Help My Weak Shadows

Shadows have always been a weak spot of mine. I’ll be sitting there thinking, “Man…that’s definitely not enough shadow on his face,” and the next thing I know, my figure’s head has turned into a giant black blob of ink. It’s more than a little disheartening when you have to redraw entire frames because of something so seemingly simple, yet so damn tricky! To ensure that this stopped happening, I hopped on my pathetic excuse for a computer and surfed through the net, looking for some awesome shading tutorials.



The first one I found was this Youtube video by Tumblr user Ribbitcow about using cell shading and other Photoshop techniques. The step-by-step way she takes you through the labyrinth of Photoshop’s infinite menus is a lifesaver, especially if you’re still as “intro level” as I am. This is one of the best things about Youtube tutorials – that you’re able to just dive right in alongside the video and work through each step in real time, watching each move made by the Youtuber, making sure that your clicks are right on track.

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But I didn’t want to limit myself to Photoshop tutorials. Shading theory is as important as the act of shading itself. That’s when I came across Brian Duey’s shading tutorial, a crash course in the different techniques used when shading photorealistic sketches. The way he breaks down the techniques into their most basic components (Circles on circles? It’s that easy?!) is what really struck a chord and made me realize what an important resource this tutorial is for starting out. The small exercises he outlines in his post are most definitely the groundwork we artists need to strive to build upon.

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 2.23.46 PM

Finally, I needed some help with anatomy – my weakest subject. I turned to DeviantArt and found a really wonderful PS/Gimp tutorial made by Kiwi-RGB. This tutorial is so succinct and so clear, I couldn’t help but love it. It outlines everything from layer work to adding dimension to the art at hand (which, in this case, is a wonderfully steroid-induced arm). The tutorial was short, image heavy, and took me from A to Z in a way that left enough room to improvise on my end and feel for my own kind of style.


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2 Responses to “Help My Weak Shadows”

  1. Chris Conlon

    Hey there! If you’re looking to have a firm grasp on shadows, I’d recommend going back to your fundamentals and brushing those up. As an illustrator, I’ve worked in two main styles. One is more painterly, and the other is more of a comicy flats style that lends itself to what you’re talking about. What I found early on was that my painterly work REALLY informed my shadows in my comic-style work. My comic-style work helped me exercise my ability to see the larger shadow shapes, but I’d say my painterly work informed my comic work way more than the other way around.

    I think that drawing influence from more realistic and fundamental-based styles will have a great influence on the proper distribution of your shadows. If you want to learn good shadow distribution, I’d check out some Golden Illustrators like Mead Schaeffer, NC Wyeth, and others in that group. Their work has stood the test of time, so your work won’t get muddied up by passing trends.

    As far as anatomy goes, “Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth” by Andrew Loomis is a must. His writing style is very friendly and readable, and he breaks down the human form into very manageable parts. “How To Draw The Human Figure” by Louise Gordon is another favorite of mine for similar reasons, although I’d say that she explores the science of anatomy a bit more.

    The best thing you can do for your anatomy is find a life drawing group in your area and attend sessions. Drawing from life is essential in any artistic field, but drawing the figure from life will give you a much better understanding of the way the figure occupies the drawing plane. It’s very difficult at first, but you can only get better.

    If you’re looking for a good online resource for basic drawing, I’d check out Stan Prokopenko’s website. His work is very firmly based in fundamentals and his videos are very inviting and entertaining. His website is also very well organized, so finding what you need is easily done.

    Fundamentals. Fundamentals. Fundamentals. If you want to improve your work across the board, that is how you do it. You’re never as good as you think you are, but you’re also never as bad as you think you are. Fundamentals will always make you better. Specialized tutorials are nice, but the basic, sometimes boring stuff will ALWAYS inform your work more. Learn the rules, and you can break them intelligently.

    Good luck!

  2. Chris

    Thanks for this. I’ve always had big trouble with my characters looking flat and boring. Great resource, this could help me out.


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