Drawing – Living in the Light

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The first thing you need to establish when drawing is what direction the light is coming from.

I show some examples from an old sketchbook below with different directions of light happening.  You will see:

  • Early dawn and sunset lighting which is usually from the side and low.
  • Back lighting where the light is behind the subject putting it into silhouette.
  • Top lighting as you would see at midday.
  • Front lighting, which produces a stark contrast between light and dark.
  • Diffuse lighting, overcast days when the sun is filtered behind the clouds and shadows are softened.

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Do you recognize these lighting situations outdoors?


Using this simple tonal bar (as you can see I don’t stay within the lines), you will do an easy drawing of this orange.  This will take about 10 minutes or less.

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You will practice hard and soft edges.  A hard edge is one which is clearly defined.  A soft edge is one which gradually disappears.

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  • Lightly draw the simple shape of the orange in the photograph.
  • Establish where the light is coming from.
  • The orange should be shaded dark on one side and gradually blended to a soft edge towards white on the other.
  • The outer edge should be clearly defined (hard edge) and the area where the shading fades out should be soft without clear definition of a line (soft edge.)

Your drawing might look like this.  I like to put an arrow in the direction of the light to help me with these practice sketches.

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Here are a couple of sketches I did years ago after I saw the beautiful work of Dutch artist, Jan Vermeer.  He is known as the “master of light” and for good reason.  If you look closely you will see that most of his magical and wondrous works were completed with the light streaming from a window on one side.  For more information about Jan Vermeer you can check him out at:


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The Milkmaid Vermeer vermeer

My next post will extend on this process.  We will use the three tones tonal bar again to accurately match the tones and edges in a black and white photograph of a face.  A portrait, how exciting!


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