Got Sunshine On A Cloudy Day

A solution to ambient light and shadow by Michael Cacy


Whether you are an amateur or a seasoned professional, if something seems wrong with your art, chances are the problem has something to do with lighting.


Step 1: Here's a 12- by 18-inch painting of an odd little structure known on Bermuda, where I live, as a "buttery." Small buildings like this once served as cool storage for perishable provisions before the age of refrigeration and many of them survive today. The painting is probably acceptable as is, but not nearly as interesting as it might be. How about creating some shadows that suggest dappled sunlight filtering through leafy foliage somewhere outside the area depicted?
Step 2: For this effect, I used acetate as a loose mask to form the top edge of the leafy shadow. To protect the dappled "lights" from paint, I rolled bits of kneaded eraser into small balls and pressed them onto the painting surface. They'll stick to the art until I need to remove them later. Notice that the little balls of kneaded eraser vary in size and are positioned in erratic groups. The blue tape simply maps out the path of limbs in the cast shadow, and care has been taken to avoid placing bits of eraser over taped shapes. The blue tape is only used to determine where the limbs occur, and the tape will be removed before I begin painting.
Step 3: Painting commences using a mix of transparent ultramarine, violet, and a little black. (Disregard that some eraser shapes appear light grey and others dark. The lighter shapes are from a new eraser, and the darker ones are from a well used eraser.) After the first application of colour, I removed a few of the eraser shapes and sprayed again. The effect I'm after is "dots" of light that vary in intensity (brightness).
Step 4: Could this technique be used for other airbrush applications, such as on bikes and automotive subjects? I don't paint bikes and cars, but the eraser bits stick to my bike (I tried it out), so I don't see why not. But do a test first!

Step 5: The finished painting.


Michael Cacy is a world-class illustrator whose career spans more than 30 years. A recipient of the 1997 Vargas Award, Cacy's client list includes Iditarod, Nike, Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, and many more. His video/DVD, Illustration Cheap Tricks & Special F/X, is considered one of the best airbrush instructional presentations ever made.


Michael Cacy's 120-minute instructional video and DVD reveals timesaving and innovative "cheap tricks" and special effects from his 30 years of experience. Learn how to render orange peel texture, wisps of smoke, hair, feathers, fur, and tons more!

Created by Airbrush Action magazine.