Making a painting three-dimensional can feel like a daunting task. After all, how can you capture the curve of a face or make a landscape look realistic on a canvas?
The answer is simple; shading. By using gradations of color, you can make your painting appear voluminous and realistic. And, luckily, there are many ways to achieve this illusion with acrylic paint.
Read on to learn more about the importance of creating dimension along with some acrylic paint shading techniques you can try for yourself.
The Importance of Shading and Highlighting
The experts at Trembling Art say it best. Highlights and shadows are what give artwork depth and dimension. It’s what can transform a flat ball into an eye-catching apple or a two-dimensional drawing into a lifelike portrait.
In short, shadows and highlights are what bring artwork to life.
To master the following acrylic shading techniques, you first need to understand how light interacts with your object. When the object itself blocks light it creates shadows. When a light source hits an object, it creates highlights. Shading and highlighting are a must when creating realistic portraits and still lifes.
Highlights and shadows can be illustrated in two main ways; Soft and hard. Soft shadows are best seen on organic forms and delicate lighting. Such as a cheek turned toward a setting sun. Hard shadows are best seen on man-made objects and harsh lighting. Such as a plastic jar during high noon.
Keep in mind that light will change based on the objects it is interacting with as well as how close the light is to the object. For example, when looking at a face like the one shown below, you might notice that the light is coming from the top left of the photo and is pretty close to the person's face.
This creates a variety of shadows cast onto the face. Soft shadows are there too, but with gentler lighting, such as with the photo of the women below, then that harsh light is diffused and creates soft shadows.
Pro Tip: Shadows are never true black or a solid color. Use a gradient of cool complementary colors such as dark blue to create the most realistic shadows.
How to Shade With Acrylic Paint
Now for what you’ve been waiting for, some of our favorite acrylic paint shading techniques.
While many people practice shading with pencil sketches, these acrylic painting shading techniques are ideal for creating shadows for realistic painted portraits and more.
1. Flat Wash Shading
The flat wash is a basic watercolor painting technique that allows artists to create a flat or even area of color across the paper. By utilizing more water you can create light, transparent shades, and more color will darken the shade to create a seamless gradient.
The same idea can be applied to acrylic painting. Simply use a flat brush and consistent strokes to create an even application of color. You can add a small amount of Titanium White after each stroke to create a softer gradient shadow.
Since acrylic paint dries quickly, consider using an acrylic retarder or dipping your brush in water between uses to help with blending.
2. Dry Brush Shading
This acrylic paint shading technique is on the opposite end of the spectrum and uses minimal paint and no water. The dry brush is ideal for creating texture and can help create the illusion of a rough three-dimensional surface or add depth without altering the color too much.
Consider dry brush shading similar to cross-hatching for drawings.
3. Wet-on-Wet Shading
Similar to the flat wash, you can also try this popular acrylic shading technique that utilizes layers of wet paint. Apply wet paint on top of an already wet surface to allow the colors to blend together. For instance, you can start with a dark blue and work your way up to a light blue.
This technique is great for creating smooth shadows and gradients or giving your painting an ethereal look. You can blend the acrylic paint with a brush or other materials like a sponge or paper towel to create texture.
This is another acrylic paint shading technique that requires layers of paint to create shadows. However, unlike the previous method, you should wait until each layer of paint is completely dry before applying the next. This can be great for both hard and soft shadows as you can build both depending on how you utilize it.
Focus on using thin layers of paint to develop rich colors and complex shading.
This popular contemporary acrylic painting technique involves creating a collection of tiny dots that make up a larger image. It’s often associated with abstract art and pop pieces, but can also be used for capturing dark and light spaces in paintings.
Use the tip of a stiff brush to apply various sizes and concentrations of dots to create shading and textures. By using complementary cool colors you can capture intricate textures and shadows on fabric and skin.
For creating more controlled shadows and highlights, you can use a sponge to dab on acrylic paint. You can even use a crumpled piece of paper to create various textures in addition to depth.
With this acrylic paint shading technique, you have precise control over where you’re placing shadows and the amount of paint you’re using. It’s ideal for creating more organic shadows or shading areas with intricate patterns such as foliage.
Ready to try these acrylic painting shading techniques for yourself? Explore 92 brilliant colors of professional acrylic paint from Nova Color.