Reflected Light: A clear-cut explanation for painting reflected light 2021

Reflected Light - A clear-cut explanation for painting reflected light

Welcome to Reflected Light with CecelyV!

Hello and welcome, fellow artists! Thank you for taking some time to read my article on reflected light.

There is a lot to understand about The Fundamentals of Light and The Fundamentals of Art, and sometimes it can all feel large and overwhelming. In this article, I’ve broken out reflected light, a small and vital piece of light fundamentals, to explain and demonstrate what it is and how it works.

I hope to help you build your understanding of light one small step at a time, so it all feels less daunting. To make this article helpful, I’ve kept the focus narrow. This article is only about reflected light. I’ll explain what reflected light is and how it’s different from other light effects, and I will give examples and demonstrate how to paint reflected light.

Understanding light

To fully understand how light works, we need to study it. In my Fundamentals of Light article, I explore and explain the basics of light fundamentals. But, first, let’s review a few points that will help with understanding reflected light.

Light source

A light source is anything that produces its own light. Typically, we draw and paint light effects from familiar natural sources such as the sun and fire and artificial sources like light bulbs.

Each light source has its own properties and characteristics, and most produce a lot of heat to emit light. A couple of exceptions are bioluminescence and chemiluminescence, which see light photons produced without much or any heat (“cool light”). We see bioluminescence in fireflies and jellyfish, and we see chemiluminescence in glow sticks.

Reflectors

Objects and organisms that do not create the light that comes from them are called Reflectors. So, for example, our moon, mirrors, eyes, and other things with reflective surfaces are all reflectors–they all reflect light from a light source but do not emit (or produce) any light of their own.

Understanding light means exploring light sources as well as objects that act as reflectors.

Light rays

reflected light - light rays
Rays of strong sunlight

Light always travels in a straight line called a ray. However, the direction of light rays is changed through reflection and refraction, and what I’m covering is fundamental light reflection.

Direct light and Indirect light

For a surface to receive direct light means there is nothing between the light source and that surface. Therefore, the lighting is directly contacting the surface with no interference to affect the direction of the light rays.

Indirect light is light that is being diffused or reflected in some way before it reaches the lit surface–its direction is changed. This means before light hits an object’s surface, there is quite a lot of light bouncing around off other surfaces.

A sunny day experienced through a bedroom window is an example of indirect light. The sun’s light is being diffused and reflected off clouds, the atmosphere, the ground, the window glass, and the bedroom walls and objects to light the bedroom. The light source, in this case, the sun, is not shining its light directly into the bedroom, but its light is illuminating the room in an indirect way.

Primary light source

In the example of a bedroom on a sunny day, the primary light source is the sun. There aren’t any other light sources acting on the bedroom in this scenario. When light bounces off so many surfaces to illuminate an area like that it’s also an example of ambient light.

When lighting a scene, the primary light source is the strongest (most intense and bright) light source that is responsible for most or all of the light and shadows occurring. A primary light source can be any type of light as long as it is the main source of lighting.

Secondary light sources tend to be smaller, closer to the subject, less intense, and less bright.

What is reflected light in art?

Reflected light in art is the same as reflected light in nature. The only difference is nature doesn’t need tutorials like we do 😉.

Reflected light happens when light emitted from a source bounces (or reflects) off objects and surfaces and illuminates other areas/surfaces/objects with that reflecting light.

Here are some examples of reflected light.

What is the difference between light and reflected light?

Context, intensity, and whether or not absorption is happening are the main differences between the terms “light” and “reflected light.”

Light and reflected light in context

When we refer to light, we’re usually talking about a light source–something that is producing and emitting its own light that we can see. So, when we say, “turn on a light”, “light a candle”, or “hand me that flashlight” we know we’re talking about light sources like lamps, candlelight, or a flashlight.

If you were to walk into a bedroom ambiently lit as in the earlier example, you’d probably say the room appears “bright” because of the light falling through the bedroom window and light bouncing off various reflective surfaces. It’s not likely you’d say, “what a nice bedroom with reflective light.”

So, the context is important. Typically, we don’t refer to most lights as reflected lights unless we are specifically calling out the fact that light is being reflected.

Intensity

There is a significant difference between the intensity of source light and that of reflected light. Source light loses most of its intensity when it begins bouncing around off surfaces and objects, so reflected light is much weaker than the source that creates it.

An exception to this rule happens when light is bounced off a highly reflective surface, such as glass or water.

Absorption

Let’s use direct sunlight as an example. When it is reflected (or bounced) off highly reflective surfaces such as water, glass, or a mirror, direct sunlight loses little to none of its intensity because almost none of the sunlight is being absorbed by those materials. It is all being reflected.

Most reflected light we see has been bounced off surfaces with considerably lower reflectivity than water or glass, meaning much of the light is being absorbed. The absorption results in lost intensity for the bit of light that gets reflected, which is why reflected light appears so much weaker than source light.

What is reflected color in art?

This isn’t really a thing. “Reflected color” is really just light that has reflected off a colored object and taken on the local color of that object, or it’s colored light that is being reflected or both. We cannot see color–or anything else–without light, so there is no such thing as “reflected color” only reflected light that has a color.

What is reflected light in drawing?

Reflected light is the same whether you’re drawing or painting, or observing light in real life. The medium you use to describe light in your image doesn’t change the behavior of light. Reflected light in a drawing is still light that is coming from a source and being reflected off an object or surface to illuminate another area, surface, or object with the light reflected.

The main concept to understand with reflected light is the light’s behavior when it is being reflected, and the materials it is reflecting off of. Technique changes with the medium used, but the behavior of light will remain consistent and predictable.

What is the difference between reflections and reflected light?

The reflectivity of the object/surface material and the light intensity involved is what separates reflected light from what we usually call a reflection. The behavior of the light is the same for both, but the refractive index and reflectivity of materials play a big role in how light’s behavior is conveyed to our eyes.

With reflected light, we see an indication of an object’s reflection on a matte surface, whereas we see clear to mirror-like forms with reflections.

Examples of Reflection vs. Reflected Light

Differences and changes in materials’ characteristics can alter light’s direction and the appearance of reflections. As you can see in the images below, the quality of reflected light and reflections is noticeably different as materials, form, and light intensity change.

Below are more images to demonstrate the differences between reflected light and a reflection.

In the first image, everything above the horizon–sky, clouds, mountains, and treeline–is reflected perfectly on the mirror-like (specular) flat surface of the lake’s still waters.

In the second image, we have much the same effect but with even more reflections happening on the glass sphere. The spheric form and highly reflective–and transparent!–quality of the glass further alter the direction of the light through refraction as well as reflection, so there’s a lot going on there.

The same is true of the third image, but the soap bubble has an additional characteristic of iridescence that drastically alters the appearance of the reflections cast upon its surface.

All three images show highly reflective materials, each with its own sets of characteristics that greatly impact the quality and appearance of the reflections.

The next three images show how changes to the materials can alter the specularity of the reflections, creating more of a Lambertian effect.

In the first image above on the left, we have an evening/night scene with artificial light reflected on the surface of a large body of water. In our earlier example of light reflected off water, we had a daytime scene and still water that created a mirror image of the objects above the horizon line. In this image, the water is not still and the light sources are smaller and less intense.

This change to the material and light intensity creates a Lambertian reflection rather than a specular reflection. The main difference between the two is the texture of the surface material receiving the reflection. The water is still highly reflective, but it is now choppy and textured instead of still and smooth and that creates more of a matte (diffusely reflecting) surface on the water.

Smaller, lower intensity light that is bouncing around more on a now matte surface means we see reflected light on the water rather than reflections of forms.

The next image with a person’s reflection on wet sand applies the same principle. The surface material here is actually wet sand, not water. Sand is not reflective, but soaking wet sand on a shore when the tide is in? That scenario combines the texture of the sand with the reflectivity of the water, and we get a reflection that is somewhere between Lambertian and Specular.

The last image shows a wooden cylinder next to a purple plastic cup. The cylinder has a matte surface, the plastic cup shiny and reflective. When lit and placed near each other, we see reflected purple light (Lambertian reflection) on the wooden cylinder, and a more specular form reflection on the plastic cup.

Notice on the cup we can clearly see the reflection of the wooden cylinder, the light source, and a couple of other items on the shadow side of the cup. All of the reflections on the cup also have a purple tint, reminding us that local color for each object is always a factor.

Understanding how reflected light works

First things first, let’s review some basic light and shadow terminology, shall we? In the image below, I’ve labeled all the stuff and gubbins and you can always refer to my Fundamentals of Light article if you need an in-depth explanation.

We’ve discussed materials, reflectivity, and light intensity as a few factors that affect how light reflects. A couple of other factors to consider when we’re studying reflected light are distance and position.

The next few callout images demonstrate how the distance between objects impacts the amount of reflected light that is able to reach the subject.

In this next round of callouts, I’ll demonstrate more about how object position and materials affect reflected light.

You might have noticed that most of the time when we observe light bouncing onto an object or surface it does so in the form shadow (dark side, shadowed areas) and/or in the cast shadow areas. The reason is all about positioning. When one object is in front of another it will cast a shadow on that object, reflecting little to no light onto it. This is because the light falling on any object will reflect out at the same angle it came in (Law of Reflection).

In the image with the red box and the wooden cylinder, we see a slight exception because of the proximity of the objects. The intensity of the light, and the proximity of the objects to the light source and to each other, means the light is able to bounce around from the source to the cylinder, to the box, and back onto the cylinder giving the red box’s cast shadow a red tint.

Since materials play such a big role in how light interacts with objects, it’s worthwhile to examine a few more instances of how changes to material characteristics affect everything from form shadows to cast shadows, to the tint and shade of reflections and shadows, and the edge of a shadow or reflection.

Light transmission is a separate but obviously related light effect. When materials are translucent or transparent light is allowed to pass through to varying degrees, and can then bounce around on other objects and surfaces. Since it is a separate area, I won’t lose focus by delving into it here, but I thought it would be helpful to offer a few examples so you’ll know the differences in the light effects you observe as you study and practice the Fundamentals of Light.

How to paint reflected light

I created a basic demonstration that I hope helps bring all this together in a simple example. My demo uses simple matte forms so the focus remains on reflected light. Painting reflections and specularity are a whole other demonstration and require a lot more explanation of additional factors like global illumination, so I’ll save that for another time.

Just a few more points

I wanted to mention a few things about local color, colored light, and shadows. In my examples and demonstration, I focused on how light reflects onto objects rather than in shadows or on surfaces. It’s important to mention that the same behavior happens in shadows and on surfaces as on objects. Even a dark shadow can be illuminated with some reflected light, and create interesting visual tonal contrast.

One exception to this, however, is occlusion shadows. The absolute darkest part of any image is where no light can reach– and bounce light is far too weak to penetrate occlusion shadows. Darker shadows will still have color and temperature even if they aren’t illuminated in any way (shadows aren’t really black), and they are still impacted by the local color of the object casting the shadow and the surface the shadow is being cast upon.

When the light source is a colored light, like blue light or the yellow light of the sun, the hue and temperature of the shadows and bounce light will be affected. Of course, we must still account for light intensity and changes to materials.

These are all things we should keep in mind as our understanding and practice of lighting effects grows, and there are a lot of moving parts. If it feels overwhelming, just break down your practice into smaller steps with fewer factors and build up over time.

At first, I recommend tackling basic lighting and simple bounce light on objects, in forms shadows, and in cast shadows with matte materials.

Another Light and Shadow installment, signing off!

As always, Thank you so very much for stopping by my site and reading what I hope you found to be a great article. If not a great article, I hope you found it helpful. If it wasn’t helpful, then yikes! Please let me know that, too, so I can find areas to improve.

If you have any questions, need guidance, or have feedback for me, please send them in the comments section below. I would love to hear from you.

Good luck and best wishes on your practice! Stay safe, take care, and happy drawing!

How to draw a sphere: A flexible approach to a valuable form, 2021

How to draw a sphere

Welcome to how to draw a sphere!

Hello and welcome fellow artists!

Thank you for visiting this article on my site to learn how to draw a sphere!

I’ll go step-by-step through a few methods for sphere drawing, and most of them focus on drawing spheres not lighting spheres. There’s a distinct difference between drawing forms and adding light and shadow to them.

Drawing solid forms should always come first, then light source, shadows, highlights, etc can come into your picture plane. The goal is to have a solid drawing first, with form space you understand. This makes adding light and shadow so much easier.

I don’t shoot for perfect spheres in all of my examples because there are lots of sphere-like or ovoid forms whose drawing process is nearly identical to spheres. These sphere-like forms are basically variations of a sphere, and it helps to know how to construct those as well.

Let’s dig in! We’ll start by looking at what defines a sphere.

Learning about spheres: The technical stuff and gubbins

Don’t worry, I won’t get too mathematical on you, I promise 😉.

Just as every point on a circle is equidistant from its center, so it is with a sphere. The major difference is a sphere is a three-dimensional form, while a circle is a two-dimensional shape. Shapes, edges, and vertices, and depth create forms, which we also call objects.

So, a sphere is a geometric three-dimensional form whose surface is composed of points that are all equidistant from its center. In general, we use the terms sphere and ball interchangeably, and that’s fine.

Exploration and study: Natural and man-made spheres

We need reference photo materials! We all know what a ball, sphere, sphere-like, and ovoid forms look like, so the value of a reference photo here isn’t really for learning how to draw a sphere. Its value is as a source of inspiration. After learning how to draw a sphere, we’ll want to add surface texture and light–which is where the reference photos come in handy.

Shape breakouts and natural variations

Most objects we see in day-to-day life are spherical or spheroid. That means things like apples, oranges, grapes, water droplets, the human skull, etc are three-dimensional forms that are round, or more or less round. They are not perfect spheres, but they’re visually close enough to be referred to as spheres or spherical.

Here’s a reference board for spherical/spheroid and ovoid objects:

How to draw a sphere step-by-step tutorials

There are three methods I’ll cover here that are strictly drawing only–meaning no tonal value, or light and shade, is used to create the spheres. The first two methods demonstrate how to draw freehand spheres, while the third covers sphere drawing in perspective.

The fourth method I’ll cover here goes step-by-step through how to draw a sphere using light and shadow, both digitally and using graphite. I will demonstrate how to add a light source, form shadow, mid-tone (or half tone), a core shadow, a cast shadow, and a highlight to a flat circle shape to model a sphere. I’ll also demonstrate cast shadow placement using the angle of the light rays from the light source.

In this first method, we’ll draw a sphere by using ellipses to add the illusion of depth to a flat circle shape.

how to draw a sphere_depth with ellipses method 01

Step One

Draw a circle of any size you like, and try to make it as round as you can.

how to draw a sphere_depth with ellipses method 02

Step Two

Draw horizontal ellipses within your circle. The band of each ellipse should look and feel like it’s wrapping around the surface of the sphere you’re creating.

This feeling of a contour line wrapping around a form is what ultimately gives our sphere drawing a sense of three-dimensional depth on our picture plane (paper).

how to draw a sphere_depth with ellipses method 03

Step Three

Next, repeat the same process from step 2 with vertical ellipses wrapping around the sphere from top to bottom.

how to draw a sphere_depth with ellipses method 04

Quick Tip!

The way your ellipses wrap around the edges, or outline, of the circle you started with, is very important.

The illusion of depth is created by giving the viewer the feeling the contour lines are wrapping around the form. This creates a sense of depth because it shows plane changes/turns on the form.

2D forms have no depth, so they have no plane changes to indicate a presence in 3D space. Plane changes are the realm of three dimensions.

how to draw a sphere_depth with ellipses method 05

Step Four

Once you’re happy with the sense of depth created by your ellipses, begin darkening the contour lines on the front-facing side of your sphere.

Darkening the contours on the front side, while leaving those in the back lighter, will add a greater sense of depth through value. Darker tones appear to come forward, while lighter tones appear to recede into the background.

To make this process as clear as possible, I created a video to demo the sphere drawing process for this method.

Another method for how to draw a sphere more or less does away with using a circle shape as a starting guide. I don’t find this next method as intuitive or helpful as the method above, but it is another option to consider. It begins with ellipses instead of a circle.

How to draw a sphere: Form dissection

I created the next few videos to demonstrate the form dissection part of how to draw a sphere. When we need to draw something broken, split open, cut up, etc., visual dissection drawing skills come in handy. It’s also useful for investigating and drawing internal shapes and forms, like the juicy insides of a sliced orange or the bloody bits of a battle wound or a sliced-off limb.

The most important thing to remember about the dissection of any form is to do it along believable contour lines, even if you’re not going for a clean look.

Getting a crescent shape from spheres.

Sphere drawing in Perspective

If you’ve visited any of my other how-to-draw articles, first of all, Thank you!

Second, you will have noticed that part of the way I craft these lessons is to demonstrate how to draw the subject in perspective. Perspective drawing is one of the fundamental drawing skills, so I give it a shout-out in each of these articles.

Next, I’ve created a video to demonstrate how some of the process for how to draw a sphere in perspective. As you’ll see in the video, the process is simple but requires quite a bit of repetition.

Below are some images from the video to act as another reference for how to draw a sphere in perspective.

How to draw a sphere with Light and shadow

The first thing to know about how to draw a sphere with light and shadow is that there isn’t a lot of drawing involved, per se.

I consider drawing to be the use of line marks and segments, shapes, forms, etc., which is a bit different than adding value/tones through shading. I think of light and shadow more like painting and coloring, which is why I’m not terribly fond of covering them in how to draw articles. I’m always concerned that it will cause confusion, but it is all connected so we gotta get into it at least a little.

Please try to bear in mind, for how to draw a sphere and anything else you draw, that you always want a solid drawing with solid forms first. Light and shadow, tones and shade, and color and paint all come after you have solid forms.

Okay, I promise I’m done ranting about it. For now 😜.

Know your light source

When you’re comfortable with how to draw a sphere, the next step is to add a light source to create light, shade, shadows, and the other values and tones.

First things first, you must know a few things about your light source.

Without diving into the Fundamentals of Light, the four things you must know (or invent and decide on) about your light source are its angle in relation to your object, its height, its color/temperature, and its intensity.

To help you practice, I recommend keeping it simple so there are fewer variables to juggle. I suggest sticking to black and white for now and using a simple light of average intensity. That leaves the height and angle of your light source to play and experiment with.

Here are a few references to help with visualizing your light source.

Form shadow and cast shadows

When lit, all forms will have at least three shadows: a form shadow, a cast shadow, and an occlusion shadow. Of course, in reality, the tones/values are much more involved than that.

Here are a few diagrams to illustrate most, if not all, of the areas and terminology involved in how to draw a sphere with light and shadow.

Lighting your sphere drawing step-by-step (digital)

Now that we’ve very roughly covered a few lighting basics, let’s dive into some demonstration. From experience, I believe the fundamentals of light are more easily practiced with digital tools–they’re much more forgiving. So, this example has been created in Photoshop.

Basic Light and Shadow Demo 01-plain circle

Step One

Start with a medium-size flat circle. It helps to use one with some tone rather than a white circle. Here I’ve used a mid-tone gray circle.

In the case of how to draw a sphere with light and shadow, we need to start with a toned flat circle and build the depth with light and shade. Normally, I would not start lighting without a form.

Basic Light and Shadow Demo 02-add light source and light guide

Step Two

We have a shape to add depth to, now it’s time to decide on the light source.

I chose to emulate the sun here, keeping the source up high, at about a 45-degree angle to the object, far away, and intense.

Basic Light and Shadow Demo 03-add center light

Step Three

With the light source set, let’s make the first rough light pass on the object.

The focus here is on determining where your sphere’s terminus/terminator will be by judging where the plane change happens–where the sphere would begin to turn away from the light.

Basic Light and Shadow Demo 04-add form shadow-terminus-core shadow

Step Four

Now it’s time to get into the shade and shading part.

Light helps us see forms, while shade and shadow give us form definition.

In this step, select a dark grey (about 80-85%, or a 2b pencil to 4b pencil if you’re working traditionally) and begin blocking in the form shadow.

The form shadow will begin at the terminus/terminator and cover all parts of the form facing away from the light.

This is also a good time to start blending in your halftone/mid-tone. The halftone/mid-tone area is where the form has started to turn away from the light but hasn’t turned enough to be in shadow. So, this area is roughly half the value of both the center light and form shadow combined.

It helps to remember these are all first passes. It will be necessary to go back over each area to darken, lighten, blend, and adjust as needed.

Basic Light and Shadow Demo 05-add cast shadow-occlusion shadow

Step Five

With your form shadow roughed in, it’s time to add your cast shadow.

The shape and angle of your cast shadow are determined by the shape of your form and the angle of your light source.

It’s okay you’re a little off at first. I’m pretty sure my example here is slightly off, but it works.

A written explanation gets confusing, so I’ll include a diagram for placing cast shadows after this step-by-step tutorial.

Learning how to draw a sphere with light and shadow is a really good exercise for learning about the other important shadows, like the core and occlusion shadows.

You’ll see in the diagrams from steps four and five that I’ve labeled the core shadow. The terminus/terminator is where the light no longer reaches and the form shadow begins. Right next to that is the core shadow, the darkest part of the form shadow.

Occlusion shadow areas are places where the light cannot reach at all–they are occluded, obstructed. Occlusion shadows can be present on or inside of forms as well as part of cast shadows. Wherever the light does not reach, you should have occlusion level darkness of tone/value.

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

Step 6

The last step in how to draw a sphere with light and shadow is to add the reflected or “bounce” light.

Reflected light happens when light from the source bounces off other surfaces and is reflected back onto the object–in this case on its form shadow area.

How to determine cast shadow placement

Next, I’ve included a few images to demonstrate how to locate and place the cast shadow for a sphere. Here we’re looking for where the light rays meet the outer contours of the sphere and intersect the ground plane.

How to draw a sphere with light and shadow using pencils (traditional)

Not everyone is interested in working digitally, so I thought it would be helpful to demonstrate how to draw a sphere with light and shadow traditionally as well.

If you’d like to follow along with this demonstration, you’ll need a few pencils. I recommend a blend of the soft and hard leads: 4h, 2h, and h pencils; as well as an hb pencil and a 2b pencil. 4b and 6b pencils will help in the shadow areas. I like to go all the way up to 8b because I love velvety shadows, but usually, 6b is dark enough. I have articles about graphite pencils and drawing tools if you need more information in those areas.

As a rule, I don’t use a blending stump, cotton swab, or cotton ball for this kind of exercise. They smudge more than they blend, so I avoid them.

How to draw a sphere from Imagination!

Here is where those lovely references from the beginning of this article come in handy! While important, sphere drawing on its own isn’t the most exciting exercise. With some imagination and reference, you can create some fun and awesome things from spheres.

How to draw a Sphere, signing off!

Well, this one was quite a few mouthfuls, wasn’t it?

Thank you so much for reading how to draw a sphere and spending some time with me here. I appreciate you hanging in there and I hope you found this helpful and valuable to your artist journey.

I’m always trying to improve and come up with more useful articles to write, so if you have any feedback or questions for me, please reach out to me in the comments below.

Take care, stay safe, and happy drawing!


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

How to draw a circle

How to draw a cube

How to draw a mushroom

How to draw a banana

How to draw a pumpkin