Learn to Draw, Fundamentals of Light and Form

To learn to draw value and form it is important to understand how the light source interacts with the form.

To render anything in three dimensions we need light! Before drawing any volume, find where your light will come from.

Once light hits the form, we see the light side, and the shadow side. Before going further, it helps to divide the object into just these 2 sides. The light side and the shadow side.


When we look closer at the form, we see the core shadow, the reflected light, the highlight, the center light and the halftone.

drawing a sphere, elements of value

Now that we know the terms, let’s apply them to drawing a sphere.

Step 1: Light and Shadow 

Draw a circle and render in the shadow side with an appropriate transition to light. 

Step 2: Halftone and Core Shadow

Add the halftone to the light side, add the core of the form shadow to the shadow side.

learn to draw - halftone and core shadow

Form Shadow is a shadow on the form, as opposed to a shadow that is cast by the form onto another object or surface. That shadow is appropriately called the cast shadow.

Step 3. Reflected Light

Draw in (or erase for) the reflected light – also known as Bounce Light. Reflected light is the light that strikes a surface near the object and is reflected back onto that object.

learn to draw - reflected light

Step 4: Highlight 

Finally, indicate the highlight inside the center light area.

The craft of learning to draw form is in subtly rendering these transitions:

  1. center light to half tone
  2. halftone to shadow
  3. shadow to core shadow
  4. core shadow to shadow
  5. shadow to reflected light
  6. highlight to center light

When rendering transitions, keep in mind that to obtain the best definition of three-dimensional form, the halftone will always be rendered lighter than the reflected light.

You must also understand  and see values, going from lightest to darkest: highlight, center light, halftone, reflected light, shadow core shadow. Highlight is the lighted light of the form, and the core shadow the darkest dark of the form.

learn to draw - value spectrum

Increase-Your-Skill Assignment:

Draw a nicely lit egg, move around the egg, (keep the light source in the same place) and see how the shadow and the light sides interact, how the highlight moves depending on your location. Spend some time observing how the light shapes the form. Draw the egg from life applying this tutorial.

This is all for this tutorial. If you are looking for quick tips that will improve you art this very instant, check out my post on top 5-tips to improve your art right now.

You can also download a sample render and free reference for the following color value study by joining Gvaat’s newsletter.

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Learning to Draw Light and Form, Terminology.

When I was learning these terms that define how we think about light and form, I found that many sources called things different names, which made a complicated topic even more confusing. Here I made a short guide to terms used when describing drawing of three dimensional forms. Hope it helps you!

Core Shadow VS Terminator Line (line of termination) These are not the same, the terminator line is where the light terminates and the form turns to the shadow side. Core shadow is the darkest part of the shadow side of the form. They are, however, often used to indicate the same thing, when they are, the terminator line is usually used to indicate the core shadow line. The expression of the core shadow area will depend a lot on reflected light.

Reflected Light AND Bounce Light. Bounce light is a term generally used in photography.  It is the process of reflecting light from another surface, essentially having it bounce of another surface and land back on your subject. Bounce light reaching your subject is the same concept as reflected light on a form in drawing.

Center Light AND Direct Light. These terms are used to indicate the same thing. Center light or direct light is the plane of the form that is in the light, as opposed to an area on the form that is in the shadow, or the shadow side of the form.

Halftone AND Midtone. These terms refer to the same thing. Halftone or midtone is an area on the form in between the light and Shadow.  It is so called because it refers to being in the middle (or half way) of the value range in between the lightest-lights on one side and the darkest darks on another.

Halftones in drawing and painting should not be confused with a halftone printing process, which deals with breaking up an image into a series of small dots to reproduce tonal values.

Cast Shadows VS Form Shadows. These two are not the same thing. Form Shadows appear on the form itself and the term generally refers to the entire area of the form that is in shadow, or the shadow side of the form. A cast shadow is a shadow that the form casts onto another surface.

Cast Shadow VS Occlusion Shadow. These are not the same. A cast shadow is a shadow cast by a form. An occlusion shadow is the darkest part of that shadow. To occlude is to stop or to obstruct light from coming into the surface. As an art term it is usually meant to stop light entirely, by blocking it. An occlusion shadow then is the darkest part of a cast shadow. Occlusion is usually found where surfaces get really close to each other.

Occlusion Shadow and Crevice Shadow. In drawing these are usually the same thing. Shadows formed when objects are really close to each other, due to occlusion  or obstruction of light.

RATED A1.

This article is rated “A1” in the Workshop’s Rating System because it discusses introductory art concepts. For more on the rating system and to find other rated content, follow this link: Workshop’s Rating System.

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