Shades of Shading
by Meghan Namaste
Shading is something that many people struggle with, the very essence of “simple, not easy”. Shading is key to the “wow factor” of the finished piece and should be considered at every stage of the customizing journey. I like the address it in two ways: shadows, and highlights. If you’ve ever played around with editing photos or adding filters, you know that adding the right balance of shadows and highlights can really enhance your picture. But if you go overboard and try to add too much, things start to look really weird. Models are the same.
I mainly work in pastels, which require a slow build-up of color, so I like to get started on shading in the first layer. I block in the dark points and any areas that will be darkly shaded, as well as any dapples. I used to add dapples at the end, when the color was already built up, but I found they tended to sort of sit on top of the surface and not blend as well as I liked. Adding the dapples in the first layer lets me build the rest of the color around them, so they really appear like part of the coat, and not an afterthought.
Dapples and dark shading blocked in, color started. This is often referred to as the “ugly stage”
Dark points will go on grainy and won’t look like much in the first few layers. Ignore that, and keep building up your color, they will soon be looking much better.
Several color layers have been added. Using the initial layer as a “guide”, I continue building the shadows as I build the bay color.
Another method is to use highlighting. I will take a very light pigment, either white, yellow, or light grey, and apply it to areas I want highlighted. You can also highlight with blues and purples, which create nice shading and depth on blacks and bays. These colors will look funny when you put them on, but once you seal them, they will blend and create subtle highlights.
This was one of the final layers I did. You can see the black pastels on the “shadow” areas, and the light yellow pastels on the highlighted areas. I also went back over a few of the dapples on this layer as they had blended in a bit more than I wanted.
The end result.I know I’ve mentioned pigments a lot, and I primarily work in pastels, but acrylics do come into play too for shading certain horses. I used a dry brushing technique to bring out the mealy shading on this Shetland pony custom, and I also used a light wash of acrylics on certain parts of her reddish bay coat to really pop the color. I also use acrylics on faces, since shading and highlighting the eyes and facial features is an important step in the detail work. My best advice for shading with acrylics is to use a light hand and a little bit of paint on the brush, and make sure you have a close color match for the pastels underneath.
This pony’s color was built up using pastels, but a light layer of acrylics in key areas really made her color pop.
Probably the biggest question about shading is simply “how do I shade?” How do you create the look you want without going overboard, like I mentioned earlier? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. However, the best advice I can give is to study your reference. Really look at where all the shadows and highlights are, and try to see how that translates to your model. Certain colors have very little shading in real life, and are typically enhanced just a bit when translated to model form. Others are extremely complex and can leave your head spinning trying to figure out how to pack all that detail in there. With every color, with every model, the challenge is the same: make it look alive.
If there’s one piece of advice I could offer to beginning painters that I wish someone had given me, it’s to keep it simple. I was a chronic over thinker in my early years as a painter, and had perfectionist tendencies that destroyed any joy I had in painting for a long time. I don’t wish that on anyone, as painting is now my happy place, and I rarely get stressed over it. It all comes down to simple concepts, after all. Always study your reference (you live and die by your reference, I cannot stress this enough), remember that shading is just shadows and highlights, and you’ll be saying “I did it!” again and again!