvious! 🙄” I’m nothing if not thorough, and I know that can be annoying sometimes. Would you mind bearing with me? 😉

Nature, models and found objects

These are all self-explanatory. You know what nature is. Models = the live human or animal variety. Found objects are…the random stuff and gubbins that help us practice drawing.

Sculpture and maquettes

These two are also self-explanatory, though I did have to look up maquettes for a better visual. Maquettes are the small preliminary sketches, or models sculptors create before beginning on the final sculpture.

Sometimes making a representation of your subject helps your drawing–it doesn’t have to look good or be accurate so long as you have the major forms where you need them. You could use Play-Doh. It doesn’t need to be fancy.

How to use your reference photos and studies from Life

Step 1: gather references.

Step 2: Draw all the shapes and forms you can see in said references.

Step 3: Keep doing step 2 and become awesome sauce. #sketchdaily.

Reference in the entertainment art world

All artists benefit from using references. So whether you’re an illustrator, a comic artist, a concept artist drawing characters, or a creative influencer on social media like Twitter, reference photos and materials are your best friend.

If you’ve ever seen behind-the-scenes footage for film and video games, you’ll know that artists who work in entertainment art frequently travel to draw on location for the project’s creative development. How cool is that?!

Where to find the stuff: Websites, social media, tutorials, and videos.

To help you build your image library, I’ve included a list of a few useful sites on the web that have stock photos and other reference photo resources. There’s a lot here for figure drawing, human anatomy, and body parts to build your library. Sadly, there isn’t as much for animal anatomy. Tips in that area seem more confined to books, but there are still plenty of images to be found in this list.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you so much for stopping by my site to read this article. I hope you found the tips in my video and the list of resources helpful, and I wish you good luck on your reference photo hunt.

If you have any questions or feedback for me, please leave them in the comments section below.

Take care and happy drawing!

How to draw a red panda (WIP) 2021

Welcome to how to draw a red panda drawing tutorial!

Let’s learn about red pandas!

Exploration and study: Red panda drawing focused on shape and form

Shape breakouts and natural variations

How to draw a red panda: form construction

How to draw a red panda: Form dissection and interior studies

How to draw a red panda step-by-step tutorial

Red panda drawing in Perspective

How to draw a red panda with Light and Shadow

The details and colors of a red panda

Furry fun: Let’s draw a red panda from Imagination!

How to draw a banana (Simple fruity fun 2021)

How to draw a banana drawing tutorial

Welcome to my how to draw a banana drawing tutorial!

Hi everyone! 🖐🏾

Hopefully, you’re all well and ready to learn about bananas and how to draw them. This drawing tutorial is a little different from my others. We’ll still go banana banana for bananas, but I decided to try going heavier on the visuals since they’re such simple forms–until you start peeling them.

First, we’ll learn about what bananas are because it’s important to know something about what you’re drawing. Then, we’ll start getting into the process of how to draw a banana from exploration and study to how to draw a banana step by step, as well as banana drawing with light and shadow and in perspective. There will be quite a few videos in this drawing tutorial to better demonstrate the drawing process.

Most of them are only a few short minutes long and do not have sound–I didn’t think you guys needed to hear my pencil scratching or my kiddos playing in the background 😉.

Alright, let’s get started! As usual, there’s more to them than you can tell from a trip to your local market.

Banana banana! Let’s learn about bananas!

Did you know that a banana is, botanically speaking, a berry? Me either! In some countries, bananas used for cooking might be called “plantains,” which distinguishes them from the dessert variety most common here in the West from the Cavendish group.

A banana is a fruit that varies in size, color, and firmness while usually appearing elongated and curved. It has soft flesh that is abundant in starch and covered with a rind that also varies in color–green, yellow, red, purple, or brown–when ripe.

The banana is grown in 135 countries primarily for its fruit and make banana wine and beer, fiber, and for use as ornamental plants. A raw banana without its peel is 75% water, 23% carbohydrates and contains a very small amount of protein with almost no fat. They offer a modest amount of potassium, vitamin C, manganese, and dietary fiber, but they are most often used as a staple starch for many populations around the world.

There are as many ways to cook and eat a banana as there are people, and its plant’s flower, leaves, and trunk are used as well. The flower of a banana plant, called a banana heart, is eaten as a vegetable in South Asian and Southeast Asian cultures, and its leaves are regularly used as Earth-friendly disposable plates and food containers. Foods are also cooked inside banana plant leaves during steaming or grilling.

Exploration and study: Banana drawing focused on shape and form

As with any form we draw, the first step is to explore and study the major shapes and forms. That begins with gathering references and drawing from them and from life.

Here are a few reference photos I took, along with reference boards I created. You’re welcome to use these in your study if you like.

Shape breakouts and natural variations

The banana is a super simple form, making studying it fairly easy–until you start peeling it 😉. Most of its variation comes in proportion, color, and surface texture.

From here on out, there will be several videos and a few images demonstrating each stage of how to draw a banana.

How to draw a banana: form construction

How to draw a banana: Form dissection and interior studies

Form dissection is all about opening up our forms so we can start understanding and playing with the internal shapes and details. This helps us have fun, learn, and tell stories.

How to draw a banana step-by-step tutorial

How to draw a banana (unpeeled) step-by-step.

In case my video wasn’t clear enough for how to draw a banana step by step, I’ve broken out the steps here with another step by step drawing tutorial of a partially peeled banana.

how to draw a banana_step by step 01

How to draw a banana Step 1

Lay down your gesture line (or line of action). You’ll build your shapes on top of this.

how to draw a banana_step by step 02

Banana drawing Step 2

Begin building each shape you need on top of your gesture line. Lines and shapes build form, so we start there.

how to draw a banana_step by step 03

Banana drawing Step 3

Once you have all the shapes you need blocked in, use lines to connect them, as shown here.

how to draw a banana_step by step 04

Banana drawing Step 4

Start with an ellipse shape around the middle and more gesture lines to begin constructing the peel forms.

how to draw a banana_step by step 05

Banana drawing Step 5

The peel forms are plane shapes, so once you have laid down your gesture lines, it’s a matter of building the plane shapes on top. Next, you choose the length, width, and direction of each peel shape.

how to draw a banana_step by step 06 final

Finishing up!

With all your forms constructed, now is a good time to clean up your sketch and darken it for clarity and finishing.

Here’s the video to go with the step-by-step from above.
Bananas come in bunches, so let’s practice that, too!

How to draw a banana peel step-by-step tutorial

Banana drawing in Perspective

For setting scenes, you need Perspective drawing practice. Here are a couple of videos that demonstrate how to set up your boxes in 1 and 2-point perspectives and how to use them to build in your forms. The process is the same; we’re just adding perspective into the mix.

How to draw a banana with Light and Shadow

Next, in this how to draw a banana drawing tutorial, I’ll cover how to approach basic lighting for the banana bunch I drew earlier. Additionally, I’ve started a series on The Fundamentals of Light if you’d like more in-depth information.

How to draw a banana_Light and shadow step-by-step_finished sketch

How to draw a banana with Light & Shadow, Step 1.

The first step is always a solid drawing–no one wants to waste time polishing a turd 😉.

How to draw a banana_Light and shadow step-by-step_add local tones

Step 2 – Local tone.

Next, we need to add the local tones. Local tones are your subject’s areas of native lightness or darkness–where each part of the subject lives on the value scale.

How to draw a banana_Light and shadow step-by-step_add light source

Step 3 – Light source.

Now, decide on your light source’s direction and intensity (exposure). I’ve kept it simple here, having the light come from the upper right-hand corner with intensity similar to sunlight. If we were tackling color, this would be the time to decide on the light source’s color and temperature.

How to draw a banana_Light and shadow step-by-step_first shadow pass

Step 4 – First shadow pass.

Using your light direction and form construction as guides, do a rough pass with a darker tone to block in the basic shadows.

How to draw a banana_Light and shadow step-by-step_first light pass

Step 5 – First light pass.

Here is the same idea as the previous step, only now you’re blocking in where the light lands on the bananas.

How to draw a banana_Light and shadow step-by-step_2nd shadow pass darker and occluded

Step 6 – Deepen & refine shadows.

With the basic scheme in place, it’s time to deepen the shadows and refine them through blending. There are nearly always places where the light won’t reach, so we need to include occlusion shadows to demonstrate that.

How to draw a banana_Light and shadow step-by-step_with hightlights and reflected light_Completed

Step 7 – More light & finish.

Now the lighting for our how to draw a banana light and shadow demo is nearly complete.

All we need to do now is refine the lights through blending, adding highlights, and adding any necessary bounce or reflected light. Then we’re done!

I didn’t go full-tilt high render here, but it’s enough to illustrate the basics of how to light your own banana drawings.

The fruits of your labor: A bit about details and colors

If you’ve spent any time with me in previous how-to-draw articles, like for mushrooms or pumpkins, you know that I prefer to keep color and surface details separate from the drawing stage. Drawing tutorials are about drawing. When drawing tutorials start trying to cover color and surface textures, things can start to get confusing. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all connected, and everything needs to be addressed and explained. I will do that; I promise–just not here.

My goal here is to give you a solid foundation for drawing a banana without a reference. From a solid drawing foundation, you can build whatever other mood or story elements you want.

Fun with fruit: Let’s draw a banana from Imagination!

I’m not gonna lie; I had a hard time with this. Bananas are so simple that I found it difficult to come up with more than a few funky ideas for imaginative drawings. I’m sure you’ll do better than I did 😉.

Thank you!

It has been my pleasure to create this how to draw a banana drawing lesson 😊. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and found it helpful.

If you have any questions or feedback for me, please leave them in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you and learn a lesson myself in what you found helpful and what you think could be improved. If any of you have kids, please let me know how well you’re able to go through this with them in the comments! I don’t usually write with kids in mind because of the advanced nature of the drawing process, but I’d love to make my process work for kids, too. Happy drawing, everyone, and take care!


More how-to-draw articles on CecelyV.com:

How to draw a circle

How to draw a cube

How to draw a sphere

How to draw a mushroom

How to draw a pumpkin