Giving Dimension to Objects

By Janean S. Thompson


What creates the illusion of dimension for objects in a painting? What gives reality to shapes and items in an airbrush painting? The answer to both questions is shading, the cast shadow or the implied shadow. These shadows and shades are easy to create and the three-dimensional effects they offer are dramatic. The shadows can lift items right off the flat surface, making them appear to levitate.


This exercise is simple. The goal is to make a box, a sphere and a bar float above the surface of the art and cast shadows upon the background surface. This is accomplished in an easy four-step technique that can be directly applied to any shape and in any scene.

Step 1

Begin step one by covering your art paper or illustration board with a complete covering of Artool ART MASK Friskfilm. This will protect the background and make possible the creation of the shapes and later the addition of shading and shadows. ART MASK Friskfilm is a medium-tack masking film that adheres to nearly all porous surfaces. It is especially suited for canvas and can be used on Claybord, gesso board, and illustration board and is great with watercolor paper. For this application, it is ideal because it is easy to cut and does not flutter under airbrush spray. It can be used with water-based and solvent-based paints. Once the Friskfilm is in place, carefully draw the shapes you wish to paint and shadow.

Step 2

Step two is the actual cutting. You may use a stencil knife or other sharp blade. Carefully incise along the lines drawn and avoid wobbly lines or overcuts. Leave the shapes in place for now. What this does is allow you the option of lifting the ART MASK away from specific areas and then repositioning it. This simple exercise builds experience in dealing with not only Friskfilm, but also the methods used to cut, remove and then replace shapes.


After you have completed all cutting, lift off the ART MASK from one of the shapes. I started with the square, but it wouldn't matter which order you airbrush the color onto the forms.


Select tones for your shapes and set up your airbrush. I chose vivid tones of red, purple and green and used the Iwata Revolution SAR single action model. This model is easy to handle for those with less experience and can create an exact paint pattern. Since the shapes have an imaginary light source from the top, the densest tones are on the lower edges.


After the interior tone is applied to the square shape, let it dry completely and then replace the ART MASK. Carefully lift off the ART MASK from the circle shape. Airbrush that shape with a swinging motion for the added illusion of a convex, spherical shape. Again, allow the circle to dry and then reposition the ART MASK over the circle. Repeat the technique with the bar. When the bar is airbrushed and covered, the entire surface is once again covered with Friskfilm.

Step 3

Step three involves the removal of the overall covering of ART MASK from the background. Lift it away gently, being careful at the corners and edges of the shapes. The shapes should remain covered. It is that covering that will protect them from overspray when the shadows are applied.

Step 4

Step four is the actual application of the shadows. Remember that the shadows will be placed as if all shapes are lighted from the top. With that in mind, apply a soft-edged shadow around the lower edge of the sphere. It should follow the shape of the form. For the square, do the same, with emphasis on the lower edges of the square shape. For the bar length, use a straight shadow. Allow these shadow tones to dry.


Lift away the ART MASK from the shapes. Voila! What you will discover is that rather than appearing as flat, toned areas, these shapes have been given depth and seem to be more dimensional. When you have placed the shading in the proper positions on the objects and added darkened areas coordinated with an imagined light source, you will have created realistic, dimensional forms.


In this photo, the forms have been colored and the ART MASK shapes have been replaced on the box and sphere. The strip that will cover the bar is laying on the Friskfilm ready to be replaced.

Here the ART MASK covering is being replaced to cover the red square. Notice how each of the shapes can be covered/uncovered independently.
The ART MASK is carefully lifted from the illustration board to allow for shadow placement.

Following the application of the shadows, the ART MASK is removed to reveal the shapes and their shadows. Easy dimensional elevation.


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