THE COLOUR OF SHADOWS
Shadows are rarely just darker colours than the un-shadowed colour, and the impressionists used this to great effect.
The easiest way to see the colour of a shadow is to see them at the beach or in the snow. You will notice that shadows on a sunny clear day are very blue or purple, particularly late in the afternoon or morning. Some of us may never have noticed this, but it's quite a revelation when you spot it.
Many impressionist artist’s really exaggerate these coloured shadows to great effect, and even though they are more coloured than in real life, they look believable, simply because we are used to seeing those coloured shadows without even realizing it!
The blue in shadows on a sunny day are there because the yellow of the sun is being blotted out by a solid object. With the yellow of the sun not there, the only thing left to illuminate is the blue sky and hence the blueness of the shadow. Of course, it is not all blue but a combination of blue and the original colour of the object in shadow. It is the subtlety of these combinations that need to be worked on to get it right. There is no real formula - it takes persistence, observation and patience!
Not only is the shadow a combination of the original object’s colour (untainted by the yellow of the sun) and the sky but can also include colours from sources nearby. For instance the shadows of sand dunes have the colour of sand, the sky and the reflection of sunlit sand that may be nearby. Quite frankly, there are so few artists that think about this third source, and it's a triumph when we get it right.
Still life shadows are particularly susceptible to colours of local objects and understanding this can transform your work.
I remember one evening leaving the Cathedral Art Show in Adelaide and there were two sets of street lights at play. Some strong white spotlights were casting deep shadows on the pavement, but the shadows were very orange. The orange came from the street lights above that were illuminating the shadows cast from the white spotlights.
For sure, the colours in shadows are very subtle most of the time, but as artists we can enhance them and when we do, it will add another dimension to our work and bring them to life. A study of how other artists handle shadows can be an eye-opener and well worth the time to consider and then implement the knowledge in our own work.
Happy observing and painting
The blue-purple in the shadows are very visible at the beach and on things like white sails.