Dimensions through the use of Shadow and Light

The art of shadow and light to add dimensions to your coloring is a complex topic. I am still exploring how to improve in this area and I am not aiming to make you an expert in applying shadow and light by just reading this blog since I am not an expert either. Just want to share some of what I do with you. Please feel free to comment if you have insights into this topic.

There is nothing wrong with using solid colors with no light and shadow for your work. A lot of colonists do and create nice pieces by using spectacular color choices. This works especially well in coloring Mandalas or designs with lots of small intricate patterns. I like to add dimensions to my coloring pages. I think it makes the subject pops out of the page if it’s executed correctly and creates a wow factor.

Observation is key

Since I started to color, I look at everything differently. I even look at a white wall with interest. Nothing in this world is solid color when you look at it closely, even if they are painted with one color. A blue car is spray painted with the same paint throughout but you can see a lot of different blues whether it’s a sunny day or cloudy day. That’s because light changes the color and creates shadows. The three shells that I colored in Johanna Basford’s Lost Ocean at the top of this blog demonstrated how I added light and shadow. Once I determined where light is shining on the object, I worked on darkening the rest. I barely have any color where light hits the shell. The result is that the shell surface appeared curved and not one dimension anymore. For the blue shell, I wanted the ridges to stick out. I therefore made the side of each ridge extremely dark.

Coloring of Johanna Basford's Lost Ocean skull by Betty Hung

The more you observe things in real life with respect of how it interacts with light, the better you master this light and shadow technique. Look at this boring window frame below – the actual photo and it’s one dimensional drawing. Pay attention to where it is almost black to medium grey to light grey. Now you have a pretty good idea how to color a window frame if it comes up in your next coloring project.


A photo of a window frame for the study of light and shadowwindow frame appear as just lines in an illustration

Other considerations

Be Consistent

If I am not really sure what I am doing in terms of light and shadow, I, at least, try to be consistent. Overthinking gives me a headache and I don’t want to let technical details takes away my joy of coloring. So my rule is at least be consistently wrong if I interpret incorrectly.  I am right handed, so I am inclined to put dark areas on the left. I figure if for my whole picture, shadow is always on the left, it should look convincing.

Black and white

I almost always add black to the darkest area of my object as a last step. Depending on the color beneath it, it will take up some of that color and your area will not appear totally black unless that’s the desired effect.

When I first started coloring, I wonder what the white pencil is for. Now I love it, I like to use white or the palest yellow colored pencil for a last layer of blending. This makes my light area really pops and create a nice blending effect with the neighboring darker colors. So everything kind of comes together and it is much better than leaving white paper.

Depth – relative position of objects to each other

Be clear what is in front, what is at the back. This is important to create depth. Whenever something overlaps, there must be shadow. Triangular shape of anything is a good place to darken as it is probably a crevice, a corner or just a tip of say a leave. See my coloring below of the Owl in Secret Garden by Johanna Basford to see what I mean.

Owl in Secret Garden to demonstrate the effect of light and shadow



Practice with Grey Scale photo

Here’s a neat way to study light and shadow and apply to coloring:

  1. Print a photo in grey scale on card stock paper
  2. choose 3 colored pencils of the same tone – dark, medium, light
  3. color the grey scale photo according to the darkness of the greys using the 3 pencils

There are grey scale coloring books that you can buy too, just search for grey scale coloring books on Amazon.

Have fun with shadow and light

Have fun exploring light and shadow in your coloring projects and add depth and dimensions to your color art.

Happy Coloring!

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