Here’s a great example of a student work done from observation here at the studio. The lighting on the cast is quite intriguing in that the features of the face are enveloped in shadow, lending an air of mystery to the representation of the face.
One thing that makes this drawing work so well is the simplification of the representation of areas of shadow. Details are lost and merge together as part of a greater, simplified whole. It makes for a powerfully solid representation.
At the core of why simplification works so well with drawings and paintings is the fact that it very much echoes the way that we as humans perceive the world. When looking at an illuminated subject, our eyes are drawn to the areas in the light. As artists, in presenting to the viewer a visual moment, we want to guide the viewers attention to where the form is lit.
Value simplification can be confusing for a beginner for two reasons. First and foremost is the proliferation of camera-captured images that saturate every portion of our daily lives. Photographic images are so prevalent that we have become accepting of the notion that a camera tells the “truth” of what is visual experience. Yet a camera, most definitely does not record images the way that our eyes do. The typical camera shot image captures crispness of details in every part of the frame almost equally: for example, the leaves in the background of a photo have the same sharp focus as that of the face of the person standing in front. Whereas if we were standing with someone with trees at their back, our attention would be drawn to their face. There’s no way we can focus on details in the background and the person’s face at the same time. This concept is the same with representing light and dark of a volume artistically. If we want the viewer to pay attention to the light of the form we show, we must subordinate details with shadows so as to not create visual confusion.
Another reason this concept can be a challenge to grasp for a novice is that when drawing or painting a representation of something that we observe, we are constantly focusing on different areas of the form while we work. Therefore, it is quite easy to bring details within shadow areas into focus. This is termed “looking into the shadows” and is something that we don’t want to do if we are endeavouring to present a “one look” representation to the viewer. We as artists are compiling many moments together when we work. We build an image incrementally over time. But in the end we are presenting a vision of a captured moment: all that progression of process is compressed into an instant for the viewer. So remember, simplify your shadows and subordinate details within to create a stronger, more convincing illusion of form as we humans perceive it.