Topiary Horses – Discussing Colored Shadows


Artwork-Miya Arts Gouache on Stonehenge Aqua ColdPress Black watercolor paper (review). Brushes: Jack Richeson 713995 Watermedia Pocket Plein Air Brush Set Photo reference from Zouki on Pixabay.

I love googling ‘topiary’ to get inspiration for my stylized landscapes. Usually, I just scroll through the photos and then go off to do a painting but occasionally I’ll see something that I just have to paint from a reference. Fortunately, I was able to find a good photo of these beautiful topiary horses, which are found in the Jardin botanique de Montréal.

Having made the decision to paint on black paper, the question is what colors to use for shadows. I’ve been meaning to discuss this for a while – color choices for shadow.

Colored Shadows

All too often, we reach for black when we decide to paint shadows. Not necessarily a tube black, but often a mixture of our own – Ultramarine blue and Burnt Sienna, for instance. Sometimes, we’ll use the main color of the subject and mix in a little of its complimentary. These are good choices. But have you ever seen those paintings that seem so full of light and then noticed that the shadows are purples and blues?

I’ve been playing with purples and blues for a while now. Sometimes, using them for middle tones, but also for deep shadows. It’s a no-brainer when you are painting on black. After all, you already have black. Your painted shadows have to be something else.

The gouache colors I chose for this painting were Acid Blue and Violet.

When painting with watercolor, the question of transparency comes up. Sometimes, I’ll use Cerulean Blue, but if the other colors are transparent, it can end up sitting like a lump because it’s opaque. Phthalo Blue’s a good choice, but is such an intense color that it can overpower. If you’ve painted a flower with delicate whites and pinks, the Phthalo Blue might steal the scene. Or it could really make the flowers stand out. (It’s never easy, is it?).

Then there is the issue of red-bias and green-bias. A reddish blue or purple is considered warmer, while a greenish blue or bluish purple would be considered cooler. Theory has it that warmer colors seem nearer, while cooler seems farther away.

So you could use the color choices for your shadows to imply depth.

While painting on the object itself, using warmer mid-times toward the center of the object, and cooler shadows along the edges could create a rounder appearance.

To me, most of the purples seem cooler than most of the blues but this strays into the realm of personal perception. Sometimes the difference is marginal, and people do perceive the whole warm/cool thing differently. That’s why it’s difficult to decide which is which sometimes.

Practice, practice. Play with the colors you have and decide what you like. And next time, you see a painting that just astounds you with the feeling of light – look closely at the shadows. Strangely enough – they may be the source of the light.

8 comments

  1. Wonderful art piece, like choice of gouache colours. Find the horses unique painted this way, an wow they certainly are brought to the forefront with the use of the black paper. This is a winner takes first. Great composition .

  2. I love the horses! Thanks for sprinkling in just enough color theory to be helpful, but not overwhelming! I always learn something from your posts!

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