Friday, November 13, 2009

How important is shading in illustration?

I work with toned art as in painting as well as straight line drawing in black and white illustration work. One question I hear sometimes is: "How important is shading in illustration?"

Line drawings tend to be flat. Depth can be added with different techniques in line work but none are as effective as shading the forms.
As in real life we see things not in lines but in shades of color. This is brought on by the way the human eye works in conjunction with the way light works as a direct source, an ambient source or as a reflective source.
My first college art professor (Alan Shaw, Oklahoma State University School of Technical Training then called OST cir.1979) that taught life drawing and anatomy was one of the most technically gifted illustrators I've encountered. Every class felt as if Albrecht Durer was standing before you sharing knowledge. And the thing he shared most often, in
fact it was his mantra..."It's all a matter of highlight and shadow." That was his secret to understanding drawing.
And to use highlight and shadow you have to have shading. Line work simply won't do.
A few of the reasons we should consider the use of shading because of this is the following: 'Spotting Blacks'
When you work on a drawing, a painting, a comic page or storyboard, etc. you want to be able to show depth. A camera captures depth-of-field but can be a poor tool if it washes out the image due to improper lighting or settings. An artist captures that same depth of field by his
use of shadows first then followed by adding highlights.

I recommend the shadows first, a building of the image from dark to light (This can be confusing by the way I say it so let me clarify, the medium you use sometimes can determine this method by it's nature for example: oil paints require you to work from dark to light as it is an
opaque medium like acrylics; watercolors like transparent dyes require you to work from light to dark building up shades in layers of color.)

What I mean is find your darks, the dark areas of the image. The shadows, the dark colored areas if there are no 'pure black' areas are what I am referring to. You want to be able to 'spot' those areas first and pay careful attention to them as these areas bounce your eye
around the image, provide balance and grounding in an image as well as creating an underlying rhythm.

They add a mass and weight in the areas that they occupy and can cause receding from the foreground. Shading by the use of shadows helps to add that third dimension in our 2D work. It is helped by highlights.

Highlights add that sense of reality to the work. We get reflections off of objects as the light source bounces off of an object helping to create it's visual form for the human eye. The closer the object to the eye the brighter the surface. As the object recedes into our depth of field it
begins to take on shades but the part closest to us is generally the brightest and the part that will have the highlights. The thing to be aware of is that light sources can create highlights in unusual ways depending on type of source and the direction along with the ambient light mix but
that is a whole other subject and I don't want to digress.

With highlights coming usually at the end of the creative process, they are sort of like the spark that Dr. Frankenstein used to animate his monster. They create that spark, that glint of reality that we expect to see in a multi-dimensional representation. The best example I can think
of to keep this short is looking at a drawing of a person's face. In portraiture the eyes are the key to capturing the person's image. And the key to bringing those eyes to life is near the end of the drawing process and we add the final detail that is known as 'catch light'. Catch light
is that little glint, that little sparkle or twinkle we see in someone's eyes. The glassy, moist, curved surface of the human eye reflects the light it is taking in and that little tiny highlight can be key. It doesn't have to be a huge mark or stroke but just that tiny little addition can bring the final work to completion.

That is why becoming a good illustrator requires more than just hand skills, it requires knowledge and keen observation as well. Letting the shades of an image create our positive and negative spaces is another key element to good composition, leading the eye around the work and providing balance and harmony in the image. Knowing how light works and how color works combined with all of the other ingredients that go into drawing, help to make an illustrator more well rounded in the skills that they posses.

Once you learn the basics of line work, you've only just begun as highlights and shadows aka shading will literally take you to that next dimension in your work.