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5 Types of Shadows in Art (With Examples)

Knowing the different types of shadows is important for creating well-structured drawings that look three-dimensional and can also help improve the art composition.

Over the past few weeks, I have been doing some value studies to understand how light interacts with objects to create a range of shadows, highlights, and midtones. So in this post, I explain the five types of shadows that beginner artists should know and also discuss some tips I find helpful in drawing shadows.

What are the different types of shadows in art?

There are five main types of shadows that artists need to be able to recognize and draw which are:

  1. Form shadows
  2. Shadow receiving bounced light
  3. Core shadows
  4. Cast shadows
  5. Occlusion shadows

1. Form Shadow

The light is directed from the top right corner, which creates form shadows on the left sides of the pears because they are positioned away from the light source. Notice that the shadow of the right pear that is cast onto the left pear is not a form shadow.

Form shadows appear on the part of the object that is turned away from the direction of the light source.

In a simple lighting setup where there is only one light source, you can usually see a clear transition between the part of the object that is illuminated and its shadowy part. In art terminology, we refer to the edge of the shadow line that separates the lighter parts of the thing and its shadows as the ‘terminator.’

As you might have noticed, the intensity of form shadows can vary a lot, even within a single object, depending on the angle of the different planes of the thing itself and how much light reflects back into the shadowy portion from other nearby objects and surfaces.

To further understand how light and its absence create different types of shadows, we further classify form shadows into core shadows and shadows receiving bounced light which I explain below.

2. Shadow receiving bounced light

Shadows receiving bounced light are the lighter segments of shadows that attract light reflected from nearby objects and surfaces.

Even though a part of an object is facing away from the light source, the darkness of the shadow reduces if another object or surface reflects light back onto the shadow.

The part of the object or surface closest to and angled towards the surface bouncing back the light will have the most noticeable effect of the reflected light, and its intensity will be lower compared to surrounding shadows.

3. Core Shadow

Core shadow is the darkest part of the form shadow that is least affected by reflected light.

From my experience, core shadows usually appear closer to the object’s terminator line instead of its outer edges. When I started drawing, I assumed that shadows on an object are the darkest the further away they are from the light source, which I now find to be rarely true.

4. Cast Shadow

Cast shadows are projected from objects placed in front of a light source onto anything that is positioned behind them.

Cast shadows will be more intense than form shadows when there is little light reflected onto it by other objects, surfaces, or other light sources.

The darkest shadow in the cast shadow is usually trapped near the lower edge of the shadow object and is referred to as occlusion shadow, which is explained in Section 5 below.

Difference between cast shadow and core shadow

The cast shadow is the shadow projected by one object in front of the light source onto another surface or object behind it that is blocked from receiving light. Unlike cast shadows, the core shadow arises from the object itself turning away from the light source instead of being blocked by another object in front.

Generally, core shadows have a more gradual transition because they are surrounded by lighter shades and soft edges, whereas core shadows transitions are usually more obvious and hard-edged.

5. Occlusion Shadow

Occlusions shadows are the darkest shadows, usually trapped in the narrow crevices between the object that is casting the shadow and any other nearby objects or surfaces where it is tough for any light to enter.

When drawing occlusion shadows, besides simply drawing them in a darker value, I try to increase the line weight to mark the edge of the crevices to make the occlusion shadow more prominent, and this also seems to improve the sense of weight and gravity of the things I’m drawing.


Sunday 3rd of March 2024

Nicely and clearly explained. I appreciated the outlined examples. Thank you.


Monday 4th of March 2024

Thanks for your kind words Sarah! I'm glad you found the examples helpful. 😊