“Painting is drawing with the added complication of colour and tone” – Harold Speed
In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the theory, drawing, and painting techniques required to create a three-dimensional form with acrylic paint. Our focus will be on capturing the play of light and shadow, as well as mastering edges. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced artist, this step-by-step tutorial will help you bring your artwork to life.
Acrylic Light & Shade Painting – Free Video Course (Part 1)
Before we begin, I’ve created a free video tutorial that takes you through the initial steps of this acrylic light and shade painting. Watch the video below to learn the foundational techniques.
To aid you in your painting, here’s a reference image that you can use. Right-click on the image and select ‘Save image as’ to save it for your reference.
Drawing the Shapes
Drawing still life can be simplified into four main forms: the sphere, cylinder, cone, and cube. For this particular painting, we will be focusing on a sphere. By starting with a basic circle shape, you can easily establish the foundational structure of the drawing. Using a 3B pencil, draw out the shape on a colored ground.
Here are the materials you’ll need for this project:
- 3B pencil
- Cranked Handle Palette knife (I recommend the size 45 diamond shape by RGM)
- Tear-off palette (I prefer the A3 Daler Rowney)
- 8 x 10-inch pre-primed white canvas (apply a yellow-colored ground)
- Kitchen Roll (paper towel)
- Jam Jar & Water
The following brushes will be useful for this project:
- Small round brush
- Rosemary & Co Ivory filbert brush (Size 6 – Short Handle)
For the colored ground, use:
- Yellow Ochre
- Cadmium Yellow Light
For the main painting, use:
- Raw Umber
- Ultramarine Blue
- Cadmium Yellow Light
- Titanium White
- Burnt Sienna
- Cadmium Red (for Part 2)
Note: For this painting, you can mix and match brands such as Golden Heavy Body Paints, Winsor & Newton Artist Acrylics, Liquitex, and Daler Rowney Artist Quality Acrylics.
Let’s Get Started!
Now that we have our materials ready, let’s dive into the painting process. Below are the seven simple steps to begin:
Step 1: Apply a Colored Ground
To create a bright glow underneath the apple, apply a mix of Yellow Ochre and Cadmium Yellow Light on a white pre-primed box canvas.
For a detailed guide on applying an acrylic ground, refer to the article How to Apply a Colored Ground.
Step 2: Draw Out the Image
Using a circular object with a diameter of approximately 7-8cm, trace the basic circular shape of the apple and the ellipse shape of the cast shadow. Pay attention to the form shadow line, as it will serve as a guide when blocking in the shadows.
Next, square off the top of the apple and sketch in any angles or outer edge shapes.
Step 3: Tone Down the Background
Now it’s time to start painting! Begin by toning down the background using a heavy body Raw Umber acrylic paint. Vary the consistency of the paint with water and scrub it into the canvas to create a sense of dark and light values.
Add Titanium White and Ultramarine Blue to create a thicker application in the foreground. Work between the foreground and background to create a varied background, allowing some of the colored ground to show through.
Step 4: The Darkest Darks
Swap to a smaller round brush and introduce pure Raw Umber paint to add the darkest tones to the stalk of the apple. Paint in the cast shadow, noting how it is darkest and sharpest under the apple and gradually becomes softer and lighter as it moves away from the light source.
Step 5: Form Shadow
Use a mix of Raw Umber and Cadmium Yellow Light to paint the form shadow. Slightly lighten the tone to indicate the reflected light.
Step 6: Softening the Shadow Line
Introduce Burnt Sienna to add a slightly warmer tone to the transition line of the apple’s form. Soften this glaze using the filbert brush, following the apple’s form.
Step 7: Halftone & Highlight
Using Cadmium Yellow Light and Titanium White, paint the halftone and highlight of the apple. Re-establish the form shadow core to achieve a balanced representation of light and dark.
To further illustrate the changing tones, here’s the image in black and white:
Bear in mind the three most common mistakes when painting three-dimensional forms: painting the cast shadow lighter than it appears, making the form shadow line too hard, and keeping all the edges equally sharp.
Part 2: Finishing Touches
For the final steps and finishing touches of this acrylic light and shade painting, watch the video tutorial below. In this video, I introduce Cadmium Red light and Burnt Sienna glazes to add depth and warmth to the artwork.
Congratulations! You’ve learned the step-by-step process of creating a three-dimensional acrylic painting that captures the interplay of light and shadow. With practice and experimentation, you can refine your skills and develop your unique artistic style. For those interested in diving deeper into glazing techniques with acrylics, I recommend taking a look at the Acrylic Masterclass Still Life Course.
For more resources and tutorials, check out the following articles:
- A Beginner’s Guide to Light & Shadow: Part 1
- How to Shade a Drawing: Light & Shadow – Part 2
- The 3 Reasons Why You Can’t Draw (and What to Do About It)
- Will Kemp