Drawing Techniques:
Lighting a Still Life

Learn to light still life objects appropriately to enhance your drawing techniques. From dramatic to peaceful, proper lighting can change the mood of any drawing.

First of all, let's go over the different types of lighting you might encounter:

wooden figure drawing

Natural Light -

  • Diffused sunlight will tend to flatten objects by diminishing the shadows.

  • Sunlight coming in through a window is great for showing volume and depth.

  • Sunlit shadows will change depending on the time of day. (Keep this in mind when drawing outdoors).

  • Whether it's natural or artificial light, use reflected light to add interest and to highlight all sides of the still life. You can see the effects of reflected light in the the right hand example above, along the legs and torso (the white table acts as a light reflector).

    When using a single light source, the unlit side of the still life might look too dark - to reflect light simply place your still life between the light source and a white wall or other light surface. White poster or foam core board (found anywhere you can buy general school supplies) can be propped up next to the still life (opposite the light source) to easily reflect light.

Indoor Lighting -
  • Lighting that comes from one direction (as opposed to diffused lighting) is ideal for showing volume and depth. This type of lighting is ideally suited for charcoal drawing.

  • Flourescent and diffused lighting can make objects look flat. This is fine if you are creating a contour line drawing but not recommended when trying to show volume.

wooden figure drawing

Tips -

  • The best lighting will be determined by the objects you are drawing, the media you are drawing with, and the technique you are utilizing. Therefore, different situations might call for different types of lighting.

  • Try out a variety lighting set-ups and pick the one you like best. There is no need to over complicate the art of lighting, simply go with what looks good to you! Eventually, you'll learn what works best for the project at hand.

  • Multiple light sources can make for interesting shadows & highlights but be careful not to go overboard as too many light sources will diffuse all the shadows.

  • If drawing in a dark room, bounce light off of the ceiling or the wall behind you so that you can actually see your drawing while you draw.

  • Use reflected light to add interesting highlights to the unlit sides of the still life.

  • Good lighting will enhance your the look of your drawings and help improve your drawing technique!

Check out some composition and design drawing techniques and tips