Light and Shadow

All images © Bivenne Staiger

This daffodil motif requires a basic contour drawing of flowers and their light and shadow shapes with some suggestions of leaves, very little else. Much of the flowers and their foliage will be in shadow. This painting will go darker from two major spaces: from the white flowers, and from the mid-value background. The first wash, painted dry-on-wet, is a bright yellow, roughly concentrated in the flower centers (above). Otherwise, these are mostly white. Color bleeds out, beyond edges.

All images © Bivenne Staiger

Blue shadows keep white objects appearing clean and bright. Even when completely shadowed (and blue), they are still interpreted as white, especially if the background is dark, which it will be here. Above, the first (and palest) shadow wash covers all parts of the flowers except illuminated white areas. Note how blue covers shadowed yellow parts, too.

All images © Bivenne Staiger

Since these flowers recede in space, a second wash of the same value is applied at this time to all but the two in front. The same value is applied layer by subsequent thin layer to each receding flower.

All images © Bivenne Staiger

Though very much incomplete above, already the mid-value local background color makes the flowers “pop.” This background mass begins with a mid-value because it’s the palest of this otherwise dark setting. Note that it nonetheless has pale, warm, and cool areas and that no leaves are defined anywhere.

All images © Bivenne Staiger

The flower forms still need to be developed (above), but darker negative space washes added behind flowers and some illuminated leaves begin to suggest depth within this foliage. This background will receive many such layers of blue-green applied to dry paper, ultimately creating interest in the depths.

All images © Bivenne Staiger

You can see now how these darker negative spaces successfully suggest paler leaves and stems without my having painted them individually! As I paint, I intuitively place these dark negative space “pockets.” Blue is an ideal color for this, and some washes are thinner than others.

In Sunshine and Shade, Watercolor, 12×16″ © Bivenne Staiger 2021

The first six of the steps shown here were demonstrated for my watercolor class through Yale Peabody Museum’s Natural Science Illustration Program. You can get information about this wonderful program at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with
Get started
%d bloggers like this: