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How to paint cast shadows with Jo Quigley

Posted on Thu 10 May 2018


  • Shadows create light
  • Everything casts a shadow
  • There are shadows at night
  • There is still light in the shadows
  • Shadows are darker and sharper the nearer they are to the source
  • Shadows follow the contours of the surface
  • Shadows still have texture

Demonstration: Sunshine and Shadows

For this painting I used my own photographic references. As is the case with most of my paintings, characters are taken from multiple references and then carefully composed into an image. As my shadow paintings have no particular background, I usually start by selecting a few central figures and let the composition evolve around them.


I created a warm colour with titanium white, Naples yellow and light portrait pink that I applied with a large brush for the background. I wanted a flat, even colour, so mixed enough paint for at least two coats, keeping a little left over in a sealed jar for touching up small areas later. Then using a mix of burnt sienna, cobalt blue and white, I positioned the first two figures and their shadows.


Next I positioned a few more figures in the foreground. As I had chosen an aerial perspective, there is a slight foreshortening of the foreground figures. The relationship between the groups of figures and their respective shadows determined the scale of the remaining figures and the direction of their shadows.


Still concentrating on the foreground, I added further figures, overlapping shapes to create depth. I resisted the urge to put any detail in the figures at this stage, preferring to concentrate on pattern and shape.


I continued to add figures, taking care to keep the scale of figures on any particular plane the same. I tried to create a balance of shapes and spaces, conscious that if it became too organised it would look unnatural.


Once satisfied with the overall composition, I added some detail to the figures to bring them to life. Having initially painted the figures dark, it was easy to add hints of colour whilst maintaining the overall tone from the layer beneath.


Sunshine and Shadows, acrylic, (60x60cm)

Finally I varied the tone of each shadow. Darkening the area of shadow closest to the figures, whilst lightening and softening the edges furthest away, enhanced the feeling of depth and gravity. I added one last figure, a busker, and the painting was complete.

Jo Quigley studied at Winchester School of Art and Kingston University, and taught painting before turning professional. Jo demonstrates to art societies across the south east of England – for more details see

Read more on painting shadows in acrylics by Jo in the July 2018 issue of The Artist

Click here to purchase your copy

How to paint cast shadows with Jo Quigley


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