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By Ron Lemen


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I know you are all looking at this image and wondering, uh you lost it or something? I see no fancy colors, no stylized brushwork ugh argh why waste my time with this? Well,  I think you’ll all be surprised in where this goes. So here we go.

The thought process behind all this is simply, simple form. All great painters of the past worked with this formula. Either by understanding the understructure of the object painted(anatomy), or by the way the form is lit in an environment (surface).

The problem most everyone seems to have with painting the human head is they paint colors that they see them in a photograph, but they don't paint a guy, a 3-dimensional man. The construction is substituted by fancy colors that matched the photo, with a lack of understanding as to why these colors were being painted in the first place.
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What I have done here is construct in 3D, the four basic shapes that make up just about anything the artist is going to draw or paint, the cone, sphere, cube and cylinder. The reality of it is, everything has dimensional form, usually comprising one or more of these basic shapes. The human head isn’t just one of these basic forms, but a blend of several of them, creating a very complex form. For example, The skullcap of our old man isn’t just a simple sphere, but a spherized cube, with many subsurface planes that we will discuss in later installments of this tutorial.

If you look at all these objects in the photos, they are 3d objects photographed 2 dimensionally, i.e. a flat picture plane. All things in depth are now compressed into one depth of field. To the beginning artist, the thought of seeing 3-dimensionally into a photograph seems almost preposterous. There is so much stuff happening in the photo to make any beginner nervous, that the concept of 3-dimensionality doesn’t really connect or jive with them at this point. So many beginners take the photo and try to copy the shapes of the colors they see, but forget that these dark and light shapes are actually interconnected to all the other little shapes of color or value till they all combined create a head, or a tree or a car or whatever the photo has recorded. You need to start seeing a photograph this way. Do not just look at the flat photo, look at what is going on in the photo, and try to draw the dimensionality of the objects that you see in the photo. This is why drawing from life is so crucial. Understanding form in 3d is the key to great painting and drawing (or if you're a 3-D artist, modeling). This is also going to be a very difficult task, one that could literally take years for some to grasp. Hopefully we will all grasp this stuff much sooner.

Moving onto our shapes; the sphere, cone and cylinder are all rounded in form. They have what is known as a form shadow on their surface, otherwise know as a core shadow. This shadow edge separates the light side from the dark side. Where this shadow starts is where the form of whatever this object is at its widest point perpendicular to the light source. Refer to the images. The dark side of these forms usually have what is known as reflective lighting on them. This lighting is caused by the surrounding surfaces of the object bouncing our light source back at the object, obviously with less intensity than our direct source of light. There is a gradation of value on this side, usually lighter at the back edge of the object, and darkening toward the core of the shadow. This core is so dark because it is absolutely perpendicular to the light, the only plane that is not directly lit.  There is some bounce light from the surrounding area but, it is extremely minimal. On the directly lit side of our rounded objects, at least in the direction I lit them all, the hottest or brightest planes are in the middle of the light side, again, note the images. There is also value transition on this side. Only it is darker toward the edge of the object, and usually lightens as it approaches the core shadow. WITH THIS IN MIND, IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT WHEN DRAWING OR PAINTING, THERE IS A LIMITED RANGE OF VALUE YOU USE ON THE LIGHT AND DARK SIDE OF ALL THINGS DRAWN. WHEN WORKING ON THE LIGHT SIDE OF AN OBJECT, WORK IN THE VALUE RANGE OF 0-4 ACCORDING TO THE CHART.  0 BEING ABSOLUTE WHITE. WHEN WORKING ON THE DARK SIDE OF AN OBJECT, WORK IN THE VALUE RANGE OF 7-10. values 5 and 6 to be avoided so as not to wash everything out together in half tone.

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The biggest problem most people have is that they don’t paint in light and dark. They muddie up pictures in the middle value range, not giving the image any dynamic lighting or depth in the object. Just a lot of pretty cartoon colored objects. Most prime time cartoons work in this pallete, with no significant shadows or lighting.

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With our cube, we have defined planes, with no soft transition between them. Thus, we have no core shadow any more, just a sharp plane change with a very hard edge. While this object isn’t round, it still has value banding on each of it’s surfaces. On the direct light side, you can see the values go from very hot in the upper left had corner, and a bit darker in the lower right hand corner. The same with the dark side and the secondary light plane. Unless the light is very large, say like a sun, there is always going to be fall off from the most intense spot of illumination. Look at lights at night, brightest at the bulb, and quickly falls off in a circular halo surrounding the hot spot, and quickly fades to black.

And finally we have a cast shadow eminating from all these objects. Everything on this planet, save vampires and other undead ghoulies cast shadows. No light can pass through our solid mass, thus the mass casts its shadow on whatever form it is near, if that object stands between the light and the surface.

How do all these relatively basic shapes fit into our picture of the old man? Well, I quickly threw together all the basic shapes we have together to show you the simplest construction of this image. Given, his head is much more complex than the image I created with the primitive shapes, but this complexity is based upon the muscle bone and tendon structure under the skin that make it so. But the root of all this begins with absolutely basic shapes, like the ones I created. This guy has depth, this guy has form, and the light is directly hitting, or reflecting back onto him. The light values on the light side never compete with the lighter values of dark on the dark side of him. He is not directly lit, he is indirectly lit in a fairly bright place, so he has a lot of reflective color bouncing into his skin tones. These colors are what they are, and the value that they are based on the planes of the head, and which way these planes are facing the light sources mentioned above. He doesn’t just have technocolored skin, like so many of the paintings I've seen.

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Your assignment if you so choose, is to recreate the four basic shapes you see, light them, and find their volume through the use of light and dark hitting the surfaces of the primitives. This is really an important assignment, although it may sound very elementary. Elementary basics are what most people lack, and that is why we are doing this. I don’t want you to create them in a 3d application though, really draw them. And be creative, light them from different angles than how I lit them, and draw them from other perspectives as well. The object here is to find all the correct types of light and shadow, from the core shadow to the cast shadow, to the value banding happening across the surface.

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Another part of this assignment, I want everyone to go out and look at everything surrounding them, find what objects interest you most, and see if you can break them down into their bare basic forms, overlooking all the surface details. For example, an airplane is comprised of a cylinder, a cone, and several flattened boxes for the wings. Absolute basic shapes. This will start you thinking in basics, which you really should always be doing first when making any image.

Touching upon that word, perspective, that is what you are doing here when you are finding the full volume of a shape, you are finding its perspective in 3d space. Sometime here soon, everyone should go out and purchase a book on perspective. It can be learned in about two days of really hitting the book and recreating some of the perspective imagery you see. Oh yeah, read the book too. The best one I have found is by Dover called Creative Perspective for Artists and Illustrators. I am telling you, this directly ties to what we are learning right now.

SEPARATE THE LIGHT SIDE FROM THE DARK SIDE. Light side using 0-4 on the value scale, and 7-10 in the dark side. NO LIGHT VALUE SHOULD EVER BE AS DARK AS THE LIGHT VALUE ON THE DARK SIDE, AND NO LIGHT ON THE DARK SIDE SHOULD BE AS LIGHT AS THE DARKEST LIGHT ON THE LIGHT SIDE OF THE OBJECT. Think about this a bit, it makes perfect sense, and is absolute for we artisans…

Good luck with your assignments,…happy arting…

        Ron Lemen

Recomened Books

Andrew Loomis-Figure Drawing for all its worth
Andrew Loomis-Creative Illustration
Andrew Loomis-Fun with the Pencil
Andrew Loomis-Drawing the Head and Hands
Andrew Loomis-Successful Drawing

Bridgeman's Complete Guide to Drawing from Life
Stephen Peck-Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist
John Vanderpoel-The Human Figure
Fritz Schider-An Atlas of Anatomy For Artists

Dora Miriam Norton-Freehand Perspective and Sketching
Arthur Guptill-Sketching as a Hobby
Guptill-Sketching and Rendering in Pencil
Ernest Watson-Creative Perspective for Artists and Illustrators

The Famous Artists Courses from the Fifties to the early 1970's

I would tend to stray away from the Hogarth books, only because what he does is purely inventive, not using real models or anything for his basis of structure. As a result, his images tend to be a bit too sinuey, rubber like, and just not quite right. Bridgeman though is a bible that no artist should be without.

About Ron Lemen

Ron Lemen is a master painter (and my own personal savior, MB). He has worked in the entertainment and illustration industry for more than 16 years. He is currently working for Presto Studios in San Diego as a lead designer on Myst:3-Exile as well as teaching night classes at Jeff Watts Art Atelier. To view samples of his work go to:

This tutorial was originally created and posted By Ron Lemen on the Digital Art Forum. You can find the Digital Art Forum here: