An Introduction to Shading (Botanical Art Class 5 – Entry 8)

Shading is an important skill to learn and master in botanical art as it gives you the ability to bring more definition and tone to your image, which will, in turn, make it look much better, and something that you want to look at again and again. And because we want to at least attempt getting someone to look twice at our work, the second set of botanical art classes I’m taking is focusing on exploring the shadowy depths of shading.

While there’s a huge amount of things to be learnt in this space, we’re beginners so the majority of the class was spent shading in tonal swatches to practice the effect of building up shadow through a gradual process. Some of these swatches were done on small samples of fancy watercolour paper, but it seems that I’ve misplaced these exercises, and the ones that remain are a few shading attempts that I’ve made on one my ordinary pieces of cartridge paper. I’ll admit that these photos don’t really translate into the most thrilling blog post in the world, but it’s still early days and much more still needs to be learnt.

Practising Shading - 30/03/2018

After spending considerably more time shading in strips than I ever thought possible, we were allowed loose to draw and shade a seedpod. I’m not really sure the name of these seed pods, but I have seen the lying around footpaths so I’m relatively familiar with the subject. The most interesting thing about these pods is that when they dry out the pod pops open and spirals in on itself to create an interesting spiral shape, which you can see in the sketch below.

Shading a Spiral Seed Pod - 30/03/2018

Overall, I think that this drawing looks okay, but I’m not really sure if the shading is right because I don’t fully understand what is going on here (I just followed the teacher’s directions which didn’t include detailed explanations as to why things were being shaded).

As I want to be a reasonable artist in the future, I decided to turn my finely sharpened analytical skills to see if I could unearth the whys of shade and light by applying a little logic to my sketch. Logically, I can see four different things going on with regards to shade (marked in different colours) in the four different twist and turns of the pod (numbered and marked in black).

Analysis of a Shaded Spiral Seed Pod - 30/03/2018

  • Yellow Area: To make shading effective you need areas of light. In this sketch, the light areas are showing the parts of the spiral where the light path hasn’t been obstructed. Simply put, the yellow areas are where the light has been able to travel along the seedpod, without being interrupted by things like dips or bumps.
    • I didn’t really consider: shading the part of the pod that holds the seed. At the top of section 3, I’ve drawn in some details to show the structure that holds the seed, but I haven’t really applied any shading to it to show the unique lumps and bumps of this section.
    • I’m still not sure why: the yellow panels in sections 1 and 3 are the same colour as the sections 2 and 4. It’s a little hard to see in this sketch, but the yellow areas in section 1 and 3 are supposed to be level, while the yellow sections in 2 and 4 are about 2cms behind them. I’d love to find out why I’ve been told to keep them both the same colour, as I would have expected that a little shading should be introduced to sections 2 and 4 to show they are further back.
  • Red Area: The bottoms of sections 1 and 3 have been shaded as they are resting on the table. At both of these points, the spiral is starting to turn away from the front of the image, which means the light can reach less and less of the spiral, in turn making it darker and darker. I found this the most straightforward bit of the whole shading exercise.
  • Green Area: When I think about this section logically, it seems to be like the red areas in reverse. As the spiral continues to turn, it gets closer and closer to the light, which means it needs to be made lighter, and lighter in the sketch.
    • I’d also like to know if: the red area throws a little shadow to the edge of the bordering green area. I imagine that there should be a little shadow there from the previous spiral section, but I’m not 100% sure.
  • Blue Area: This bit is trickier. Again, when you look at this section in conduction with the other twists and turns it looks like the blue section is simply flipping the green section. At the point where the spiral is blue, it is starting to turn around again, but this time the spiral is going forward and hiding the rest of that side of the spiral.
    • I’d also like to know if: the bordering area section should throw a shadow on the edge of the blue area because the yellow is in front of the blue.

Well, that was quite the logical journey! Although these notes are a little muddled and have thrown up even more questions, working through the possible logic has helped me consider what is going, and hopefully, I can use this technique to refine my shading on this week’s homework and beyond.

Top Tips

  • Continuous shading is a technique where you build up shade by drawing little circles on the paper and going over them again and again to build up the shading.
  • Botanical art generally has a single light source on the top left hand of the image.
  • Putty erasers are good to blot off any surplus of graphite from the image.
  • Paper matters. Poor quality paper can prevent the graphite from pencils sticking to the paper making it much harder to build up shade using a single pencil. You can get around this by using a darker pencil in these areas if you’re using cheaper paper like I am.